Four questions stand before the historian of the cold war and the Arab-Israeli conflict: 1) Did Israel and the US have a 'special relationship'? 2) Were Soviet-Israeli relations destined for failure from 1948? 3) Was the Arab-Israeli conflict insoluble because of the cold war or in spite of it? 4)Was detente between the superpowers the key to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict? Israel failed to get a security guarantee from the US because if it were granted ally status the Arab states would turn to the Soviets. Instead of a security guarantee Kennedy used the nebulous term 'special relationship', which did not bind America politically or militarily. Relations with the USSR looked promising at first, but the Zionist ideology of the Jewish state made it inevitable that relations with would worsen , since the Kremlin rejected the notion that Soviet Jews were by definition part of the Jewish nation, and therefore candidates for emigration to Israel. As for the Arabs, they were adamant that the Palestinian refugees return en mass, which meant the destruction of of Israel. No compromise suggested by the US was acceptable to to the Arabs , who were always supported by the USSR.The Soviets demanded detente cover not only the Arab states and Israel, but Turkey and Iran as well. Consequently the Middle East remained a no-man's-land between the superpowers' spheres of influence, inexorably paving the way for the wars in 1956 and 1967.
The Johnson administration was surprised by the mid-May crisis. Israel, far less surprised, expected the US to honour the promises it made in 1957. However, when the chips were down in 1967 the Sixth Fleet failed to prevent the Arab aggression However, Washington did nothing to stop the inevitable deterioration, since any movement in Israel's favour meaning opening a new front in the cold war, while the Vietnam war was at its height, and the German problem was still a hot issue in the cold war. The visit of foreign minister Abba Eban and General Meir Amit, head of the Mossad, to the US to warn the administration about the danger of war did not move Johnson, Rusk and McNamara. Johnson's policy was that 'Israel will not be alone unless it decided to be alone'. No green light was given to Israeli decision-makers, who had no choice but to treat Nasser's challenges as casus belli..
No change occurred before the war to moderate Soviet political behaviour. Soviet support for the Arabs was unequivocal, while Israel was subjected to an increasing number of warnings and threats. The straits of Tiran were regarded by the Kremlin as Egyptian territory, and Israel was accused of assisting the US in the Vietnam war. Israel feeling strangled by the Arabs, launched a surprise attack which led the Soviet bloc (except for Romania) to sever diplomatic relations. However, both America and the Soviet Union were not interested in a global war. Hence a summit meeting was held in Glassboro between Johnson and Kosygin, each patron supporting its clients. Brezhnev secretly confessed the Soviet leadership's utter frustration with its Arab clients, particularly Egypt, which failed to use the modern Soviet weaponry the Kremlin profusely supplied. He also revealed the Soviet leadership's contempt for Israel, which was entirely economically dependent on America.
Was Israel an asset or liability to the west during the cold war? Primary sources present a clear picture of Israel as a constant liability to the west, However, it was regarded as an asset as well at some cold war hot spots such as the Korean war, and as a guardian of Jordan. It held important cards, such as conventional and nuclear liabilities, but without global detente Israel could not survive in the long run. That was why America refused to be more than Israel's economic patron, and declined to be Israel's main arms supplier. Israel's leadership could be criticised for failing to prevent the Six Day War, and American Jewish leadership for failing to influence Amerrican presidents. However, all these 'might have been' are baseless. The underlying factors coild not be altered: Arab enmity Soviet hatred, absence of a security guarantee, and lack of detente.
The new regime in the Kremlin did not bode well for Israel, as Brezhnev and Kosygin continued to condemn Israel as agent of American imperialism. They gave official backing to the new radical regime in Damascus, and supported the PLO's terrorist activities. In response Israel increased its activities for Soviet Jewry. The establishment of diplomatic relations between West Germany and Israel was another cause for condemning Israel as participating in the anti-soviet campaign, and the Soviet press equated Zionism and Nazism. Israel admitted it was trapped between its demographic need for the emigration of Soviet Jews and its dependence on the west. The visit to the Soviet Union of both Egyptian and Syrian heads of states, and the public Soviet support for their regimes, was ominous. A year before the Six Day War the Kremlin accused Israel of concentrating troops on the border to topple the Syrian regime.
The Memorandum of Understanding was not as clear-cut commitment. America was still trying to limit its political and military implications by conditioning the supply of tanks and jetfighters on an Israeli promise not to be the first to be the aggressor or introduce nuclear weapons into the region. Israel had no difficulty in agreeing to jses demands, but the dynamics of the Arab-Israel conflict could not allow it to become subservient to American patronage without a security guarantee. The PLO terrorist acts, the rise of the neo-Ba'ath in Syria, and Nasser's growing offensive in the Arab states and Africa signified a new era which required strengthening Israel's deterrence. That could not be ignored by the US, and the supply of Skyhawk jets and Patton tanks was ensured. The Vietnam war created a dilemma for the US in its relations with Israel, since American Jews did not support Johnson on the Vietnam issue, but did support Israel. Israel however had to be careful and not side with America in view of Israel's delicate relations with the Third World, and the need not to irritate the USSR while hoping for a change in the fate of Soviet Jews.
This chapter debunks the myth that President Kennedy was the 'father' of the American alliance. Once he became predident he had to bow before the constraints of the state department, the Pentagon and the professional staff at the White House. he accepted the beliefs and assessments of Dean Rusk, the secretary of state and Robert McNamara, the secretary of defence. The US national archives show that American diplomats in the Middle East killed Kennedy's idea of granting an American security guarantee to Israel. Any security they warned, would be followed by deeper Soviet involvement in the region. American commitment was limited to a presidential declaration of territorial integrity of al the regional states. Thus it was no surprise chief-of-staff Rabin failed to convince the US administration to provide a more cogent commitment to Israel.
This chapter shows how Israel persuaded the US to initiate the 'memorandum of understanding' which changed Israel's deterrent capabilities. First, Israel insisted that the balance of power had changed dramatically in terms of heavy armaments and the construction of Arab forces, due to greater Soviet support. Khrushchev's visit to Egypt aggravated anxiety of in Israel regarding a Soviet-Arab plot to destroy Israel in a surprise attack. The visit was not merely symbolic, but rather proofof Soviet solidarity with Arab intentions , including public support for the Palestinian cause. The US promised that the Sixth Fleet was ready to react to any Arab attack, but Israel had little faith in such promises, in view of the Arab summits which bid for military escalation. The Soviet made it clear that without the removal of the western bases in Turkey and the western courting of Iran, no settlement in the Middle East was possible.
Kennedy's presidency marked a new era, but not to the extent of fulfilling Israel's goals. It stopped treating Jewish emigration to Israel as escalating the conflict with the Arabs, and took Israel's security issues more seriously. That led to the American decision to supply Israel with the Hawk missiles, although Israel was disappointed because they were defensive missiles, while Egypt had already offensive weapons, such as bombers and missiles. However, US was trying hard to convince Egypt side with the west by launching a new initiative to solve the Arab refugee question. Israel knew the return of the refugees would be the equivalent of the annihilation of the state of Israel. Ben-Gurion met Kennedy but could not convince him that Israel should be treated as an ally. Kennedy did not promise the immediate supply of Hawk missiles, and warned Israel against developing nuclear weapons, which would damage American-Israeli relations, In view of Soviet –Arab alliance Israel was left with no choice but to build the Dimona nuclear facility, thus gaining a powerful bargaining card.
The year 1956 witnessed serious crises in the Middle East which had a direct influence on Israel's security. The unity of Egypt and Syria (UAR), the coup in Iraq, and the danger to Lebanon's independence and Nasser's possible takeover of Jordan all had a direct bearing on Israel's survival. The establishment of UAR in particular haunted Ben-Gurion, who feared that the complete encirclement of Israel was in the offing. Thus in view of Soviet enmity, Israel again looked tyo the US to improve its deterrent capability. However, the Eisenhower administration was still trapped in the nightmare of the Arab Middle East joining the Soviet bloc, should America become Israel's patron. Ben-Gurion's visit to America proved that the administration had not changed its basic strategy. Ben-Gurion failed to get a stronger commitment than the Eisenhower doctrine for the territorial integrity of all the states in the region.