When Did the U.S. and Israel Become Allies? (Hint: Trick Question)

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There has never been a treaty between Israel and the United States. Both countries have shared values and a passion for democracy. While in 2002 Israel is a defacto ally of the U.S., the official U.S. government position is that there is a"special relationship" between Israel and the United States. Those who refer to Israel as an ally of the United States in 1967 are guilty of an anachronism and display a lack of knowledge of history.

When the concept of Zionism and establishment of a homeland for the Jewish people was developing in Europe at the end of the 19th century, the idea was not initially popular with the majority of American Jews.

Following World War I, the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917 was a product of efforts by President Woodrow Wilson at the urging of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. At that time, support for a Jewish state by the United States and American Jews was not popular.

Following World War II and the Holocaust, the United Nations General Assembly passed Resolution 181 on November 29, 1947, which devised a plan to partition the British mandate of Palestine. The Jewish community of Palestine accepted the plan, but the Arabs rejected it. Britain withdrew from mandatory Palestine on May 14, 1948, and Israel declared itself a State. Upon Israel's declaration of statehood, both the United States and the Soviet Union immediately recognized the state of Israel.

President Harry Truman, with the urging of his executive assistant, Clark Clifford, acted because he felt"it was the right thing to do." The Soviet motive was less altruistic. Because the government of Israel was controlled by the Labor Party, the Soviets believed Israel would become part of the Soviet Bloc and provide a Soviet entree into the Middle East. Israel chose the West and the Soviets were disappointed. The Soviets then courted favor with Arab countries and developed a hostile position to Israel.

Although the United States immediately recognized Israel, it also strictly enforced the Neutrality Act which prohibited the sale or transfer of any military weapons to Israel. The 1948 War of Independence established the state of Israel. No official assistance was provided by the United States. For the first 17 years of its existence, Israel did not receive any military or economic aid from the United States government. In 1948, individual U.S. citizens attempted to send arms to Israel in violation of the Neutrality Act. Some efforts were successful. Some efforts failed and individuals were prosecuted in federal courts. Some were treated sternly, and others were treated more sympathetically. (The first U.S. military weapons sold to Israel by the U.S. government were a few defensive Hawk antiaircraft missile batteries in 1964.)

Still, in the late 1940s, the majority of American Jews were not in favor of a Jewish state in Palestine.Israel shopped for arms around the world and acquired a varied inventory of military hardware. During this time frame, France was fighting Arabs in Algeria and thus, according to the ancient Middle East adage,"The enemy of my enemy is my friend," France became Israel's friend and primary supplier of military hardware.

Israel bought jet fighters from France. First the Ouragan, then Mysteres, Vatours, Super Mysteres, and finally, the Mirage IIIC, which the French manufacturer Desault developed in cooperation with Israel and with the loan of Israel's chief test pilot, Colonel Danny Shapira.

In 1956, President Nasser of Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal and closed the Strait of Tiran. Israel joined England and France in operation Musketeer, a military action which swiftly captured the Sinai and the Suez Canal.

Following their military success, England, France, and Israel were coerced to withdraw from the canal and the Sinai by the United States under the policy of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.

At this point, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel became strained and cold.

The Israelis continued to rely on their French military arms supplier until the 1960s, when Charles de Gaulle came to power. De Gaulle made peace with the Arabs and gave up the French claim to Algeria. DeGaulle then began to mend fences with the Arabs and the first victim of this new reality was the French-Israel connection.

By 1966, Israel had purchased and taken delivery of 76 Mirage IIIC jet aircraft and had purchased and paid for 50 more. DeGaulle refused to deliver the 50 additional jets and he also refused to refund the purchase price, which Israel had paid in full. France also constructed some missile boats for Israel at the Port of Cherbourg for which Israel had also paid in full. DeGaulle refused to deliver the boats but they ultimately found their way to Israel by way of an incredible Israeli intelligence caper. (That fascinating story is told in The Boats of Cherbourg by Abraham Rabinovich.)

At this point in the mid-1960s, an interesting event occurred. The Israeli Mossad sent an American female agent to Iraq where she cultivated a romance with Munir Redfa, an Iraqi jet fighter pilot who had been trained both in the United States and the Soviet Union. The pilot, a Christian Arab, was married and had two children. The agent lured him to Paris. When they arrived, the eager prospective lover was told,"This is not about sex. If you would like a handsome sum of money and your family out of Iraq, take this ticket and false passport and fly to Tel Aviv. Otherwise, you may fly back to Iraq."

The Iraqi pilot made the trip to Tel Aviv and ultimately his family left Iraq. Then, on a lovely clear day, he flew an Iraqi Air Force MiG-21 to Israel, where the family was reunited and he got his handsome amount of dollars.

In 1966, the MiG-21 was the Soviet first line jet fighter and no Western country had been able to get near one.

While the official U.S.-Israeli relationship had been first indifferent from 1948 until 1956, and then cold from 1956 into the 1960s, one slender strand of cooperation had remained intact. During World War II, Palestinian Jews had cooperated with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in the fight against Nazi Germany. Following WWII, the OSS became the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The U.S. Chief of Counter Intelligence, James Jesus Angelton, developed, maintained, and nurtured a symbiotic relationship between the CIA and those Palestinian Jews who evolved into the Israeli Mossad.

The Israelis assigned Colonel Danny Shapira to study the MiG-21 and after a short time, they turned it over to the United States Central Intelligence Agency. (Danny Shapira trained a U.S. Air Force F-111 Test Pilot, Lt. Joe Jordan to fly it and the MiG-21 was sent to the United States where it spent a lot of time in an Aggressor Squadron at a U.S. Air Force Base in Nevada.)

Needless to say, the CIA and the U.S. Air Force were delighted with access to the Soviet's first line fighter and the chill of the Eisenhower/Dulles years began to thaw.

Following the turning over of the MiG-21, President Johnson invited Prime Minister Levi Eshkol to his ranch in Texas and Eshkol arrived with a long shopping list. He left with promises of future U.S. military supplies, including A-4 attack aircraft. Although the U.S. military hardware did not arrive in time for the 1967 war, it ultimately replaced the French source for military hardware and the U.S.-Israel special relationship became closer and warmer.

In 1967, Israel was threatened with destruction by Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and other Arab countries and the June 1967 war occurred. An excellent account of this war, commonly called the"Six Day War," was recently published by Michael Oren - Six Days of War (Oxford Press, 2002). Prior to the Six Day War, the continued existence of Israel was in doubt. The U.S. relationship was becoming warmer but at best the U.S. was a friendly neutral. Dean Rusk said that being neutral was not an expression of indifference, but Israel was not an ally. At the outbreak of the Six Day War, State Department Spokesman Robert McClosky announced on behalf of the United States:"Our position [on the war] is neutral in thought, word, and deed."

Following Israel's stunning victory in the Six Day War, a euphoria set in around the world and strong support for the state of Israel developed in the United States. American public opinion swung dramatically in favor of Israel and for the first time in history, a majority of American Jews became Zionists, that is they supported the concept of a Jewish state.

From 1967 forward, the special relationship between the United States and Israel developed and grew. It has had its ups and downs on the political level as U.S. national interests, especially the need for oil, make it expedient for the U.S. Government to court favor with various Arab states, but the relationship remained relatively constant and strong at both the military and intelligence levels.

Israel did not retaliate against Iraq during the Gulf War when Iraq launched SCUD missiles at Israeli cities. The exercise of this restraint by Israel preserved the coalition of Arab states created by the United States to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. This restraint was appreciated by the U.S.

Israel has voted with the U.S. at the United Nations about 88 percent of the time, more often than any other nation and the U.S. has usually protected Israel from hostile Security Council Resolutions by the exercise of its veto. Recent polls confirm that the special relationship between the United States and Israel remains strong.