Strategic relations between the United States (US) and Israel have been predicted from the initial days of discussions regarding creation of a Jewish state in the Middle East. The partnership between the US and Israel became a reality with the declaration of the state of Israel by the provisional government in the Palestinian territories, and further strengthened with the passage of time; especially during the Arab-Israel wars. This piece of writing is an analysis of Trump’s foreign policy decisions towards Israel over the most critical Middle Eastern political and territorial concerns consequently strengthening the US-Israel strategic partnership. Moreover, it inquiries how the US-Israel strategic partnership and decisions are materializing in accordance with Israel’s interests, under the Trump administration.
The US-Israel relations have reached a new level under Donald J. Trump’s presidency. His unpredictably issued executive orders over several world affairs surprised many but also suited some of the states like Israel. Having a look into the history of their relations tells that the US was one of the first states to recognize the de-facto authority of the state of Israel on May 14, 1948. However, the US extended its de-jure recognition to January 31,1949, after which Israel held its first elections. With the passage of time this bilateral relation between the two states turned into a long-lasting strategic partnership and remained one of the major determinants in the Middle Eastern affairs.
The US-Israel relations in the Middle East are mostly based on economic and defense cooperation. The US has provided more than $134.7 billion in assistance up till 2018 to Israel; most of which is for the military.
The emergence of Israel in the Middle East caused a serious dispute in the Arab world, a dispute that still persists in the Middle Eastern politics. The partition of Palestine into two states caused serious concerns in the region, leading to the three Arab-Israeli wars. Ever since, the whole region is in a state of perpetual unrest. Furthermore, in order to extend comprehensive strategic cooperation, political, diplomatic and military ties between the US and Israel were established in 1980s.The US-Israel relations in the Middle East are mostly based on economic and defense cooperation. The US has provided more than $134.7 billion in assistance up till 2018 to Israel; most of which is for the military.
There is a large number of Jewish population in the US constituting to around 39.3% of the total global Jewish population. It is pertinent to mention here that the concerns of the Israel diaspora (living in the US) for their country are one of the contributing factors in formulating the US foreign policy towards Israel. A large number of American Jews exhibit a sense of belongingness and attachment for Israel. This sense of attachment is evident according to the survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, which illustrates that around 69% of Jews in the US feel attached to Israel.
Moreover, strong Israel lobbying in the US Congress is also one of the major reasons behind the US-Israel strategic relations: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) seeks to ‘enhance US and Israel security’ through strengthening, promoting and protecting US-Israel relations. The committee and members affiliated to it spend tens of millions of Dollars on lobbying and in election campaigns for the purpose of shaping the US’ fever for Israel’s policies in the Middle East. Israel’s opposition against 2015 US-Iran Nuclear Deal and Trump’s withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement in 2018 are some of the examples which are a result of the enhanced legislation in favor of Israeli interests.
In addition to the political ties with the US, Israel is one of the largest importers of the US’ military exports. Between 2009-2013 and 2014-2018 Israel’s arms importsincreased by 354% and from years 2014-2018, Israel imported 64% of its total arms import from the US.At the same time, the US seems eager to purchase Israel’s Iron Dome Anti-Missile System which is a product of US-Israeli defense cooperation and military assistance. According to ‘US-Israel Strategic Partnership Act 2014’:‘it should be US policy that the President should provide assistance, upon Israel’s request for the David’s Sling Weapon System, the joint US-Israel Arrow Weapon System (Arrow 2 and Arrow 3), and the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system.’
Although the US Israel partnership began in 1980’s, during Trump’s administration it has further strengthened. Trump in one of his tweets asserted for a ‘stronger alliance’ between the US and Israel, which reflects the President’s strategic goals for Israel and for cooperation in regional affairs. After holding office in 2017, Trump issued a statement over the status of Jerusalem on December 6th declaring the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and directed relocation of the US embassy from Tal Aviv to Jerusalem based on the ‘Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995’. Subsequently, it is in the interest of both the US and Israel to deter Iran’s influence in the region which is evident from Trump’s decisions such as, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Golan Heights.
In addition to the political ties with the US, Israel is one of the largest importers of the US’ military exports. Between 2009-2013 and 2014-2018 Israel’s arms imports increased by 354% and from years 2014-2018, Israel imported 64% of its total arms import from the US
While analyzing the above debate one can say that besides economic and defence ties some of the reasons why the US considers Israel as a reliable partner are firstly, Israel is considered as one of the ‘most successful democracies in the world’ by the US. Secondly, due to the US-Iran historical rivalry, Israel proves to be a better strategic partner for the US to enhance cooperation over issues of common interest in the Middle Eastern region. For example, to counter Iranian sponsored anti-Israel movements such as Hamas in Gaza, Hezbollah in Lebanon and other limited proxy forces in Syria, Yemen and Iraq which give the US and Israel an edge in regional affairs. Another important factor is strive for power in the regional affairs among the US, Israel and Iran. As both US and Israel have convergence of interests, most importantly, their ambitions to achieve the regional hegemony by enhancing strategic (military, economic and socio-political influence) capabilities in the region against Iranian supremacy. The US rivalry against Iran has compelled it to support Israel for achieving its policy objectives and mutual interests. Thus, following the policy ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’.
Muhammad Kazim is pursuing his MPhil in International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad. He is an intern at the Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research.