US, Israel: Making of a special relationship
THIS month marks the fourth anniversary of US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. On 06 December 2017, the former US President Donald Trump announced the controversial and unilateral move which symbolized the unique relationship between Israel and the US.
The unequivocal and unflinching support given to Israel by the US raises many questions as to why a country like the US is willing to provide unconditional support to Israel given the risk of a possible isolation from the international community.
Many theories have surfaced so far that speculate around the factors that drive US Foreign policy towards Israel. One such popular speculation is the theory surrounding the so-called “Israel Lobby” which is deemed powerful enough to shape the US foreign policy in favour of Israel.
The theory is rather popular and is held by many people as a convincing explanation, in fact it’s also endorsed by serious scholars like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, who laid down their main thesis in the book “The Israel Lobby and the US Foreign Policy”.
However, Noam Chomsky, who is known for his fierce criticism of both US and Israeli policies, disagrees with Mearsheimer and Walt. Instead, Chomsky argues that the nature of US support for Israel is much more complicated and cannot be reduced to mere lobbying tactics.
In fact the US foreign policy towards Israel is closely linked to the strategic significance of Israel in the Middle East which serves to safeguard the US interests in the region. During the 1967 Arab-Israel War, Israel defeated the forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan, which demonstrated its rather unique military capabilities.
The US was quite impressed by Israel’s military potential and began to view the country as an important ally to safeguard US geostrategic interests in the region. It’s important to recall that during the cold war, the US regarded the Soviet-backed Arab Nationalism and socialism, which had gained popularity in Egypt, Syria and Iraq as a serious threat to its hegemony in Middle East.
However, the defeat of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the 1967 War served as a huge blow to Arab Nationalism which led the US to regard Israel as crucial in containing the Soviet Union along with protecting US interests in the region. Despite the end of cold war with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the US continues to hold Israel as a strategically significant country, especially in terms of containing Iran which poses a serious threat to US hegemony in the region.
Although the strategic considerations remain the main factor that influence US foreign policy, there are other contributing factors such as the overwhelming American Evangelical support for Israel which should neither be ignored nor underestimated. Israel is well aware of the massive support it gets from the American Evangelicals and is keen, more than ever, to maintain this level of support.
In fact, the former Israeli Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, referred to Evangelicals as the “backbone of Israel’s support” and went as far as to suggest that “Israel should prioritize its relationship with American Evangelicals over American Jews”. However, the American Evangelical support for Israel is waning.
In fact, a new survey conducted in early 2021 by University of North Carolina suggests that support for Israel especially among young Evangelicals dropped from 69% in 2018 to 33.6% in 2021.
—The writer is a contributing columnist, based in Islamabad.