America's unconditional support for Israel runs counter to the interests of the US and its allies. We need an open, unprejudiced debate about itby Michael Lind / April 20, 2002 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2002 issue of Prospect Magazine
Until recently, America’s middle east policy was a peripheral part of its global strategy, which focused on preventing the Soviet Union from intimidating US allies in western Europe and east Asia. Britain was the dominant western power in the middle east until the 1960s, and US influence was countered in much of the region by the Soviet Union until the end of the cold war. The indifference of much of the national security elite and the public to the region, in between crises, permitted US policy to be dominated by two US domestic lobbies, one ethnic and one economic-the Israel lobby and the oil industry (which occasionally clashed over issues like US weapons sales to Saudi Arabia).
Times have changed. The collapse of the Soviet empire created a power vacuum which has been filled by the US, first in the Persian Gulf following the Gulf war, and now in central Asia as a result of the Afghan war. Today the middle east is becoming the centre of US foreign policy-a fact illustrated in the most shocking way by the al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington. A debate within the US over the goals and methods of American policy in the middle east is long overdue. Unfortunately, an uninhibited debate is not taking place, because of the disproportionate influence of the Israel lobby.
Today the Israel lobby distorts US foreign policy in a number of ways. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, enabled by US weapons and money, inflames anti-American attitudes in Arab and Muslim countries. The expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land makes a mockery of the US commitment to self-determination for Kosovo, East Timor and Tibet. The US strategy of dual containment of Iraq and Iran, pleases Israel-which is most threatened by them-but violates the logic of realpolitik and alienates most of America’s other allies. Beyond the region, US policy on nuclear weapons proliferation is undermined by the double standard that has led it to ignore Israel’s nuclear programme while condemning those of India and Pakistan.