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Guest Column

US-Israel relations: downturn or upturn?
By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
Nov 15, 2015 - 2:33:26 AM

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On November 2, 2015, Lt. General (ret.) James Clapper, the Director of the US National Intelligence and former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency stated: "The relations with Israel's intelligence community is closer and stronger than I can recall [in 30 years].... At the intelligence level, there has not been much air space between the US and Israel [irrespective of the disagreement on Iran]."

Contrary to the "elite" US media headlines, the November 9, 2015 Obama-Netanyahu summit highlighted the enhanced US-Israel relationship, in general, and the long term US-Israel strategic cooperation, in particular, irrespective of the irreconcilable nature of the personalities and worldviews of the two leaders. In fact, bi-lateral defense, commercial, scientific and technological cooperation has surged to new heights, transcending disagreements over the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel's borders, construction of Jewish homes in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, the appointment of controversial officials by both administrations and the Palestinian issue. In fact, such disagreements have been an integral part of the bilateral relationship since Israel's establishment in 1948.

Contrasting the "elite" US media, the Obama-Netanyahu summit reaffirmed the order of the US national priorities, which -- notwithstanding the multitude of White House and Department of State verbal statements - does not consider the Palestinian issue a lead-player in the context of US-Israel relations, Middle East affairs, inter-Arab politics or the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The US Administration does not subordinate primary national and homeland security interests - in face of rising regional and global threats - to disagreement over secondary concerns, such as the Palestinian issue and Jewish construction in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. Moreover, President Obama does not allow the short-term friction over the deal with the Ayatollahs to cloud the long-term, joint US-Israel stance against the surging anti-US Islamic terrorism, the anti-US Arab Tsunami, the tectonic eruptions in Iraq and Syria, and the resulting clear and present danger to critical US interests and the pro-US Arab regimes of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

As conflicting as are the worldviews and personalities of Obama and Netanyahu, the US will not cut off its nose to spite its face. Thus, Obama does not ignore Israel's enhanced role as America's most effective, reliable, democratic and unconditional strategic ally and beachhead in a most critical region, against the backdrop of an increasingly violent, unpredictable, unstable, fragmented, unreliable, intolerant, tenuous and anti-US Arab Street. Israel - the battle-tested, cost-effective laboratory of the US defense industry -- extends the strategic hand of the US, enhancing the US power projection, at a time of unprecedented threats to the US national and homeland security.

Furthermore, approaching the 2016 election, President Obama is cognizant of the deeply-rooted affinity toward the Jewish State, expressed by the American people, and therefore by their representatives on Capitol Hill. According to a November 9, 2015 study by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, "favorable feelings toward Israel have increased among supporters from both parties in recent years. Republicans' favorable views of Israel have increased 12% (65%) since a low point in 1998, and a 57% majority of Democrats also continue to feel favorably toward Israel, up from a low point of 50% in 2002. Gallup surveys concluded in 2014 and 2015 corroborate these trends: seven in ten Americans expressed favorable views of Israel, suggesting that events over the last year [disagreement over the deal with the Ayatollahs] did not affect American support for Israel.... Americans say that among all regions of the world, the Middle East is the most important for US national security...."

The gathering storms in the Middle East and beyond, the erosion of Europe's posture of deterrence, the intensely anti-US Arab Street, and Israel's growing contribution to the national security of the US, suggest that if there were not a Jewish State in the Middle East, the US would have to dramatically expand its military presence in the region. Moreover, if the Jewish State were located in the Persian Gulf, the US would be able to dramatically shrink its military presence there. Israel has been transformed from a national security consumer to a national security producer, and US-Israel relations have evolved from a one way street - to a two way street, mutually beneficial win-win - ties.

Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
The Ettinger Report
"Second Thought: A US-Israel Initiative"
First published in "Israel Hayom" newsletter, November 13, 2015

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