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Israel and United States, a Special Partnership

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It was Harry Truman who recognised the fledgeling state of Israel, just eleven minutes after it came into existence on 14th May 1948. This is an oft quoted fact that still bears consideration after all these years when it comes to analysing the special relationship that came to be between the two nations. Analysts and theorists, even after seven decades or more continue to debate the antecedents and endurance of this unique relationship which at the same time straddles and transcends all manners of dimensions, including strategic, military, economic and academic domains. Like all relationships, this one too, has its share of internal stresses and contradictions and on a more formal note it is the continual reaffirmation of the shared “commitment to democracy, economic prosperity, and regional security”, which cements this bond with unfailing regularity.

On a more mundane note, it is the US commitment to Israel’s security which forms the backbone of this relationship and the $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding stretching over 10 years starting, 2016, is evidentiary of the accompanying immunity to changing political fortunes of the ‘day’. The start of the strategic cooperation may be traced back to the Kennedy Administration which authorised the 1962 sale of HAWK antiaircraft missiles to Israel and the Lyndon Johnson and Carter Administrations too were not found lacking in their support for the survival of a state which was so often in threat of being annihilated. Even as a secret memorandum of understanding had been signed between the two countries in1965, a Republican President (Reagan), identified the role that Israel could play in thwarting Russian expansionism in the Middle East. With this recognition came the memorandum of 1981 and by 1989, the US was ready to establish munitions stockpiles in Israel to be used by either country in the event of emerging threats. Clearly, despite arms sales to the Arab nations, America has ensured Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.

Accompanying this strategic cooperation, which is both military and non-military, bilateral ties continue to be robust and significant where $ 50 billion dollars in trade and services crisscross the oceans annually, making the U.S, Israel’s largest trading partner. While scientific, academic and cultural exchanges drive and embellish the alliance what is undeniable is the American public support enjoyed by Israel which is by no means confined or limited to Jewish lobby groups as is often cited. All this is manifest when the U.S studiously sidesteps any hard criticisms directed at its friend Israel and thorny questions of settler violence and intended West Bank takeover initiatives do not arouse ire. It is no wonder, then, that Michael B. Oren (erstwhile Israeli ambassador to the United States) is quick to point out that “United States and Israel would stay bound by ideas and interests” and even more pithy is his astute observation that in spite of all the asymmetries in the relationship, both the countries needed each other. 

Perhaps the most trying moments in the course of this relationship in the recent past came to be in the era of Obama’s presidentship but all fears of a ‘break’ in solidarity were ultimately belied and at the end of the day it was again ‘business as usual’. With Trump’s Presidency, of course, came the landmark recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and it seems too early in the Biden era to form any judgement regarding the future course of this unique and special relationship. Nevertheless, the recent turn of events tells us that though the Biden Administration is admittedly and avowedly lacking in desire to entangle itself in the Palestine-Israel conflict, the State Department has singled out the Hamas for criticism with respect to escalating tensions and at the UN, the United States has also effectively blocked any intervention by the Security Council. Israel’s right to self-defence is the continuum in this narrative.      

Addressing a totally different dimension of this special relationship, if one were to paraphrase Jeremy Bowen (BBC), perhaps the real tragedy lies in the fact that while history refuses to die in this region, it is people on both sides of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict who continually suffer and even die. One can only wish that this special relationship could be brought to bear exclusively, upon this human dimension, if only for a while, until the seeds of a lasting peace could be sown, for the larger good of humanity. It is only then that Lyndon Johnson’s words, “Because it is right”, will truly justify America’s unflagging support for Israel.

Shiven Nath is a scholar of International Relations and Kashmiri Politics

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U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie

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Photo: Bundesregierung/Denzel

Last time, it was a U.S. president, George W. Bush, who dishonestly took America into a conflict, but that at least was against a weak Third World nation. The consequences were still disastrous: thousands dead and tens of thousands of wounded Americans and hundreds of thousands dead Iraqi civilians, trillions of dollars wasted, and a Middle East in flames.

But what Zelensky would do is much more serious, writes “The American Conservative”. He called the Poland strike “a really significant escalation” requiring a response, even though the issue would have nothing to do with Ukraine had the missile been launched by Russia.

In this case, entry into the war could trigger a major conventional conflict highlighted by use of tactical nuclear weapons, or even the use of strategic nuclear strikes around the globe, from Russia to Europe to the U.S. That would be a catastrophic result for all concerned, including Ukraine.

But the missile was not from Russia, and the U.S. has a vital interest in avoiding going to war for a lie. Upbraiding Zelensky, as Biden apparently did, isn’t enough.

This isn’t the first unsettling surprise by Ukraine for Washington. While the attack on the Kerch Strait Bridge was legitimate, it could escalate the conflict in dangerous ways for the U.S. So too could strikes in border Russian regions near Belgorod, and the assassination of Daria Dugina, a Russian propagandist, not combatant.

If Ukraine were operating entirely on its own, such actions would be its business. However, it has succeeded beyond any expectation only because of allied, and especially U.S., support for the Ukrainian military.

Washington also should further open diplomatic channels with Moscow, as appears to be happening, at least to some degree, given reports of CIA Director Bill Burns meeting with his Russian counterpart last week. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin have also engaged with Russia, but such conversations need to be broadened to discuss possible political accommodations.

The U.S. also needs to address the Europeans, especially its most fervent hawks, who tend to be among the most lightly armed.

For instance, the Baltic states — small nations with minimal armed forces and niggardly defense efforts for governments claiming to be under imminent threat of conquest — are regarded as the most likely to engage in “freelancing,” as when Lithuania sought to block traffic between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. Everyone knew who would be ultimately stuck fighting the war that might result if Moscow’s forces had decided to shoot their way through, and it wasn’t Vilnius.

It is easy to sacrifice someone else’s lives and money, which is essentially what most U.S. “allies” believe is their role in both bilateral and multilateral security partnerships. Washington submissively agrees to defend them, as is its duty; they generously agree to be defended, as is their right. That relationship is no longer sustainable.

America’s foreign aid should be tailored to American interests, and Washington should rethink what has become an increasingly dangerous almost “all-in” proxy war against Russia.

The U.S. should scale back military aid to Kiev, and especially Europe.

Operating as Europe’s patsy is a serious problem, even in peace.

The time for the Europeans to take their defense seriously is long overdue. But that will happen only when Washington stops doing everything for them. America’s military remain busy around the world. The Europeans should secure their own continent, relieving the U.S. of at least one needless military responsibility.

Zelensky’s misleading missile gambit reinforces the necessity of a change in course for Washington.

International Affairs

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Thanksgiving, The World Cup and Sports Celebrities

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Forty-six million turkeys surrender their lives so Americans can celebrate Thanksgiving.  It is an occasion where traditionally families gather together for a scrumptious meal of turkey and trimmings, numerous side dishes and pumpkin pie, followed by … college football on TV — that is American football, a game somewhat similar to rugby. 

The holiday is meant to commemorate the first Thanksgiving when the pilgrims who ventured to America gave thanks for a good harvest.  It was a time when a poor harvest could have meant famine in winter.  Never now in our sophisticated world where we import grapes from the southern hemisphere (Chile) for consumption in winter and many fruits are available year round.

This year there is the added entertainment of the soccer World Cup in Qatar, being played out in eight  purpose-built stadiums, seven new and one refurbished.  Most will be converted for other uses after the event, a change from the past.  

The US now has a team that held England, where the game was invented, to a draw.  The favorites remain  the Latin American powerhouses like Brazil and Argentina but the Europeans can on occasion pull off a surprise.

Why certain games are popular in one country and not another is difficult to explain.  India and China, the world’s most populous countries, are absent at the World Cup.  On the other hand, India is a powerhouse in another British game: cricket.  And China remains a top performer at the Olympics.

The crowd turning out for cricket matches, particularly between arch rivals India and Pakistan remain unmatched by other sports played there, even field hockey where the two countries have also been fairly successful. 

Leveraging sports celebrity into a political career is also possible but success on the cricket pitch may not always be transferred to administrative competence.  Imran Khan’s innings as prime minister led to members of his own party defecting, and ended when he lost his parliamentary majority.

Still attracting large crowds of supporters who are entertained at his rallies before he himself appears, he is asking his supporters to march to the capital — echoes of another leader this time in the US, Donald Trump, who has just announced a bid for re-election.

Meanwhile, Imran Khan has been secretly recorded planning illegal tactics and barred from holding political office by the courts in Pakistan.  Exactly how he plans to rule if his party or coalition were to win is not clear — by proxy perhaps.

If all this is not enough, he has become notorious for doing U-turns on policy leaving his party members and supporters scrambling in his wake — a reminder if ever there was of the old Chinese curse:  “May you live in interesting times.”

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Ron Paul: Biden Administration accept that it has a “Zelensky problem”

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Official White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson

Last week the world stood on the very edge of a nuclear war, as Ukraine’s US-funded president, Vladimir Zelensky, urged NATO military action over a missile that landed on Polish soil.”

This is a comment from the prominent American political leader Ronald Ernest Paul was for many years the member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas. Three times he sought the Presidency of the United States: once as the Libertarian Party nominee and twice as a candidate for the Republican Party. He continues in his comment:

“But there was a problem. The missile was fired from Ukraine – likely an accident in the fog of war. Was it actually a Russian missile, of course, that might mean World War III.

‘While Zelensky has been treated as a saint by the US media, the Biden Administration, and both parties in Congress, something unprecedented happened this time: the Biden Administration pushed back. According to press reports, several Zelensky calls to Biden or senior Biden Staff went unanswered.

‘The Biden Administration went on to publicly dispute Zelensky’s continued insistence that Russia shot missiles into NATO-Member Poland. After two days of Washington opposition to his claims, Zelensky finally, sort of, backed down.

‘We’ve heard rumors of President Biden’s frustration over Zelensky’s endless begging and ingratitude for the 60 or so billion dollars doled out to him by the US government, but this is the clearest public example of the Biden Administration’s acceptance that it has a “Zelensky problem.”

‘Zelensky must have understood that Washington and Brussels knew it was not a Russian missile.

‘Considering the vast intelligence capabilities of the US in that war zone, it is likely the US government knew in real time that the missiles were not Russian. For Zelensky to claim otherwise seemed almost unhinged. And for what seems like the first time, Washington noticed.

‘As a result, there has been a minor – but hopefully growing – revolt among conservatives in Washington over this dangerous episode. Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor-Greene introduced legislation demanding an audit of the tens of billions of dollars shipped to Ukraine – with perhaps $50 billion more in the pipeline.

‘When the Ukraine war hysteria finally dies down – as the Covid hysteria died down before it – it will become obvious to vastly more Americans what an absolute fiasco this whole thing has been,” writes Ron Paul.

International Affairs

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