STILL, ACCEPTING THE DISPASSIONATE definition of America's interests, can Israel realistically be considered an ally? Has it traditionally stood by the United States on issues of world importance and in periods of crisis? Is American support for Israel based on calculated estimates of national interests, or is it the product of pressure from richly funded lobbies?
Israel has always sided with the United States on major global issues. At the United Nations and in other international institutions, the two countries' voting patterns are virtually identical, as are their policies on human rights and international law. Beginning with the Korean conflict and throughout the Cold War, Israel backed America's military engagements, and it has maintained that support in the struggle with radical Islam. In times of danger, especially, Israel has responded to America's needs. Acceding to Richard M. Nixon's request to intervene to save Jordan from Syrian invasion in 1970, Israel mobilized its army, and in 1991, in spite of missile attacks from Iraq, Israel honored George H.W. Bush's request not to retaliate.
Israel is not, of course, situated in some geographical backwater, but at the junction of paramount American interests. Its prominence on the eastern Mediterranean littoral, at the nexus of North Africa and Southwest Asia, has enabled the United States to minimize its military deployments in the area. In the Persian Gulf, by contrast, the absence of a dependable and sturdy ally like Israel has impelled the United States to commit hundreds of thousands of troops and trillions of dollars. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig's observation 30 years ago still resonates today: "Israel is the largest American aircraft carrier in the world that cannot be sunk, does not carry even one American soldier, and is located in a critical region for American national security."
The strategic synergy between the United States and Israel melds into tactical realities. U.S. troops train with their Israel Defense Forces (IDF) counterparts in aerial combat and special operations. U.S. Navy ships routinely dock in Haifa, Air Force planes refuel at Israeli bases, and the Marines will soon use an Israeli laser to pinpoint targets. In addition to pre-positioning $800 million of arms and medical equipment in Israel, the United States guarantees by law its commitment to preserving Israel's "qualitative military edge," enabling the Jewish state to defend itself, by itself, against Middle Eastern adversaries. As Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro put it, "Israel is a vital ally and a cornerstone of our regional security commitments," and, accordingly, the two countries have developed the world's most advanced anti-ballistic missiles. Together with the X-band radar station in the Negev -- manned by the first American troops deployed permanently on Israeli soil -- these systems can protect friendly nations from Iranian rockets.
In the intelligence field, in particular, the cooperation between Israel and the United States is vast. According to Maj. Gen. George J. Keegan Jr., former head of U.S. Air Force intelligence, America's military defense capability "owes more to the Israeli intelligence input than it does to any single source of intelligence," the worth of which input, he estimated, exceeds "five CIAs." Israeli and American intelligence agencies continuously exchange information, analyses, and operational experience in counterterrorism and counterproliferation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security and its Israeli counterpart also share technical know-how in defending ports and terminals from terrorist attacks, countering unconventional weapons and cyberthreats, and combating the drug trade. On the battlefield, Israeli armament protects Bradley and Stryker units from rocket-propelled grenades, while Israeli-made drones and reconnaissance devices surveil hostile territory. U.S. fighter aircraft and helicopters incorporate Israeli concepts and components, as do modern-class U.S. warships. The IDF has furnished U.S. forces with its expertise in the detection and neutralization of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the largest cause of American casualties.
Israel not only enhances America's defenses -- it also saves American lives. A kibbutz-based company in the Galilee has provided armor for more than 20,000 U.S. military vehicles. "Two days ago, my patrol was ambushed by insurgents using 7.62mm PKM Machineguns," David C. Cox, a platoon sergeant in Iraq, wrote the manufacturers. "None of the rounds penetrated the armor of the vehicle, including one that would have impacted with my head." Marine gunner Joshua Smith, whose Israeli-armored vehicle tripped an IED near Marja, Afghanistan, described how his unit "walked away smiling, laughing, and lived to fight another day." Military medical experts from both countries also meet annually to discuss advances in combat care. One such breakthrough was a coagulating bandage, the brainchild of a Jerusalem start-up company, a million of which have been supplied to U.S. forces (and even applied by a Tucson SWAT team medic to stanch the life-threatening head wound of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords).
In return for its aid to Israel, the United States receives not only an armed but an innovative ally, enhancing America's military edge. That contribution is real and requires no lobbyists to fabricate it. While organizations such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) press Israel's case in government and in popular forums, they represent American citizens who view the alliance with Israel as a national American interest. By contrast, the lobbyists for the Arab states and their domestic oil industries represent foreign interests. The hundreds of millions of dollars they have spent on lobbying and public relations campaigns and donations to influential universities such as Harvard and Georgetown have vastly exceeded the budgets of Israel's advocates in Washington.
Pro-Israel groups neither determine America's course in the Middle East nor derail it. Responding to the realists' charge that a so-called Israel Lobby exerts undue influence over American policies, White House Middle East special advisor Dennis Ross wrote in this magazine that "never in the time that I led the American negotiations on the Middle East peace process did we take a step because 'the lobby' wanted us to. Nor did we shy away from one because 'the lobby' opposed it." A 30-year veteran of Middle East diplomacy, Ross concluded that pro-Israel groups "don't distort U.S. policy or undermine American interests."
Understandably, the most sober assessment of American interests is conducted by the U.S. military. The alliance with Israel, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told Congress in March, "is of extraordinary value." Israel, according to America's highest-ranking officer, is "absolutely critical" to U.S. national security.