Can anyone doubt that Israel and its American friends direct U.S. Middle East policy? Do senior members of the administration ever dispute the axiom that Israel’s enemies must be America’s enemies? Does Congress or the corporate media ever question the huge financial, military, and diplomatic support Israel receives?
Every year witnesses the shameful spectacle of a parade of administration officials, often led by the president himself, and accompanied by senior members of Congress, marching to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s convention. There our Solons swear undying fealty to a foreign power while promising eternal financial aid to one of the richest countries on earth, money the Treasury Department will have to borrow from the Chinese.
Members of Congress know defying Israel’s friends in AIPAC is most unwise and will likely result in damaging press coverage and a well-financed opponent in the next election. Loyal members of Team Israel in the House and Senate, however, can expect large amounts of cash from pro-Israel political action committees for the duration of their careers, especially if they hold influential committee assignments. Recipients of this largess include Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. (Committee on Foreign Relations, Near Eastern and South Asian subcommittee), $239,794; Joe Lieberman, I-Conn. (Armed Services and Homeland Security Committees), $367,851; Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii (Appropriations Committee and Defense and Foreign Operations Subcommittees), $254,425; Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. (same committee assignments as Inouye), $198,599; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore. (Intelligence Committee), $319,062. Senate Minority Leader Henry Reid has received a total of $374,301.
Many House members are also the beneficiaries of pro-Israel PAC money. For example, the new head of the Foreign Relations Committee, Ileana Ross-Lehtinen, R-Fla., has received $200,240, and other members of the committee have been given large sums, including Elliott Engel, D-N.Y., $242,418; Dan Burton, R-Ind., $135,500; and former member Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., $309,555. House Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor received $71,500 and $200,730 in pro-Israel PAC donations respectively while Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer got $114,300 and $214,275.
Between 1978 and July 2009, pro-Israel PACs contributed $49 million to members of the Senate and House. That money, paid to America’s elected leadership, combined with the influence of Christian fundamentalists with weird end-time beliefs, produced very significant benefits for the state of Israel. While American politicians were banking their $49 million, Israel received $3 billion in American aid every year, around $96 billion in total. Thus for every PAC dollar given to American politicians, Israel received a remarkable $1,959 in aid from Uncle Sam, a return on investment putting Bernie Madoff and every other financier, honest and dishonest, in the shade. Other purely financial costs of the American relationship with Israel include the $1.5 billion the Egyptians receive annually for signing a peace treaty with Israel, significant sums to Jordan for the same reason and billions in loan guarantees to settle Russian immigrants in Israel.
U.S. Middle East policy long ago ceased to benefit broad American interests. U.S. policy is absurd, driven by religious fantasies narrow domestic considerations. There is no doubt that years of conflating Israeli and American interests is leading to disaster for the United States across the region. Given the successful efforts of Israel’s American supporters to hijack U.S. policy for Israel’s benefit, it is ironic but not surprising that American policy failures are also having a deleterious effect on Israel’s security.
Perhaps rising food prices and Arab youth armed with cell phones taking their inspiration from the Internet created the earthquakes now shaking the Middle East. Nevertheless, it does seem more than serendipitous that many of the uprisings are directed against American friends and allies: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen. Egypt’s current military dictatorship began life as a nationalist regime whose first strongman, Nasser, earned his credentials fighting the Israelis in Sinai in 1948. He burnished his commitment to pan-Arab nationalism by seizing the Suez Canal, telling the West to “jump in the sea” with its aid, entering into a short-lived union with Syria, and supporting Palestinian aspirations. In recent years, however, the Mubarak government has turned its back on Arab nationalism and, critically, has been seen as complicit with Israel’s long-running siege and blockade of Gaza.
Did the Egyptian regime lose its last shred of legitimacy when it aligned itself with Israel and the United States during the 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza? It must be considered highly unlikely that any government emerging from the Egyptian revolution will be willing to help starve 1.5 million desperately poor Palestinians in Gaza for Israel’s benefit. Likewise, whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood becomes part of the new Egyptian government or remains an opposition group, it is doubtful that the government will boycott Hamas, which represents a large proportion, if not a majority, of the Palestinian people. Similarly, one would expect a new regime to hew closer to an Arab nationalist worldview and be much less accommodating of Israeli settlement activity on the West Bank.
In Bahrain, the al-Khalifa dynasty faces a revolt of its Shia subjects, who constitute 65 percent of the population. The Sunni rulers are closely allied to the U.S. and provide home port facilities for America’s Fifth Fleet, which forms part of the effort to threaten Iran. The presence of American warships is undoubtedly resented by Bahraini Shias, who sympathize strongly with Iran and feel the al-Khalifas discriminate against them. To understand the depth of the Shias’ identification with Iran, one ought to recall that in 1980 when Iraq attacked Iran, Bahrainis burned the Iraqi Airways ticket office and the Bahrain branch of Iraq’s Rafidain Bank. If the al-Khalifas are replaced by a Shia regime, representing the majority of the Bahraini population, it is doubtful that the Fifth Fleet will have continued access to Bahraini facilities. If democracy comes to Bahrain, helping the United States and Israel throttle Iran will not be high on a new government’s agenda.
The situation in Bahrain has the potential to mirror the political transformation of Iraq. The U.S. removed a Sunni dictator allowing the majority Shia community to elect a government friendly to Iran. During the run up to the invasion, Israel’s partisans in Congress clamored for war. In October 2002, for example, Sen. Joe Lieberman asserted: “Every day Saddam remains in power with chemical weapons, biological weapons, and the development of nuclear weapons is a day of danger. … [We] have evidence of meetings between Iraqi officials and leaders of al-Qaeda, and testimony that Iraqi agents helped train al-Qaeda operatives to use chemical and biological weapons.” One has to wonder if Israel’s friends in Congress ever considered that an American invasion of Iraq would lead to the creation of a pro-Iranian Shia government, which in the long run may be more dangerous to Israeli interests than Saddam’s outlaw regime.
In 2006 the Bush administration supported Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and war against Hezbollah. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice claimed 750,000 Lebanese running for their lives from Israeli bombing were “the birth pangs of a new Middle East.” Neither Rice nor the invasion’s pro-Israel cheerleaders in Congress could have imagined that five years later the president of Lebanon would ask Hezbollah to form a government and that American diplomats would be reduced to unsuccessfully begging individual Lebanese legislators to oppose Hezbollah’s leadership role. It may also be worth noting that in contrast to a neutered Egypt, Hezbollah’s patron, Syria, retains its position as the beating heart of Arab nationalism. Syria continues to play an important role in Lebanon while advancing its ties with Europe as well as with Turkey and Iraq. The Obama administration’s only major policy initiative toward Syria has been to deny the national airline access to spare parts for its Boeing 727 aircraft.
The Obama administration’s decision to veto an otherwise unanimous Security Council resolution condemning illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank shows how little importance the president assigns to the fortunes of America’s beleaguered Arab allies and the nature of the governments that may replace them. The president either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care that the sufferings of the Palestinian people fuel Arab nationalism and are central to the internal politics of every Arab country. The decision to veto the resolution epitomizes the imprudence of transferring custody of American Middle East interests to domestic lobbyists with close ties to a foreign power and, also, the failure of American policy in the region.