Israel’s History of Defying U.S. With Survival At Stake

Sharon defies Bush has become a media mantra in the last week. Israel has brought the wrath of the world down on itself because it has shown the audacity to defend its citizens against terrorism. And now the last nail has been put in the coffin of the credibility of the Administration’s policy on terrorism by Secretary of State Colin Powell’s announcement that as a reward for sponsoring terrorism, and failure to even speak a single Arabic sentence condemning terror (the publicly stated prerequisite), he will meet with Yasser Arafat.

Israel is going to pay a price for defying the United States. It is difficult to know how high it will be now, but inevitably it will lead to tense relations for the remainder of the time Bush and Sharon are in office. We don’t yet know what private threats have been issued, but you can be sure the level of cooperation between the two nations will be scaled back by the U.S. and it is possible military aid will be threatened. In the long-run, however, the relationship is unlikely to be hurt, and the polls suggest the American people understand Israel’s actions and have little sympathy for the Palestinians.

Let’s put the current situation in historical context. Israel’s defiance of a President is not new. And it is not the first time a President has refused to support Israel when its security was threatened.

Harry Truman was a great friend of Israel and a key figure in the establishment of the state. Still, when Israel was fighting for its very life in 1948, Truman imposed a crippling arms embargo that put the Jews at a disadvantage against Arab forces that had no difficulty obtaining arms.

In 1956, Israel also responded to Palestinian terrorist attacks with a military campaign against their sponsor, Egyptian President Nasser. In the Suez War that followed, President Eisenhower vigorously opposed not only Israel’s involvement but that of U.S. allies England and France. After Israel conquered the Sinai, Eisenhower threatened to cut off all aid to Israel if Ben-Gurion did not withdraw. Ultimately, Ben-Gurion gave in to the pressure in exchange for U.S. guarantees to prevent Egyptian belligerence in the future. By giving in to a mistaken U.S. policy, and there really was no choice, the seeds of the 1967 war were planted.

When it became clear in 1967 that Israel was about to be attacked, Prime Minister Eshkol decided to act first. President Johnson told Israel that if Israel decided to go it alone, it would be alone. True to his word, after Israel struck, the U.S. imposed another arms embargo.

In 1973, Israel may have made a crucial mistake by thinking twice before acting. Contrary to conventional wisdom, the Arab attack on Yom Kippur was not a complete surprise. Israel did have some warning and could have attacked first, but Prime Minister Meir made a conscious decision not to do so largely because of the fear of the U.S. reaction, and the possibility that President Nixon would not support Israel if it was viewed as the aggressor. Israel’s fate was in grave doubt and may have been saved by the U.S. decision to resupply the Israelis. Some believe this would not have happened if Israel had not absorbed the Arabs’ first strike.

Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982, again to root out terrorists who threatened the nation, was the only war that had full U.S. support. Even in that case, however, it was only temporary and President Reagan, another great friend of Israel, decided Israel had gone too far and forced a withdrawal.

Twenty years later, the situation had again become intolerable. Israel could not sit back and let suicide bombers blow up its women and children. It was September 11 every day and Sharon responded the way Bush did to our single day of terror, and as other Israeli Prime Ministers had done after facing similar threats to the nation’s security.

It’s painful to see a public fight between Israel and its closest friend. It would be nice if the President had maintained a consistent policy toward terrorists, but he gave in to the foreign pressure and that will have a cost. The Arab nations and the terrorists they support now see that America will not stay the course against terror if the political pressure is great enough.

For its part, Israel must stand up to the world, and even its closest ally, and do what must be done, as it has throughout its history. The reaction to the Israeli campaign has only reinforced the fact that Israel cannot expect any international support when Jewish lives are threatened. The military campaign must be finished based on the security needs of Israel, not the political needs of the United States. We trust our friend in the White House will understand.