Israel’s Special Relationship with the US

“No one has been a greater friend of Israel than the United States.” – White House spokesman Scott McClellan, 4 May 2006.

“We are Israel’s strong ally. It would be foolish for people to think that somehow we are neutral.” – Republican Congressman Christopher Shays, 21 May 2005.

“During the half-century of its existence, Israel has had the strong support of the United States. In international forums, the US has at times cast the only vote on Israel’s behalf.” – Senator George J. Mitchell, former member and majority leader of the US Senate, and chairman of the Report of the Sharm El-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee, 30 April 2001.

Israeli has long relied on the US for economic, military and diplomatic support, and the policy objectives of both countries have been consistently aligned since the Nixon-Kissinger administration.

A recent example was provided in a speech by then-US Secretary of State Colin Powell to the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee in March 2003, in which he affirmed his “deep commitment” to “the strongest possible relationship between Israel and the United States”. He added: “In war and peace, the United States has stood proudly at Israel’s side. … So it has been for over 50 years. So it will always be.”,,926276,00.html

As a Congressional Research Service report by Clyde R Mark notes, “Israeli-US relations are an important factor in US policy in the Middle East, and Congress has placed considerable importance on the maintenance of a close and supportive relationship. The main vehicle for expressing support for Israel has been foreign aid.” This ‘special relationship’, as some have called it, is “an unusual partnership that links a small but militarily powerful Israel, dependent on the United States for its economic and military strength, with the US superpower trying to balance competing interests in the region.” These interests include “fostering the growth” of “market economies” and “ensuring industrialized countries’ access to Middle Eastern petroleum resources.”

John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago’s Department of Political Science, and Stephen Walt of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, highlight the dangers of this relationship in a March 2006 report entitled “The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy”:

“…there are ample grounds for U.S. leaders to…adopt a Middle East policy more consistent with broader U.S. interests. In particular, using American power to achieve a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians would help advance the broader goals of fighting extremism and promoting democracy in the Middle East.

“But that is not going to happen anytime soon…American politicians remain acutely sensitive to campaign contributions and others forms of political pressure and major media outlets are likely to remain sympathetic to Israel no matter what it does.

“This situation is deeply worrisome…

“The United States has become the de facto enabler of Israeli expansion in the occupied territories, making it complicit in the crimes perpetrated against the Palestinians. This situation undercuts Washington’s efforts to promote democracy abroad and makes it look hypocritical when it presses other states to respect human rights. U.S. efforts to limit nuclear proliferation appear equally hypocritical given its willingness to accept Israel’s nuclear arsenal, which encourages Iran and others to seek similar capabilities.

“Ironically, Israel would probably be better off if…U.S. policy were more evenhanded.”

Mainstream Zionism has long recognised since its earliest days that, given the quasi-colonial nature of the Zionist project and its foundation on the dispossession of the Arab population, it would need to be supported by force. This was most clearly formulated in Vladimir Zeev Jabotinsky’s philosophy of the “iron wall” of superior military strength, from which Israel should conduct all and any negotiations with the Arabs.

(See:; Avi Shlaim, The Iron Wall, Penguin, 2001)


Aid to Israel

Israel is by far the largest recipient of US military and economic assistance, and has been since 1976. “The most commonly cited figure” of direct assistance, according to William D. Hartung and Frida Berrigan of the World Policy Institute, “is $3 billion a year, with about $1.8 billion a year in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) grants from the Department of Defense and an additional $1.2 billion a year in Economic Support Funds (ESF) from the Department of State.” Much of this, Hartung and Frida note, consists of “weapons and ammunition as part of the Excess Defense Articles (EDA) program”, including rifles, grenade launchers and machine guns, which the US provides “completely free of charge.”

Since 1991, moreover, Israel has received an additional $2 billion annually, bringing the total to around $5 billion a year. Overall, this constitutes 30% of the US aid budget.

A portion of this aid, the organisation MIFTAH note, “which has increased in the past decade to $80 million annually, goes into building [illegal] settlements.” The supply of military aid, they also note, is illegal under US law:

“The Foreign Assistance Act (FAA) of the United States, which provides guidelines for the eligibility of certain countries to purchase US-made weapons and military equipment, states in section 116 that ‘No assistance may be provided under this part to the government of any country which engages in a consistent pattern of gross violations of internationally recognized human rights’.”


“section 4 of the Arms Export control Act prevents the US government from selling defense articles to countries that abuse their use for non-self-defense purposes. In 2001, the US State Department described the actions of the Israeli army against Palestinians as an ‘excessive use of force,’ referring to the use of live ammunition when soldiers were not in impending danger.”

Another Congressional Research Service report notes that:

“In addition to the foreign assistance, the United States has provided Israel with $625 million to develop and deploy the Arrow antimissile missile (an ongoing project), $1.3 billion to develop the Lavi aircraft (cancelled), $200 million to develop the Merkava tank (operative), $130 million to develop the high energy laser anti-missile system (ongoing), and other military projects.”

Israel also receives various forms of “favorable treatment and special benefits that may not be available to other countries … because of the special relationship between the United States and Israel.” These include the ability “to spend about 25% of the military aid in Israel rather than in the United States for US produced military equipment”, which constitutes “an exception to the general practice that all US foreign military financing is spent in the United States.”

Under the administration George W. Bush, the supply of military aid to Israel was stepped up in 2003 and 2004.

Clearly, the widely held idea of the US’s impartial role in the Israel-Palestine conflict is hard to maintain given the exorbitant levels of military assistance it provides to the aggressor. The idea is further diminished by a review of the level of diplomatic support the US provides.

Overruling the UN

The US was instrumental in drafting UNSCR 242, which calls on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories with “minor and mutual” territorial adjustments, and notes the “inadmissibility” of the acquisition of territory through force. Since then, however, the US has sought to emasculate the UN’s role in mediating the Israel-Palestine conflict in favour of Israel. According to Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies, “the UN has been largely excluded, not allowed to function as a significant player in Middle East diplomacy as a whole, and especially not on the question of Palestine.”

(Phyllis Bennis, Calling The Shots: How Washington Dominates Today’s UN, Olive Branch Press, 2000, p. 212)

On 27 March 2001, for instance, a resolution was proposed at the Security Council calling for a UN observer force to be dispatched to the occupied territories to protect Palestinian civilians. The US was alone in rejecting the resolution, which it vetoed. President Bill Clinton had previously been asked to explain the US position in an interview with Amy Goodman in 2000:

GOODMAN: Why not support a UN force in the Middle East for the illegal occupation of the territories? …

CLINTON: You can support it if you want to, but the Israelis won’t support it. … if you want to make peace, then you have to do things that both sides can agree with. That’s what a peace agreement is.

(Amy & David Goodman, The Exception to the Rulers, Arrow, 2004, p. 244;

Interestingly, Clinton’s logic does not apply to Arafat’s lack of agreement on the ultimatum put to him at Camp David, a decision which the US president bitterly condemned. Evidently the prerogative does not lie with the Palestinians, nor with the international community: it lies with Israel, supported by the US veto. This is despite the obvious fact that, as Hartung and Berrigan note: “In its role as Israel’s primary arms supplier, the United States could exert significant potential leverage over Israeli behavior in the conflict, if it chooses to do so.”

As Bennis writes:

“It is not a coincidence that the end of UN activism around the Middle East after 1974 matched, more or less, the beginning of the period in which the US wielded its veto much more often … Washington’s vetoes exploded exponentially by the mid-1970s, and a very large percentage of them were used to block the Council from responding to Israel’s occupation.” (Calling The Shots, p. 212)

A similar pattern emerges reviewing the record of US voting at the General Assembly (a body which can only make “recommendations”, but on which no member possesses a veto). In November 1981, for instance, a resolution condemning Israel for its bombing of an Iraqi nuclear installation was opposed by only two members (Israel and the US). The next month, a vote calling for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon free zone in the Middle East was opposed by the same two. The double-standards applied are obvious, and to Israel’s benefit.

The possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict was also prevented in the mid-seventies, as Philo and Berry note:

“Palestinian representatives backed a United Nations Security Council resolution in January 1976 which called for a two-state solution on the 1967 borders ‘with appropriate arrangements … to guarantee … the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of all states in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries’ (UN Security Council Resolution  S/11940). The resolution received nine votes in favour … but was blocked by a single vote against from the United States.”

(Greg Philo & Mike Berry, Bad News From Israel, Pluto Press, 2004)

Role of the US Media

As the Congressional Research service paper notes, “Popular support for Israel … has been supplemented by a general identification with Israel” as a “beleaguered refuge surrounded by hostile and belligerent Arab neighbors” – an impression fostered and encouraged by the American media and prominent sections of academia, which are instrumental in securing acquiescence in US policy in the Middle East. As long as the self-mythologising of the US as the “honest broker” is preponderant, it seems a just peace in the Middle East will remain an impossibility.

Appendix: a selection of the US voting record at the UN General Assembly

(Excerpted from William Blum’s Rogue State (Zed Books, 2002).)

“The table below … covers an arbitrarily chosen 10-year period, 1978 through 1987, and is composed of the following sections:

“1978-1981: All voting [pertaining to the Middle East] in the General Assembly examined; only those resolutions for which the US cast a solitary “no” vote or was joined by one or two other nations are listed.

“1982-1983: All voting [pertaining to the Middle East] in the General Assembly examined; only those resolutions for which the US cast a solitary “no” vote are listed.

“1984-1987: Only a sample of General Assembly resolutions are shown, primarily for diversity.”

Dec. 18 1978 – 33/110, Living conditions of the Palestinian people – 110-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 18 1978 – 33/113C, Condemnation of Israeli human rights record in occupied territories – 97-3 (US, Israel, Guatemala)

Nov. 23 1979 – 34/52E, Return of inhabitants expelled by Israel – 12-3 (US, Israel, Australia)

Dec. 12 1979 – 34/90A, Demand that Israel desist from certain human rights violations – 111-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 14 1979 – 34/113, Request for report on the living conditions of Palestinians in occupied arab countries – 120-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 14 1979 – 34/133, Assistance to the Palestinian people – 112-3 (US, Israel, Canada)

Dec. 14 1979 – 34/136, Sovereignty over national resources in occupied Arab territories – 118-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 17 1979 – 34/160, Include Palestinian women in agenda of UN Conference on Women – 122-2 (US, Israel)

Nov. 3 1980 – 35/13E, Requests Israel to return displaced persons – 96-3 (US, Israel, Canada)

Dec. 5 1980 – 35/75, Condemns Israeli policy regarding the living conditions of Palestinian people – 118-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 11 1980 – 35/122C, Israeli human rights practices in occupied territories – 118-2 (US, Israel) [Same day, similar resolutions, 35/122E – 119/2 vote, and 35/122F – 117-2]

Dec. 15 1980 – 35/169C, Rights of Palestinians – 120-3 (US, Israel, Australia)

Oct. 28 1981 – 36/15, Demand that Israel cease excavations of certain sites in E. Jerusalem – 114-2 (US, Israel)

Nov. 13 1981 – 36/27, Condemns Israel for its bombing of an Iraqi nuclear installation – 109-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 4 1981 – 36/73, Condemns Israeli policy regarding living conditions of the Palestinian people – 109-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 9 1981 – 36/87B, Establishment of a nuclear-weapon free zone in the Middle East – 107-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 9 1981 – 36/98, Demands Israelis renounce possession of nuclear weapons – 101-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 10 1981 – 36/120A, Rights of the Palestinian people – 121-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 10 1981 – 36/120B, Palestinian rights – 119-3 (US, Israel, Canada)

Dec. 10 1981 – 36/120E, Status of Jerusalem – 139-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 16 1981 – 36/146A, Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip – 141-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 16 1981 – 36/146B, Rights of displaced Palestinians to return to their homes – 121-3 (US, Israel, Canada)

Dec. 16 1981 – 36/146C, Revenues derived from Palestinian refugees’ properties – 117-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 16 1981 – 36/146G, Establishment of the University of Jerusalem for Palestinian refugees – 119-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 16 1981 – 36/147C, Israeli violations of human rights in occupied territories – 111-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 16 1981 – 36/147F, Condemns Israeli closing of universities in occupied territories – 114-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 16 1981 – 36/150, Opposes Israel’s decision to build a canal linking the Mediterranean Sea to the Dead Sea – 139-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 17 1981 – 36/173, Permanent sovereignty over national resources in occupied Palestinian and other Arab territories – 115-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 17 1981 – 36/226B, Non-applicability of Israeli law over the Golan Heights – 121-2 (US, Israel)

Nov. 16 1984 – 39/14, Condemns Israeli attack against Iraqi nuclear installation – 106-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 11 1984 – 39/49A, Rights of the Palestinian people – 127-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 11 1984 – 39/49D, Convening a Middle East peace conference – 121-3 (US, Israel, Canada)

Dec. 14 1984 – 39/95A, Israeli human rights violations in occupied territories – 120-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 14 1984 – 39/95H, Condemns assassination attempts against Palestinian mayors and calls for apprehension and prosecution of the perpetrators – 143-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 17 1984 – 39/147, Condemns Israel’s refusal to place its nuclear facilities under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards

Dec. 18 1984 – 39/224, Economic and social assistance to the Palestinian people – 146-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 13 1985 – 40/148, Measures to be taken against Nazi, Fascist and neo-Fascist activities – 121-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 2 1987 – 42/69J, Calls upon Israel to abandon plans to remove and resettle Palestinian refugees of the West Bank away from their homes and property – 145-2 (US, Israel)

Dec. 7 1987 – 42/159, Measures to prevent international terrorism, study the underlying political and economic causes of terrorism, convene a conference to define terrorism and to differentiate it from the struggles of people for national liberation – 153-2 (US, Israel)


 Read: UN Resolutions: US Vetoes




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