Devin Sper

It is time Israel lessened her dependence on the United States

The disastrous Iranian nuclear agreement highlights the danger of Israel’s habitual reliance on the United States. The U.S. is no longer a superpower; the Obama administration explicitly rejects this role and will act only in consensus with “the world community.”   A future administration might be more favorable to Israel, and perhaps even discard the agreement, but the problem goes beyond just the Obama administration.

There has been a long-term decline of American power since the Vietnam War. This is the result of a loss of ideals, national will, and cohesion and the consequent moral and social decay. No action or wishful thinking on Israel’s part is going to reverse this dynamic. It is best she adjust her policies accordingly, and the sooner the better.

Even Israel’s reliance on the influence of American Jewry is misplaced. Jews voted overwhelmingly to elect Obama President, not once but twice, and despite his nuclear agreement they would do so again today. A poll taken after the Iranian nuclear agreement shows support from the majority of American Jews, once again demonstrating that most American Jews follow the Democratic Party line, even as it becomes increasingly hostile to Israel.

Israel’s dependence on the United States may be familiar and comfortable, but when we reach the point, as with the Iranian nuclear deal, where Israel’s very existence is threatened it is time to for her to consider other alternatives.

The good news is that Israel’s dependence on the United States is, at least in part, self-imposed and unnecessary. In some respects, the United States is irreplaceable, but in others, Israel has real alternatives. For example, most of the food and raw materials Israel currently purchases from the U.S. are also available from Canada and Australia. Both have strongly pro-Israel governments and would welcome Israeli business.

Even U.S. aid to Israel is less vital than is commonly assumed and now accounts for only about 1% of Israel’s $300 billion GDP. Much of this comes in the form of loans, and sometimes merely loan guarantees. Israel has paid back every penny of these loans, with interest, and is the only recipient of U.S. foreign aid to have done so.

Moreover, this aid comes with significant restrictions. Israel may not use this money over the green line. Furthermore, she must spend the majority of these funds on U.S. military products, or for joint U.S.-Israeli projects such as the David’s Sling missile shield and the F35 fighter. In other words, these loans also serve as stimulus for the American economy and military industries.

This aid also come at a cost to Israel’s military exports. For example, the United States vetoed Israel’s export of 100 Kfir jet fighters to Taiwan and Argentina because they competed with U.S. aircraft at a much lower price. This represents over $2 billion in lost revenues to Israel.

As an independent actor, Israel would be free to increase imports and exports of military and other hi-tech equipment to China, India, Russia, and other countries in both Asia and South America, with no political strings attached.

I am not advocating that Israel end its relationship with the United States. Rather, she should end the exclusive nature of that relationship which has constricted Israel’s freedom of action and prevented her from establishing closer ties with other countries.

Most important among these is China. Last week Israel and China signed an agreement expanding credit for trade between the two countries by $500 million, their third expansion of trade credit since 2012. In 2013, Israel’s trade with China reached $10 billion. While political relations are cordial, the Chinese will not ally themselves too closely with a country they see as a satellite of the United States.

China’s GNP will soon surpass that of the United States, and her self-confidence and ability to project long-range military power has grown while the United States’ wanes. The Chinese know who they are and where they are going. Their family structure, sense of history and national pride remain strong even as America’s are in decline.

Israel might also seek closer ties with India. After decades of pursuing a pro-Palestinian policy, the Hindu Nationalist government now sees common cause in the struggle against Jihad, has established good relations with Israel, and no longer reflectively votes against her at the U.N.

Israel’s hi-tech economy compliments both India’s and China’s productive capacity. Neither country is Christian nor Muslim; neither culture has an affinity for religious fanatics, or any history of the anti-Semitism endemic to Europe. I have done business in Asia for more than 30 years, and I have encountered only admiration for the Jewish people. Asians in particular identify with the value Jews place on family, perseverance, success and our ancient culture.

On a regional level there has recently been much talk in Israel of a tacit alliance with Egypt and the Sunni Arab States of the Arabian Peninsula. There is no evidence however, that these Sunni Arab states are interested in an overt alliance, nor are they Israel’s best choice for strong, stable, and dependable allies. Of greater interest are local minorities such as the Christians, Druze and Kurds whose always precarious situation is now desperate due to the civil wars in Syria and Iraq and the rise of ISIS. The 700,000 Druze near Israel’s border in Syria have been begging for Israeli protection and it is in Israel’s interest to support them. Such alliances would go a long way to end the status of regional pariah that Israel’s enemies have imposed upon her.

Ironically, a more independent Israel will also be a more attractive ally for the United States. A self-reliant power is always more valued as an ally than a needy dependency. Perhaps Israel will even be treated with the same respect Secretary of State Kerry shows Iran!

Most importantly, Israel should consider a return to the Zionist spirit of self-reliance that established the country in the first place, against much greater odds than she faces today and with no help from the United States.

About the Author
Devin Sper was born and raised in New York and lived in Israel for 10 years. He holds a degree in Jewish History from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and served in the Israel Defense Forces. Devin Sper is the author of The Future of Israel, winner of a 2005 GLYPH award.
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