The United States of America is Israel’s best friend in the world. I don’t think anyone can doubt that, certainly not I, who lived the first 34 years of my life in the U.S. and the rest in Israel.
As always, the U.S. is urging Israel to take security risks in order to keep the peace process going. They do not pretend that these are not very serious risks. Instead they say that if Israel is attacked, the U.S. will come to its aid. “Trust us,” They seem to say, “after all, we are your best friends in the world.”
This is not the first time both best friends have faced such situations, and it is important to examine history to see what happened then.
I. In 1957 Pres. Eisenhower and Sect. of State Dulles urged Israel to withdraw from Sinai. They gave Israel a guaranty that Egypt would not again block the Straits of Tiran and prevent shipping from reaching Eilat. If they did so, the U.S. would make sure that Israel shipping would get through.
In 1967 Nasser threw the U.N. out of Sinai, reoccupied it and blockaded Eilat by closing the Straits. This was the “casus belli” which led to the Six Day War. Abba Eban, Israel’s Foreign Minister, hastened to Washington and asked Israel’s best friend to keep its word. A curious thing happened. The Americans searched high and low in the files of the State Department and the White House, but couldn’t find a copy of the guaranty anywhere.
Meanwhile days went by and they began to negotiate with other maritime nations to put together a convoy to run the blockade. But no country was very enthusiastic. Finally Israel went out alone and won its magnificent victory, incidentally getting its best friend off the hook. Everyone was so happy and relieved that no one thought very much about the missing guaranty.
II. In 1969-70 a war of attrition raged between Israel and Egypt across the Suez Canal. Israel had complete air superiority. The U.S. tried to broker a cease fire. One of the main stumbling blocks was that Egypt had received SAM 3 missiles, which were emplaced around Cairo. The Israel Air Force constantly prevented the Egyptians from advancing the missiles to the canal, which would endanger all Israeli aircraft flying over Sinai and not only those overflying Egypt.
To make the deal the U.S. promised Israel that the Egyptians would not move the SAM’s forward to the canal after the cease fire. They pointed out that the U.S. had spy satellites and high altitude aircraft which could spot their every movement, so if the Egyptians tried, Israel could react in real time. Israel ceased fire. Egypt immediately began to advance the SAM’s and the U.S. spy satellites went blind.
Israel protested more and more urgently to the U.S., but the Americans could see no movement. Once the Egyptian missiles were all emplaced at the canal, the American equipment regained its sight and confirmed they were there. The Americans then asked Israel reasonably if it really wanted to resume the war over this incident, especially considering the very high casualty cost due to the missiles. That cost was paid in 1973 in the Yom Kippur War.
III. An American President once assured Golda Meir, that if Israel took risks for peace, and was then attacked, America would hasten to its aid. Golda replied, “Mr. President, by the time you get there, we may not be there.”
As we said, the U.S. and Israel are best friends. This imposes special responsibilities on both. Pres. Obama and his administration must seriously consider whether they will in fact be able to carry out any promises they make to share the risks they want Israel to undertake, in real time and on the ground. Israel must seriously consider whether it can bear the risks alone, if the U.S. will not bear its share in time.
Even the best of friends should remember Golda Meir’s answer to the President of the United States.