While I am far from an expert on the subject I would like to think I have an above-average understanding of the conflict in the Middle East, at least from the creation of the state of Israel onward. Being an American takes a lot of the value out of the term "above average", of course. Nonetheless I feel like, if pressed, I could give a half-decent explanation of the background of the current (and seemingly endless) conflict.

Today Israel is to the United States what North Korea is to China. We prop them up and rush ahead of them to put out the fires after they get a little too unhinged. The similarities don't end there. Both nations have heavily militarized populations and practice a vicious brand of foreign policy that sees violence as the first, most preferred option. There are obvious political and economic differences – namely that Israel is not a poor, backward cesspool insulated from the outside world – but they both play the agitator/wildcard role in American and Chinese foreign policy. They act erratically with the understanding that we have their backs.

What I don't understand at all is this: What exactly does the United States get out of its relationship with Israel? I mean, in an absolute, perfect, ideal scenario, what is our endgame? Certainly we are not so dumb as to think that the conflict will end or have a winner in the traditional sense. Other than some nebulous idea like peace or stability, what would our leaders describe as America's goal in offering clear and unwavering support to Israel while simultaneously advocating for an end to violence in the region?

Israeli foreign policy is emboldened by their understanding that no matter how many times they do the opposite of what will enhance peace in the region, we will still rush to their side and re-affirm our unwavering commitment to supporting them. I think this is the textbook definition of a moral hazard. So the second question is: Why must our support be so unconditional? What are we getting out of this relationship to make it worth the cost, both financial and in terms of foreign policy headaches?

Like many people I have quit trying to figure out how to solve the problem in the Middle East. I'll settle for figuring out what exactly my country is hoping to get from being the great patron to one of the belligerents.

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79 Responses to “BEST CASE SCENARIO”

  1. mel in oregon Says:

    the analogy of the united states to israel, & china to north korea is inaccurate. north korea doesn't control china's foreign policy. israel controls a large portion of american foreign policy. israel controls the white house, & both federal legislative branches on any dispute between israel & the palestinians. when aipac speaks, the president obeys, so does the senate, so does the house of representatives. israel a democracy? who told you that? sorry but you are very badly misinformed, the palestinians have no rights. saying israel is a democracy is like saying the united states was a democracy when blacks were 3/5 of a person & native americans were being exterminated just as jews & other peoples were under hitler during the holocaust. if nuclear weapons had to used in ww2, if i had been in control, i would have nuked hitler first. also israel has a hard time justifying their stance toward iran, when they have hundreds of nuclear weapons. they are also hard to justify when palestinians living on land for more than 1000 years are displaced by new settlements. you won't get this from the corporate press bullshit, but palestinian deaths are usually one hundred times israeli deaths. noam chomski, jewish by the way, explains better than anyone i know, why our relationship with the corrupt israeli government is so evil & stupid.

  2. bb in GA Says:


    I have no answers – I hate it when babies get blown up no matter who their mommas are.


  3. 한국의 친구 Says:

    Comparing Israel to North Korea is insulting. Israel isn't guided by the superior Juche Idea and it is a slave to western imperialism. Long live democratic Korea and songun!

  4. LK Says:

    @ChicagoJon: Spot on. I really missed this in my original reply. As for references: and look specifically at the two AAI UAV articles.

    @Middle Seaman: I'm not so sure about the free press. We only have two independent TV stations (and one public station, which the government is trying very hard to force under "party line" journalism), and of the four large distribution daily papers, two are owned by right-wing tycoons (and it shows), and the other two are in financial difficulties.
    The break-up of talks in 2000 wasn't about 4% of the area, it was about where those 4% are (and also about what happens to another 10% that Israel was adamant they needed "for security reasons" on the border with Jordan). To take it to a US analog, if the US had a territorial strife with Canada, and the Canadians claimed that there's a large Canadian settlement in Kansas so they need to get both Dakotas and Nebraska as part of the deal- how would that work out?

    @Da Moose: It's okay, Jews can't get away with criticizing Israel either…

    @mel: I like Noam Chomsky, but he's sometimes a little too extreme in his views, and a little too liberal in his use of the facts. It's true that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are not Israeli citizens and don't enjoy the same rights. But I hope they will be able to enjoy those rights when a Palestinian state (too long in the coming) is established. And the Arabs that are citizens (a mere 1.5 million of them, about 20% of Israel's population) do enjoy very nearly the same civil rights as I enjoy. I went to school with them, I work with them (in a local branch of a multinational company), and a vast majority of them would keep their Israeli citizenship even if they had the option to move to an independent Palestinian state (so tell the surveys). As for control of US foreign policy: I think I explained most of it in my comments above. You may have been able to say that when Clinton and Rabin shared cigars, or when GW was invading Iraq to the cheers of Sharon's government. But not today.

    @everyone: I'm really enjoying both the tone and the level of the discussion here.

  5. Tveb Says:

    It's difficult to argue with vague statements such as "I like Noam Chomsky, but he's sometimes a little too extreme in his views, and a little too liberal in his use of the facts," without knowing what "extreme" is or what "facts" Chomsky is liberal about. Nonetheless, I don't think Chomsky is "extreme" at all under any reasonable definition of that term. He has constantly maintained that the solution to the problem is pretty simple: two contiguous states at the pre-1967 borders. Unfortunately successive Israeli governments–with complete U.S. support– have created "facts on the ground," by expanding settlements, for instance (and these illegal–under international law– settlements are also partially subsidized by us the taxpayers, btw). Every Israeli government–and labor has had a worse record on this btw than some of the center right parties– has tried it's utmost to ensure that such a settlement is never reached (the history is too long to be recounted here, but Chomsky has good accounts; also look up Gideon Levy or Baruch Kimmerling on the settlements). By now it's pretty difficult to see how this could happen, especially given the enormous asymmetry of power (Israel, owing to it's position, has absolutely no incentive to concede anything). I truly believe that in another era (say about 100 years ago) Israel would have had few qualms about wiping out the entire Palestinian population; that they can't do it now is a testament to some of the moral progress made in the world.

  6. Patrick Says:

    I don't think it is all that complicated. Jews are a natural democratic constituency and the republicans think they can peel them off by being more pro-Israel than the Dems. This doesn't work any better than republican policies to strip Latinos from the democratic coalition by talking soft on immigration, but unlike immigration, israel comes more naturally to republicans because they're naturally bellicose and can use Israel as an excuse to drop favors to allies in defense industries. Thus we end up with both parties trying to out pro-Israel each other.

    There is nothing rational about our policies towards Israel. Most military action is negative sum. It is just politics.

  7. acer Says:

    I've trained myself not to comment on this one at all.

    It goes way off the left-right map, way past victors and victims.

    I may be part of the problem.

  8. LK Says:

    @Tveb: This is not a Chomsky discussion, but I want to relate to some of your relevant points. I, personally, agree with Chomsky that the endgame of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is two separate states (as I said above). Where I don't see eye-to-eye with him is in some of the details of that picture (like the strictness of the "pre-1967 borders" and the possible solutions for those Palestinians that left property behind during Israel's war of independence in '48). I don't dispute that Israeli governments of all flavors promoted the settlements at a huge cost to everyone else. But I would like to believe that under a mutually beneficial agreement, these people can be evacuated from those places and re-settled inside Israel. Israel has shown it can do this in Sinai in the 80's, and in Gaza in the 00's (and in the West Bank as well), and under the right conditions it can be done again. And the US has always opposed those settlements, more openly or more quietly as the ups and down of the relationship between the two went, but never gave "complete support" as you claim.

    As I said above, there are (to this day) Israelis who would like to wipe out the entire Palestinian population, as there are (too many) Palestinians who would like to do the same to the Israelis. In other parts of the world this method is still being attempted from time to time. But I do think Israel does have an incentive to compromise, because the on-going occupation is not without its costs (cultural, moral, economic, what have you). What most Israeli governments aren't able to perceive, is the relation between Israeli actions and the incentive the other side may or may not have to compromise.

  9. Jesse Says:

    Israel and US Foreign policy.

    First off there are entire books dedicated to this from STRATFOR and others of people who actually worked in this area for years. So it is quite in depth. However from a tactical perspective and having worked with IDF Golani brigade and Egoz unit members. A lot of it stands from past experiences tactically and also to quote George Friedman "The Revenge of Geography." Political aspects aside and spending a lot of time in Turkey, Israel, Jordan amongst dozen other spots in the world. The nature of where Israel sits leaves little room for error. After the 6 day war Israel had expanded it's territory to create a buffer system this expansion was the result of a few wars and determined by strategic value. Israel knew it would be attacked again. Over time they gave land back little by little and sometimes had to retake land again. So far there have been 14 wars there. so we are not really in a place to really broker peace and prosperity. I doubt it ever will personally. Sectarian violence is very different from other conflicts say over natural resources. Look at Yugoslavia and Iraq as soon as their tyrant regimes were crumbled. Violence ensued years of repressed hatred came out. There is a bitterness there that is surreal. I believe the same is true for Israel and Palistine.

    Why the US involvement. Well I could go on about the importance of the Jewish American Vote and reasons stated by the Media. However I will quote George Friedman again. "Revenge of Geography." While people think that each region has seperate motivations for the US. Our policy which may be a bit outdated but has been around since Teddy Roosevelt. Dominate shippling lanes and trade routes and eliminate competitors influence. Bring that to Israel. US involvement really jumped during the war of attrition about a few years before Vietnam was starting. Russia had entered this war in a limited role. So now we had a Proxy war to test our military hardware against theres. This is a bit counter intuitive to Kruschevs leadership in the USSR. Since he was not really a soviet hardliner however like the US the USSR had multiple interests. To this day we still have a vast amount of Cold War policies still in place. Same is true with our support for South Korea and even more so Germany. However cold war policy and trade routes policies are still a driving for e today. In fact even law enforcement models in the US are outdated (at a federal level). Some have called it Inertia. Maybe it's true we are just creatures of habit and do things until a change is forced. While I have not always agreed with Israel's tactics. I will say that Pillar of Defense is spot on. Not sure how much attention is given to the due care in protecting Palestinian civilians and trying to only target Hamas and other combatants and interrupt Iran's weapons flow. I also want to say the US wasn't really dominate or effective this time around. More props to Egypt than anyone in brokering a cease fire. Although rockets are still being fired someone just texted me (lol technology and man they are up late over there). Anyways that's my 2 cents.

  10. tveb Says:

    LK: Two quick things:

    1. Settlement building began in earnest only in the 80s, prior to that Israel used other tactics to stall negotiations (again the history is too long to recount here); and the only American president that actually intermittently deterred–though only briefly–their growth, was George H.W. Bush. Other mainly paid lip-service to the Oslo Accord conditions on question of the settlements. So I guess you're technically right that various administrations did not openly approve of settlement building, though they did basically nothing (apart from the noted, brief example) tangible to stop them (for example by explicitly prohibiting transfer and use of American funds, "private," as well as some "public" for settlement building.

    2. About the "stringent" pre-1967 lines, some stringency is indeed warranted here, given the proclivities of several Israeli administrations for creating "facts on the ground." Look what happened to East Jerusalem. This is also required to ensure that possible land swaps are fair, and the Palestinians do not end up with shitty territory in return for prime settlement land.

  11. tveb Says:

    Please ignore the typos

  12. hawiken Says:

    Personally, I haven't had any use for Israel since the USS Stark.

  13. Joe Says:

    Your analogy to North Korea is way off the mark. 20% or more of Israel's current population are immigrants for the former USSR or their children. They arrived in Israel after that government turned over the classified material stolen by Jonathan Pollard. Just the thing to expect our 'best ally' in the ME to do.

    As to the Hasbara they should be reminded that the people in Palestine did not cause the Holocaust, had been living in the region for centuries, nor were they involved in the original decision to partition the region they were already living in. And lets not for get the Irgun's assassination of Count Bernadotte. But hey, when your winning a war of conquest what do facts matter?

  14. Major Kong Says:

    My neighbor got really pissed off when I tried to build a "settlement" in his back yard.

    I pointed out that my holy book clearly states that it belonged to my ancestors 3000 years ago but he just wandered off muttering something about getting a shotgun.

  15. HoosierPoli Says:

    The US has supported far worse countries than Israel. They are the only one we brag about, though.

  16. Arslan Says:

    The ship attacked by the Israelis was the USS Liberty, the Stark was attacked by the Iraqis when we were friendly with that country.

  17. Pat Says:

    "What I don't understand at all is this: What exactly does the United States get out of its relationship with Israel?"

    Uhh… I call shenanigans. There's no way Ed actually wrote that sentence, unless he had a lot of wine on the way through Thanksgiving. As a sympathy, let me fix it for him:

    "What exactly do the political coalitions at any given moment in charge of the foreign policy apparatus of the United States—when in the context of Democrats, their historical Jewish base and an alleviation from the Republican charge they're soft on terror and foreign policy, and in the context of Republicans, the evangelical armageddon corps and the lamentable segment who just want to see brown people shot on cable news—get out of its relationship with Israel?

    "Oh, wait. That."

    See how much better that works?

  18. BobS Says:

    Fortunately North Korea demonstrates considerably more restraint when it comes to acts of aggression aimed towards it's neighbors than does Israel.

  19. pjcamp Says:

    If you want to understand what we get out of it, stop looking at our support of Israel from a foreign policy point of view and look at it instead in terms of domestic electoral politics. There are important constituencies in both major parties that are (or at least are considered to be by the party bosses) strong supporters of Israel — Jews for the Democrats and Crazy Christians for the Republicans. In case you don't know, the latter support Israel not out of fond feelings for the Jewish people but as one of the steps foretold by the Bible on the way to Armageddon and the return of Jesus.

    The foreign policy angle is simply to prevent Israel from totally flipping out and doing something truly stupid. That's why our Israel/Palestinian policy is stuck in maintenance mode.

    As it happens, younger Jews it seems couldn't care less about Israel so that dynamic may change in the near future.

  20. mel in oregon Says:

    chomsky extreme, nope, he's one of the most fair minded & well informed persons on the planet. i doubt if most palestinians would call israel a democracy. look, many countries have been called democracies when in reality they were no such thing. ancient greece was no democracy, as slaves had no rights. same thing with the roman empire, any country with slaves is no democracy. israel is no democracy, neither is the united states. when black people are put into prison for misdemeanors that whites can buy their way out of, & these same black people are then forever denied voting rights, we don't live in a democracy, in spite of the corporate bullshit peddled on tv, on the internet, in our schools, in our churches & in the military. what the jews suffered under hitler, & their general suffering in europe for two millenia was horrible. but, this doesn't give the israeli government the right to treat palestinians like sub humans. in fact some of you will be surprised to know that a majority of israeli jews believe their government is unfair to the palestinians. they are far better informed than most people in these united states. here you can't even have citizens with enough sense to know evolution is a fact, along with global warming. that's why our elections are a farce, & even though obama was the lesser of two evils, he like clinton will hurt the poor with his "grand bargain." lastly, there are many other public figures with a great deal of knowledge about the palestinians. a few come readily to mind. paul craig roberts, ralph nader, the late greats, alexander cockburn, george mcgovern & howard zinn. there is plenty of information out there if you want to take the trouble to learn about it.

  21. Andrew Laurence Says:

    American Jews are prodigious voters (I'm partly Jewish by background and know a lot of Jews and have never met one who would admit to not voting, but my experience may not be typical) but make up maybe 1-2% of the population, so it is not necessary to get the "Jewish vote" to win a presidential election. It is, however, necessary to get the evangelical Christian vote, and for that it is also necessary to "suck Israel's cock."

  22. planb247 Says:

    my question is what is Israel's endgame? they consistently antagonize and instigate conflict, so it can be assumed they plan on doing this indefinitely. do they think they will actually drive them into the sea? I assume most of them do not.

    My theory is that they (and I'm speaking specifically of the Israeli govt. and military) already realize the only real option will be a (truly) democratic, non-religious state of Greater Israel & Palestine (or something similar). And they want to get in as many decades as they can to build more settlements and to steal more land. and, of course, to kill as many Palestinians as possible.

  23. Greydog Says:

    "I've just realized that this might be a ridiculous conclusion because I have no idea how large a percentage the Jewish vote is, and whether or not it's critical to have it to win a presidential election in this country."

    Here's a link:

    The states with the highest percentage of Jews are New York, with 8.4%, New Jersey with 5.7%. There are 17 states with between 1% and 4%. All the rest range between 0 and 1%. So, in most of the US, they are ignorable as a constituancy.

    Further, American Jews are not a monolithic voting bloc. In the recent election, 69% voted for Obama, despite his alleged hostility to Israel. In previous elections the "Jewish vote", while it tends to lean Democratic, has been divided more evenly between the parties.

  24. Greydog Says:

    Sorry, I misread the source of my last sentence.

    Actually, the Jewish vote was somewhat less strongly Democratic in the last election than it has been in previous ones.

    i.e., Jews generally lean strongly, but not exclusively, Democrat.

  25. Phoenician in a time of Romans Says:

    The end-game, by the way, is Jesus comes back and murders basically everyone. Hastening that day is what we theoretically get out of it.

    So – a lot like the Cthulhu cultists, only more real and with a less aquatic death-god?

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