While many factions within the media seem determined to provoke fear over President Donald Trump’s foreign policy, there’s actually a lot of good news to report; specifically, relations between America and Israel are set to be the most positive they’ve been in more than a decade.
Shortly after his meeting with the new U.S. President, Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that the Trump administration will bring about a “new day” for Israel and the United States. Netanyahu also stated that the “alliance has become even stronger” now that Donald Trump is the President.
Although America has always enjoyed a good relationship with Israel, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s optimistic outlook might signal the opportunity to forge a more stable and peaceful situation in the Middle East through American support for his nation and the Isreali Defense Forces.
Mending Fences: What Happened?
It’s no secret that, at least from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s point of view, U.S.-Israel relations were somewhat strained during the Obama administration.
In 2009, Obama started off the relationship by demanding a freeze on settlement building in disputed areas. He then went on a tour of Arab countries, apologizing for previous administration actions and signaling his intent to be more friendly to Muslim populated nations. This was seen as the Obama cozying up to nations who have spent years fighting against Israel’s existence.
Although the brief lapse in civility between the U.S. and Israel has complex origins, most of the recent disagreements can be directly linked to the following two problems.
The Perception of Obama as Pro-Palestinian
Many leaders and political analysts felt that the Obama administration put too much pressure on Israel. Their theory is that this was an attempt to force Israel into making concessions to Palestinian groups.
Netanyahu and members of his cabinet were reportedly quite upset by these measures, as they felt it showed the Palestinians a sign of weakness. Essentially, their stance is that the Palestinians should not have any bargaining power until they are willing to stop blatantly supporting terrorism.
President Obama noted his disappointment and annoyance that John Boehner privately invited the Israeli Prime Minister to America without consulting anybody at the White House. He described the move as “political grandstanding”, questioning Boehner’s seemingly passive-aggressive motives.
This might seem too petty to spur a large-scale disagreement between the two countries, but it showed a general dislike between Obama and Netanyahu, who, for better or worse, controlled the fate and the foreign policy of their nations at the time.
What’s Behind Netanyahu’s Change of Heart?
The Prime Minister cited a personal, warm connection that he felt with Trump. Netanyahu also claimed that he and trump have similar viewpoints about the various threats and potential opportunities currently existing in the Middle East.
Specifically, he said that the two “saw eye to eye” when it comes to the threat posed by Iran; they share a commitment to preventing Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.
What this Means in the Middle East
While no negotiations have been set as of yet, President Trump has declared his intention to have direct, “face-to-face” negotiations. His recent meeting with the Isreali Prime Minister signaled his intentions to work closely with them to create a peaceful solution, whatever that might look like.
A Brief History of US-Israel Relations
There are 1000+ page books about the history of Israel, so it’s difficult to condense that into a few brief paragraphs. However, there are several key events and conflicts that built America’s now-inextricable connection to Israel. First, it’s necessary to provide a little bit of background on the relationship between both nations.
Allies Since The Beginning: Fact or Fiction?
It’s understandable that Netanyahu would claim that the U.S. and Israel have always had a special connection; it’s not false, however, it ignores many events that have transpired between America and Israel in the nearly seventy years since its creation.
America, along with England, was instrumental in the creation of Israel as we know it. Although the U.S. and Israel have enjoyed a primarily positive relationship in recent decades, the history between the two nations has not always been so smooth.
A Rocky Beginning and a Strategic Change of Heart
While America has always recognized the state of Israel, for the first twenty years or so, the relationship between the nations was often lukewarm at best. One of the reasons for this is that the American political climate was much more isolationist at the time. After the cost and human loss of two World Wars, many Americans, and more importantly their elected officials, became leery of making potentially hazardous alliances.
For example, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the U.S. fiercely opposed Israel’s 1956 invasion of Egypt, despite Israel’s alliance with Britain and France.
The relationship began to improve around the time of the Six Day’s War, which took place in 1967. One of the causes of that particular conflict was a group of Soviet coups that took place in the nearby nations of Syria and Iraq. One of the results of the war was that Egypt became a Soviet naval base. This threatened to destabilize the governments of American allies such as Turkey.
Naturally, it was around this time that America began to see Israel’s usefulness as a strategic ally against the U.S.S.R. It’s no coincidence that France had withdrawn support and weapons sales to Israel around this time as well.
The Rise of Anti-Americanism in the Middle East
America’s increasing support for Israel that began in the late 1960s is often credited with giving birth to the rise of anti-American feelings in the region. However, this is a bit short-sighted.
It might have triggered an increase in these sentiments, but it was hardly the origin. The rise of fundamentalist dictators in the region has just as much to do with the creation of the current view of “western infidels”.
The 1970s and ’80s
After the Six Day’s War, America increased its aid (both financial and weapons-related) to Israel. By 1973, American aid to Israel was providing nearly 20% of Israels gross domestic product.
This doesn’t mean that after this point America gave Israel “blanket approval” for any invasion they saw fit to engage in. Rather, the history remained complicated, running somewhat “hot and cold”. American leaders negotiated several pull-outs of IDF troops through the seventies and eighties. One notable example was President Reagan’s vehement opposition to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
But, because the Soviet threat still loomed large, American government and military leaders strove to foster a positive relationship. However, it wouldn’t be long before the threat of the U.S.S.R. would be gone.
America and Israel: Post-Soviet Era Relations
With the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire, America suddenly found itself without a tangible threat for the first time since it became a nation. In theory, they no longer had a compelling reason to continue to support Israel, especially with their controversial settlement of the West Bank.
However, in its newfound era of relative peace, America also didn’t want to create new enemies or to strain once-positive relationships. As such, America neither stepped in nor supported the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
This period also saw America dial down its financial support to Israel; compared to the 1970s, America was now contributing a far less significant percentage of Israel’s GDP.
9/11: A Rekindling of U.S.-Israeli Relations
While the 1990s and the year 2000 were not completely without Islamic aggression towards the west (the sinking of the U.S.S. Cole is a notable example), the events of September 11, 2001, were the true driving force behind the recent “coming together” of the two nations. To Israel, the attack signaled that she and America once again shared common security concerns.
However, it’s a relationship that remains complicated, due to American military efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq being unsuccessful at producing stable new governments and other much-needed alliances in the Middle East. This time also was the germination period for U.S.-Israeli disagreements over Iran.
Will the Relationship Between Trump and Netanyahu Mean Peace?
Back to the issue at hand: can a strong relationship between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu help to bring peace to the region? Most scholars, political analysts, and even elected officials are by now far too jaded to think so. However, Netanyahu’s attitude and opinion of Trump is promising in fighting both the proliferation of ISIS in the region, as well as quelling Iran’s hopes of attaining nuclear weapons.
Simply put, Israel’s security concerns are America’s security concerns; unfortunately, Israel has always been a state whose security needs far outweighed its resources and population. As such, they need America to help supply the Isreali Defense Forces (IDF) in their constant fight against terror.
It follows that maintaining a positive relationship with this important ally will help to inform pro-Israeli policy decisions that will hopefully prove useful in bringing at least more peace and stability to this deeply divided, war-torn area.