Did the War on Terror change the U.S.-Israel relationship?

Hussein Ibish thinks it did:

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was recently in a flap over whether or not he had said there was a “tectonic rift” between the United States and Israel. I’m sure he didn’t say that, because obviously there is no rift, tectonic or otherwise. However, his clarification that what he had actually said was that there has been a “tectonic shift” at work makes perfect sense. Indeed it’s true, as I’ve argued many times in the past on the Ibishblog, that the context of the US-Israel relationship has changed, and a tectonic shift is a rather apt way of putting it. To recapitulate, in the past, US-Israeli relations have almost always been based primarily on the bilateral “special relationship” of American commitment to Israeli security, or even more problematically on US domestic politics and the wide coalition of forces that encourage maximal support for all Israeli policies. Because of the new understanding of Middle Eastern regional strategic dynamics inspired by the situations in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, among others, Washington now sees the region as much more powerfully interconnected and interdependent, and Israel’s policies, like all other regional actors, are now also seen in these broader strategic terms. Therefore a third element has been added, one in which the United States views an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and an end to the occupation as a vital strategic national security priority for this country. This is new, and it’s clear that Netanyahu and his colleagues, and Israeli society in general, are struggling to come to terms with this.

One possible indication that Ibish is right is General Petraeus’ recent assertion that the perception of US bias toward Israel hurts our foreign policy.  I’m not in a position to say whether Ibish or Petraeus is right, but if they are, then it’s an interesting reversal of the criticism that the US War on Terror gave Israel a blank check to deal with the Palestinians as they wished.  This could explain why President Bush, who inaugurated the War on Terror, became the first Republican president to support a Palestinian state.



  1. I think Goldberg and Petraeus are reasonably correct regarding US favoritism for Israel hurting US foreign policy — i.e. their leaders often use Israel as an excuse for not cooperating with the US on other matters. Hatred of Israel is institutionalized even as it feeds and is fed by personal hatred.

    Pro-Israelis reasonably doubt the veracity of the excuse, particularly when there is often weak to no causal relationship, but given their oft-repeated and genuine words, it’s hard to believe there wouldn’t be at least a little more cooperation with the Big Satan on some issues if Israel disappeared off the map. But all of this is nothing new. Goldberg’s anonymous Jewish leader describes it well.

    The truly objectionable part that does not seem to be clearly delineated is the implication that the US favoritism is unjustified, or that, right or wrong, Israel should be sacrificed for other US foreign policy goals.

    In that context, the “tectonic shift” is a realignment of US-centric interests. As the US experiences more terrorism, it may better understand what Israel has to deal with, but its greater priority is to focus on its own security above others. Thus, US culture and politics seeks an easy compromise, which, ironically, can feed the goals of terrorists.

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