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The US-Israeli Relationship

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Flag of Israel

Flag of Israel

Photo: Getty/Digital Vision

Background:

Israel is considered a major ally of the United States in the region, receiving American aid since its creation in 1948. Early American support for Israel was sparked by the need for a Jewish state in the aftermath of World War II and the Holocaust. Today, the country receives around $3 billion per year in economic and military support from the United States. And Israel receives significant grassroots support from American Jewish groups and many American Christian groups.

U.S. Interest:

While Israel needs American security guarantees to survive what it perceives as a hostile region, the United States has relied on Israel to counter communism in the region during the cold war, support a market economy approach in the region, and as a reliable ally in its various Middle East policy projects. Both sides routinely coordinate regional strategies exemplified by allegations of cooperation in Israeli attacks on Lebanon in 2006. The United States also benefits from close cooperation between its intelligence communities and those of Israel.

1956 War:

The 1956 Suez Crisis saw the combined forces of Britain, France, and Israel attack Egypt. Egypt had nationalized the Suez Canal after the US and Britain refused to fund the Aswan Dam, President Nasser's flagship developmental project. In all of the major Arab-Israeli wars, this conflict was the only one where American demands ran contrary to Israeli policy. In the end, the United States effectively demanded an end to the aggression and rallied for a U.N. mandated solution to the conflict.

Arab Nationalism:

Though the United States might have stopped Britain, France and Israel from removing President Nasser from power in 1956, America and Israel increasingly became united in their desire to end Nasser's reign. Nasser had mobilized a large base of followers across all Arab countries with his call for Arab Nationalism, which combined with anti-Israel/pro-Palestine rhetoric made Israel keen on removing Nasser. At the same time, Nasser's rhetoric was also anti-American as he moved closer to the Soviet camp during the height of the Cold War, putting him at odds with American policy.

1967 War:

This environment resulted in more support of Israel during President Lyndon Johnson's administration. In June of 1967 Israel launched what it called a preemptive strike against Egypt after various acts of brinkmanship from Egypt's Nasser. Although the United States did not provide combat support to Israel during its most successful war, material and political support flowed freely. For the United States, not only did Israel's victory humiliate Nasser who was a stumbling block for U.S. plans in the region, but the war also took on a symbolic glow, where an American proxy beat the combined forces of Soviet proxies.

Camp David and The Peace Process:

In 1973, Egypt and Syria launched an attack on Israel to liberate lands occupied during the 1967 war. The aftermath saw a U.S. negotiated ceasefire grow into greater American mediation when President Jimmy Carter helped President Sadat of Egypt and Prime Minister Begin of Israel negotiate what became a peace treaty at Camp David. The United States has since participated in various efforts to solve the Israel-Palestine issue, including talks in Oslo and more recently President Bush's roadmap for peace. America is routinely criticized by Arabs for not playing a true mediator role and instead being partial to Israel.

Current Relations:

Two contentious issues have brought the close relationship of the United States and Israel under scrutiny and have contributed to some tension in the relationship. One is Israel's continued building of settlements on Palestinian land, despite the illegality under international law and the objection of U.S. politicians. Another issue has been the Israeli lobby in the US which has been criticized for advocating Israel's interests within the American political system, even if they are contrary or might harm U.S. national interests.

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