Why John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt are wrong

The controversial book by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy1 raised some very important points about the US Israel relationship and sparked widespread criticism from many Israelis and Israel supporters abroad over the accusation that the pro Israel lobby has too much influence over US foreign policy and that the agenda of the lobby is not only detrimental to US interests but also not in Israel’s best interest.

The primary focus of their analysis is that of the fact that during the Cold war Israel was considered a strategic asset to the United States in the struggle against the Soviet Union. It was Americas base in the Middle East amidst the Arab states who at the time were client states of the Soviet Union. They admit that at that time the US Israel relationship made sense, but that the relationship has grown stronger since the 1960’s where Israel has received more aid from the United States even in the post Cold War era. As the Cold war ended and the world moved from being a bipolar world to a uni-polar world Israel is less of an asset than it once was to the United States, which leads them to the conclusion that the increase in US aid to a country which has now become more of a strategic burden rather than an asset can only be explained by the influence of a powerful interest group in the United States.

Mearsheimer and Walt are correct in their analysis; from a geo-strategic perspective Israel is not an asset to the United States. Since the Cold War ended America has gained more ally’s in the region, including Egypt, Jordan and its relationship with Saudi Arabia is arguably more of a priority to the United States than Israel is, as Saudi oil is the number one US interest in the Middle East. I would argue against their accusation that the US went to war in Iraq and the pressure to take action against Iran being more of a high cost that benefits Israel more than it does America.

The first Gulf war was a result of Sadaam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait, and the threat to the oil reserves. With the US still in Iraq after the Second Gulf war the threat of a similar event occurring from Iran is more threatening to their oil interests. Iran pursuing nuclear weapons has expansionist aspirations, it is succeeding in exporting its Islamic revolution in Lebanon through its support for Hizbullah, it is currently gaining influence with Turkey who was always an important Muslim ally of Israel and of course through the Islamist movements in other Arab countries, including the Muslim brotherhood born in Egypt and Hamas in Gaza.

If Iran obtains a nuclear weapon there are a few possibilities of what could occur, all of them will pose a threat to US strategic interests in the region. It is debated amongst strategists as to whether the Iranian regime is irrational or just unreasonable. If they are irrational then Israel is in trouble, as containment through ‘mutually assured self destruction’ will not work in maintaining stability in the region. Many Israeli strategists fear the worst-case scenario leaving them to keep on the table the rational conclusion to pre-emptively strike Iran’s nuclear facilities before they can complete the development of a nuclear weapon. This plan has many problems concerning it, one, the probability of success in carrying out such an attack, as the sites that the intelligence community are aware of are well protected, many underground, as well as the possibility that there may be other sites that they are unaware of. If such an attack were successful, it would not resolve the issue but only keep Israel and the region safer for a few more years as Iran may then learn from where they went wrong and start again from scratch.

If the Iranian regime is rational and would not use their nuclear weapons, it is the Arab states that are in more trouble than Israel is. Israel neither confirms nor denies that it has nuclear weapons however since Mordechai Vanunu leaked Israel’s secrets to the world it has become widely believed that Israel does have them. It is common knowledge that at the very least, it has a nuclear facility in Dimona.

This leaves the Arab states very vulnerable to Islamic revolutions from within or from Iranian expansion attempting to bring down Americas Arab allies. This could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. With the Arab states not having nuclear weapons to deter Iran, Israel would become the deterrent for the Arab states, and particularly Saudi Arabia. This is not so likely to occur.

After Russia invaded Georgia in 2008, the Americans attempted to move nuclear weapons into Poland to protect them from further Russian invasions, and to keep them within their borders.

The same may become the case with every Arab state should Iran succeed in achieving its nuclear goals. It was the US military presence on Saudi soil following the first Gulf war which gave birth to Al Quaeda led by Osama Bin Laden, further US presence in more Arab and Muslim countries will intensify this already fragile situation where Islamists demand that foreign invaders leave Muslim lands.

The war in Iraq and addressing the threat from Iran, as complicated and delicate as they are not only Israel’s problems.

But it is correct that Israel does still receive a lot of money in aid from America when it is in many ways more of a strategic burden today than it is an asset. And it is likely that US government aid is still given more as a result of the pro-Israel lobby’s influence than it being a necessity in meeting America’s strategic goals. But that is precisely the point. From a geo-strategic perspective it is no longer an asset, but Israel offers more than just a strategic advantage.

The world changed after the Cold war, and we entered a new era, the era of globalization. Where the world stopped playing Chess and started playing Monopoly instead. And in this new game the tables are beginning to turn, as Israel has up until now played this game very well.

In 1978 Israeli grown oranges were poisoned in Western Europe. They were injected with mercury causing widespread fear and caused damage to the Israeli economy. The P.L.O did not claim responsibility for the poisoning and denied having anything to do with it. In 1988, during the first intifada Israeli grapefruits in Italy we claimed to have had been poisoned. It was believed that in the Italian case the Organization of Metropolitan Proletariat and Oppressed People were responsible for the causing the alarm. Investigators into the orange incident believed that the most likely perpetrators were left wing Palestinian sympathizers in Europe. 2

But since then Israel has developed, it is no longer an orange-based economy. People in protest to some of the things Israel does can still hurt a part of the Israeli economy through boycotting fruit and vegetables grown in Israel, but Israel today provides much more to the world.

The award winning New York Times journalist Thomas Freidman, who covered the civil war in Lebanon and the first intifada in Israel, wrote in his book The Lexus and the Olive Tree about globalization that:

“In the fall of 1997, I was visiting Israel. The peace process was at a particularly low point, but I happened to notice a story in the business section of the paper reporting that foreign investment in Israel was as strong as ever. This intrigued me, so I went to Jacob Frenkel, the governor of the Central Bank, and asked him the following question: “How is it that the peace process can be going down and foreign investment going up?”

The answer that Frenkel and I came up with was that Israel was rapidly moving away from its old economy of oranges, diamonds and textiles toward a high-tech economy that, in some ways, made Israel much less vulnerable to Arab political pressures, terrorism, boycotts and the ups and downs of the peace process, while making Israel much more vulnerable to a conventional war. Here’s why: In the old days Israel grew oranges, Morocco grew oranges, Spain grew oranges. So if a country such as Japan or France was upset with some Israeli policy on the West Bank it could easily punish Israel by buying else’s oranges. But what happens when an Israeli company, Galileo Technology, Ltd., is the inventor of the single-chip Ethernet switch used in many intranet data communication systems? You can’t get those from Morocco. What happens when Israel companies start to dominate a key high-tech sector, such as online encryption tools for intranet security, which are built around complex algorithms developed in the Technion and the Israeli Army?

You can’t get those from Spain. What happens, as a result, is that everyone comes courting Israel, no matter what the state of the peace process. Every American high-tech company has a branch in Israel – Intel just put in $1.5 billion chip plant – or owns part of an Israeli computer company. Japan, which always shied away from Israel, fearing Arab retaliation, is now the second largest investor in Israel, after the United States.”3
(Freidman, T 2000:261/2)

Israel has recognized very quickly that the world is playing a new game now, and that the rules of that game are not the same as Chess. Israel’s enemies such as Syria and Iran have been resisting playing the new game and have been able to do so for the most part because of the world’s dependency on oil. That has been generally how one has predicted the international response to events occurring in the Middle East, on taking stances based on how it will affect oil prices. In spite of what world leaders may believe is right or wrong, they must be able to buy oil.

But as we are all aware, oil is going to run out someday and we will adopt a new source of energy, unless the Arab and Muslim world possess whatever required resources for that new energy will be then they are going to have a real problem and they know it. In the meantime, as Freidman said, Israel is exporting the power sources of today’s information economy. As long as Israel keeps up the pace and can compete with the rest of the world it will not only survive but it will be the world that is now dependent on Israel for its exports rather than the world dependent on the Arabs for oil.

Foreign aid given by the two super powers to smaller weaker powers as was done during the Cold war may decrease in time to Israel from the United States but it will in the era of globalization generate more income through foreign investment and trade not only from the United States but from other countries and also from wealthy entrepreneurs from all over the world. Not in return for any strategic advantage but for profit and goods.

The more intertwined and integrated the world becomes the harder it becomes for one country to abandon an ally or a trade partner over a dispute, particularly if that country is providing services, resources or products that they cannot live without or find elsewhere.

It is this reason why America for the time being will continue to make sure that Israel remains economically stable through financial and military aid, as they have a lot of investment in the country.

The Jewish people have long understood that their general position in the world has been very vulnerable, and when you are a scapegoat, are few in number and have and are being persecuted with no sovereignty one has to find power in their position of weakness. It is no surprise that many Jewish mothers dream of their children becoming doctors. To be a doctor, in spite of it being one of the most respected professions, means that even your enemies can be dependent on you. Jews aspired to get into professions, which would put them into that position. Israel has continued that strategy and medicine is another field that Israel is a leading country.

The Comedian Jackie Mason once said, “Why do you think Jews became dentists? Because gentiles play Hockey.”

Chaim Weitzmann, Israel’s first president believed that the Arabs would welcome the Jews return home to the Land of Israel, for reasons which many non-Jewish British Zionists believed that the Jews coming from Europe were well educated, westernized and would industrialize and modernize the Middle East. Of course, this would have been a dream come true were that the case, but Jabotinsky turned out to be correct in claiming this to be naïve to think that the Arabs would not concede any territory they saw as their own without a fight and that a conflict was inevitable whether the Jews wanted it or not. Jabotinsky was right, they would not accept Israel without a fight first, but Israel and the Arabs have been fighting for over sixty years now, Israel’s enemies have not only yet to modernize in the sense that the world changed during the industrial revolution in order to prosper but their has been another more post modern revolution which began in the 1980’s through changes in communication.

Israel’s enemies are running out of oil, have no Soviet Union to give them hand outs anymore and the world are becoming more dependent on Israel than on them and they will have to realize that it is a losing battle and that they will have to make peace with Israel soon. Only now might Weitzman’s vision soon come to fruition, not only are the world becoming more dependent of Israeli exports, but Israel’s neighbours too need those resources, and they see how Israel has developed and is benefiting from its achievements and they too need Israel’s help to help them develop, to improve their standard of living and to be able to keep up with the rest of the world.

Israel is doing and has done a lot to help third world and developing countries, including exporting its agricultural expertise to African countries, the strategy of the periphery will eventually if successful turn third world countries into developing countries and developing countries into developed countries, leaving those who say no to peace and no to recognizing and cooperating with Israel in a very isolated position with no alternative. They will not be able to sustain themselves on their own in a globalized world.

For those who are sceptical of Israel’s intentions that this may mean that Israel may then use its new position of power to become more aggressive towards the Arabs, Israel is restrained too by its demographic problem, it cannot remain a Jewish and Democratic state with a Jewish majority if it continues to control the West Bank. It is only a matter of time in this respect that a Palestinian state be established on the West Bank and the conflict will be reduced to Gaza and Lebanon, but the Iranian nuclear factor needs to be removed from the equation somehow.

US vice president, Joe Biden in his speech to Tel Aviv University during his last visit to Israel he couldn’t have made this point more clear when he said that:

“My advice, to everyone to whom I speak is that you better get ready for the future, you have no choice, and the best way to do that is to begin expanding relationships with Israel, its in your naked self interest, as well as in Israel’s interest. This is going to be slow incoming, but events are altering attitudes, and not all negatively, some of them positively.”4
(Biden, J. 2010)

The widespread outrage over Israel’s actions lately, are last minute panics by the rejectionists to delegitimize Israel, the clock is ticking. The Iranian threat still looms, and that is the last real straw that those bent on destroying Israel are clinging on to. But the future is looking very positive for Israel as the conditions and prospects of achieving an economic peace are increasing.



1 Mearsheimer, J and Walt, S (2007) The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux: New York

2 Sprinzak z”l, E and Karmon E, Why so little? The Palestinian Terrorist Organizations and Unconventional Terrorism

3 Friedman, T (2000) The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Harper Collins: London

4 Biden J (2010) Speech given to an audience at Tel Aviv University as Vice President of the United States, recorded by American Embassy team
As appeared on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ViLI3Onwl6w 09.06.2010

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