For most of my life I believed that the close relationship between the U.S. and Israel was analogous to that of an eccentric scientist/inventor and a superhero. America has, and has had for the last six decades, an obscenely large and powerful defense industry with a captive market for its products. The Department of Defense will buy just about anything at the drop of a hat as long as it's newer, somehow More Advanced, and either kills people or keeps Americans from getting killed a little better than whatever is in use at the time. But the problem, frankly, is that the U.S. just doesn't get that many chances to try out all these fabulous toys. I know that sounds silly given our fondness for military engagement since WWII – Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Iraq I and II, Afghanistan, Somalia, Bosnia, etc. etc. – but the defense industry is so adept at selling new product to the DoD that even all these conflicts aren't enough to keep up.
We can test this stuff in the Nevada desert, of course, but it's just not the same as using it on brown people and/or Commies. This is where Israel comes in. Those sonsabitches are always fighting, frequently with weapons of American vintage. So the DoD was like the Whistler to Israel's Blade. "Hey guys, I invented this new (whatever). Give it a try tonight and let me know if it works, OK?"
Pictured: Golda Meir
Since the George W. Bush era, however, I realize that I have been wrong. Our special pals arrangement with Israel is based mostly on the fact that both nations have the same fundamental view of international law and foreign policy: exceptionalism. One set of rules for Me, a different set for Thee. Our motives are pure and thus Our actions justified; Your motives are evil and thus so are Your actions. That's really what connects us. Not the pro-Israel urgings of the Religious Right, not the AIPAC-led Israel lobby (what foreign nation doesn't lobby in Washington?), not the common enemy, and certainly not an American desire to stand up for a country we didn't care about until the Soviet Union started handing out MiGs like candy in the Arab world. America and Israel just fundamentally see the world similarly.
Despite the close ties at present, even America has gotten weary of our Special Friend lately. George W. Bush expressed frustration, as did his predecessor and successor. Israel, for its part, has seemingly been engaged in a contest since 2005 to see how quickly it can make its long-time supporters stagger away mumbling "Jesus, what a bunch of assholes" under their breath. I actually thought that this Gaza kidnapping/boarding/shooting incident would inspire some kind of moderation from Israel and the pro-Israel people in the blogosphere. You know, something like "Man, this doesn't look good. Maybe we should chill out for a few days." That would seem like a good reaction to boarding a group of ships full of humanitarian aid (not to mention 25 EU parliament members) and killing a bunch of people. I was quite wrong (and that's one of the saner right-wing commentaries).
"They attacked us," the Israelis say, perhaps unintentionally parroting what the U.S. military and private contractors say whenever they gun down a group of Iraqi civilians. And that's the end of the discussion. We decided that we were threatened and we reacted with what we defined as the appropriate response. We have thoroughly investigated the matter and determined that we have done nothing improper. Here, these are the pen knives, metal rods, and slingshots (fucking slingshots!) with which they were "armed", thus justifying our use of automatic weapons. Does this not sound like an argument that Washington policymakers could love? And as always, Israel has the luxury of deflecting any criticism of its government with the pathetic, tired recourse to accusations of antisemitism.
As the last 10 years made clear with the United States, the world can no longer tolerate one set of international laws for Israel and another for the other 191 countries. Their foreign policy ranges from the counterproductive (Hmm, I wonder if strangling Gaza with a blockade is somehow making Hamas stronger there?) to the indefensible. I claim no expertise in Middle Eastern affairs and I recognize the overwhelming complexity of the cultural, religious, and military history of the warring parties. Nonetheless, it strikes me as ridiculous to see the Western governments, and particularly mine, tiptoeing around the obvious. This shit isn't helping. It's driving the odds of peaceful coexistence close to zero. Like the U.S., Israel usually adopts the "We don't care if anyone else likes us" attitude, which strikes me as a very strange position for a country that very badly needs allies. Perhaps they actually mean "We don't care as long as Washington has our back." How much longer that will be the case remains to be seen, although I suspect that Americans will continue to see enough of themselves in Israel to stand by them as they drift farther away from a justifiably militant foreign policy and closer to state-sponsored terrorism.