It is commonly known that the United States has included the Middle East in the strategic areas of focus for its foreign policy due to economic, political, strategic military, demographic, and energy-related factors. Despite how the situation is changing, Israel has remained the main US partner and outpost in such an important region for many years now.
The strategic relations between the US and Israel are both geopolitical and ideological in nature, and the countries have a long history of cooperating with each other. The US was the first country to recognize the state of Israel immediately after the British mandate in Palestine expired in May 1948.
The special US-Israeli relationship that has been established is underpinned by shared interests and values, and forces Washington to account for Israel’s position when it decides what thrust its Middle Eastern foreign policy will take. At the same time, taking into account the “peculiarities” of these relations, is just what causes Washington to frequently entrust Israel with very specific tasks to help implement a Middle Eastern policy that is beneficial for Washington, and, sometimes, for actions it takes in other regions.
Without any doubt, the key factors that have an impact on both the formation of American-Israeli relations and US regional policy encompass military, technical, economic, and energy-related cooperation, Iran’s nuclear program, the Palestinian-Israeli settlement, the 2011 Arab Spring, the crisis in Syria, and the fight against international terrorism.
Although Washington sells weapons to neighboring countries in the region that are unfriendly to Israel, this is done while fully taking US.-Israeli relations into account. We should not forget that Tel Aviv receives deliveries of the same weapons as neighboring countries do, and even better ones, and its special alliance with the United States enables Israel to enjoy qualitative military superiority over other countries in the region. Taking into consideration the United States–Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014, and the military assistance America gives to Israel every year – which amounts to 20% of the Israeli defense budget – it is the principal recipient of American financial assistance for national defense needs. In addition, there are strategic stockpiles of American weapons located in Israel; after a decision made by the U.S. Congress, these were increased in monetary terms up to 1.2 billion USD and, if necessary, if Washington gives it permission then Tel Aviv can also employ these weapons.
“The Jewish state has never had such a friend in the White House as your President, Donald Trump,” the American leader proudly proclaimed in early December at the annual Israeli American Council National Summit, which is dedicated to relations between the two countries.
General Chuck Wald, former Deputy Commander, Headquarters US European Command, stated: “From the very beginning, Israel has played the role of an American outpost in a region that is problematic and hostile to Americans. During the Cold War, it was the first line of defense against local Communists, and now it is at the forefront of the struggle against the Islamists, the new enemies of freedom”.
Honing that kind of inclination on the part of Washington, now Tel Aviv, not afraid of anything, has started to carry out airstrikes on the “enemy” it shares with the United States: the Shia fighters from Iran or Hezbollah, in both Syria and Lebanon. Due to the fact that the air defense system in the Syrian Arab Republic has become very powerful and effective in western Syria, the IDF, even with all its super-expensive missiles, cannot do any meaningful damage. For that reason, Tel Aviv made the decision – after having first previously received permission from Washington – to deploy part of its air forces at American bases in Iraq and Kuwait, and from there it is now carrying out airstrikes across Syria’s southern and eastern borders. As a result of that, the Israeli Air Force has now effectively replaced the US Air Force in certain Syrian regions.
But the Middle East is not the only region where Washington is using Israel to its advantage. For example, on recommendation from Washington, Georgia entered into an agreement with the Israeli company Rafael to upgrade its air defense systems and providing additional training to its crews, the American magazine Forbes reported. According to one American expert, this will help “bleed out” Russian aviation, which is something the United States has hoped for during its preparations for a war with Russia in recent years.
So as not to risk aggravating its relations with Turkey – which are not that rosy anyway – by modernizing and re-equipping the air force in Greece, a country whose relations with Ankara have soured in recent months against the backdrop of the latest events in the Eastern Mediterranean, Washington delegated this job to Israel. And the Greek Ministry of National Defense has already started talks with the Israeli organization Elbit Maarahot on retrofitting its American Apache helicopters by installing Spike NLOS missile systems on them, reports the publication Calcalist. The anticipated price of the deal is several dozens of millions of Euro. The Israeli organization could also modernize the F-16 and Mirage 2000 aircraft owned by the Greek Air Force by installing modern avionics on them and equipping their pilots with Israeli-made flight helmets, considering the fact that at present, according to most experts, the Greek Air Force is significantly inferior to the Turkish Air Force in terms of power, speed, and armaments.
In addition, with obvious consent from Washington to “contain Turkey”, Cyprus, Greece, and Israel signed a military cooperation program for 2021, which will help increase the three countries’ defense capabilities and enable them to conduct exercises and training sessions within the framework for cooperation, with Greek, Cypriot, and Israeli military personnel all taking part.
In addition, Washington has decided to take advantage of Israel’s ambitions to become an energy transport hub to shift the conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean from the clashes between Turkey and Greece to the confrontation between Turkey and the monarchies in the Persian Gulf. We should recall that the Arab Spring was what began aggravating the ideological conflict between Turkey and the rich Arab monarchies around the Persian Gulf, followed by Turkey’s claims to leadership in the region, and reinforced by an Islamist ideology similar to that espoused by the radical Islamic movement Muslim Brotherhood. This conflict has played right into Israel’s hands, since it could help bolster Tel Aviv’s relations with Europe and its Arab neighbors, and the 254-kilometer Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline oil pipeline could play an important role both in strengthening these ties and exacerbating the whole situation in the East Mediterranean. In addition, normalizing relations between Tel Aviv and the UAE with Bahrain could complete the creation of an anti-Turkish coalition that will shape political life in the region over the upcoming decades, and will be used by Washington as a convenient “tight leash” to help control Ankara.
Valery Kulikov, a political analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.