There’s been a lot of news in recent months suggesting that the unique and special relationship between the U.S. and Israel should probably take a two-week vacation at a luxury spa.

The good news is that Israel continues to receive its annual grant from the U.S. which currently stands at about $2 billion/year (down over 20% over the past couple of years, and much more if one takes inflation into account). [Of that money, by the way, 75% must be spent in the US on US-made products, which is why defence contractors lobby at least as aggressively as AIPAC to maintain this grant for the Israelis, as well as the Egyptians and the Jordanians]. The US continues to strongly support Israel on the UN Security Council, albeit with the occasional hiccup. Both Congress and the Senate continue to show strong support for Israel, and the Administration has at least been paying lip service to its strong support of the Jewish state.

However, there have also been dark clouds casting a lachrymose shadow upon the relations between the two states. Today, for example, Larry Franklin, a non-Jewish Pentagon analyst, was indicted on charges that he provided classified information about Iran to an Israeli embassy official as well as two AIPAC employees (who have since been fired by AIPAC). The AIPAC men are involved because the FBI developed a sting operation to target them. However, both they and the Israeli official (Naor Gillon) had been tracked for 2 years by the FBI. Ultimately, there appear to be no charges made against Israel and its officials, but the time and resources spent on this operation, and its ultimate demeaning of Israel on what seems to be a minor set of offenses with little intelligence value is indicative of some deeper hostility or animosity on the part of certain US government agencies, or at least key people within those agencies.

On another front, the simmering dispute between the US and Israel regarding arms sales to China now seems to have boiled over. In short, the US suspects that Israel has been sending sensitive arms to China that may include technology the Chinese cannot acquire on their own and that enables them to develop certain technical capabilities sooner than they would otherwise. There is also a suspicion that Israel is including, in the arms it sells, American technology.

Seeking to control the situation, and perhaps also to undermine the Israel arms industry, the US has now made a number of demands including the removal of Defense Ministry Director-General Amos Yaron because they claim he has misled them on certain details pertaining to Israeli arms sales to China. In addition, the Americans now want to have veto power over sales of arms to China, are boycotting the Defense Ministry’s representative in the US who is supposed to be the liason between the two countries, and is demanding more information on 60 previous deals the Israelis have had with China. In addition, according to the Associated Press,

It also wants Israel to reevaluate its system for supervising arms deals, and wants to sign a joint understanding with Israel regulating future arms sales.

In the meantime, Washington has frozen Israel out of the development of Lockheed Martin Corp.’s F-35, a next-generation warplane being developed with several foreign participants.

It has also suspended cooperation on development of an advanced imaging system for Israeli forces, frozen collaboration on the Hunter 2 unmanned attack aircraft, and suspended the delivery of parts of night-vision equipment to the IDF.

Note that Turkey is one of the countries participating in the F-35 development. The exclusion of Israel is not a small matter because it will not be able to create its own products that have the ability to interact with the plane’s system, and will also have no input into its development.

The third development that has now come up involves pharmaceuticals. In an article (fee required) for the Jerusalem Report, Hanan Sher outlines how the US has listed Israel along with 13 other countries (including China and India) on the Priority Watch List of the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) as countries that allow the violation of intellectual property rights, including patents.

This particular angle of attack comes after the Israelis are attempting to modify their 1998 patent law to address certain US concerns, but are apparently doing it in a way that does not satisfy many of the high powered pharmaceutical companies that have to compete with Israel’s generic drug industry headed by Teva Pharmaceuticals. Teva is a very important company for the Israeli economy and the engine that keeps the TASE (Tel Aviv Stock Exchange) humming. It generates billions of dollars, employs a large number of Israelis and foreigners and is a fairly well run company. Teva also keeps winning patent law suits in the United States, thus enabling it to offer at a discount its generic counterparts to the big pharmas name drugs. Needless to say, the threat here is not only to the pharmaceutical industry, because the USTR can impose sanctions upon a country, and Israel has a robust high tech sector that could suffer greatly.

Are these three challenges connected? They come from different governmental bodies, they tackle different problems between the two countries, to some degree it could be argued that 2 of the 3 matters involve the push of large US industries seeking to stifle competition.

And yet, it’s a troubling trend. It’s becoming a little too commonplace to see the Israel bashing happen. It may be because Israel’s strategic value is diminished in a post-Cold War world. It may be that having a US presence in Iraq also has tarnished Israel’s value to the Americans.

I think it is also that Israel is now in a position where its value and contribution to the safety and security of the US are openly questioned by those who seek to weaken it. Is Israel a liability in a world run over by Islamic extremists who like to use the Jewish state as a foil? Are Americans involved indirectly in an occupation that has taken on an unsavory presence in the media? Are Zionists who are also neo-cons guiding America’s policies and thereby harming the nation?

These are all questions that are being openly asked not only by neo-Nazis or pro-Palestinians or Islamic groups. These are questions posed by serious and respected columnists and politicians who may have little love for Israel, but can use their platforms to cause some intense discomfort.

Israel finds itself in a tough place. Its key ally and political benefactor remains the US. On the other hand, dependence on one country to this degree causes the type of situation we see now where suddenly Israel is faced with harsh and harmful economic and diplomatic choices. What is worse is that all it takes is an intent organization (public or private) or key people within it, and suddenly an issue can be hijacked with Israel depicted as the villain.

Should Israel not develop an alliance with the growing China? Isn’t it prudent to have another world player as a benefactor? Is there any doubt that in the next 20-30 years China will become another superpower? If so, shouldn’t Israel court this growing superpower? Has China expressed the type of hostility to the US that would cause the US to treat Israel so abjectly for its arms deals (assuming the allegations are true, something the Israelis are denying), or is it fair to say that the Americans have also invested deeply in their relationship with China?

Should Israel amend its patent laws because an American industry wants to squelch the Israeli competition? If it does, how will it replace the lost jobs and taxes, not to mention the stock market meltdown? On the other hand, what will happen if it doesn’t and sanctions are launched?

These are not simple issues, and ones where Israel will have to make painful choices. It was already forced into this corner a couple of years ago when Sharon’s government was strong-armed by the Administration into accepting the Road Map. It was declared by the Israeli Cabinet at the time that Israel was accepting it with 14 reservations. None of those reservations are mentioned by any international party today – including the Israelis. A deeper look at the Road Map suggests some dangerous clauses for Israel, and yet this is an American-driven agreement.

Let’s hope these are hiccups and not a trend.

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  • While I am pro-Israel and, in fact, an American oleh, having made aliya, I see the danger of blind support for Israeli policy. If Keith and Steve at AIPAC and Naor at the Israeli Embassy did, in fact, that which they are accused of (in the media, at least) than they are wrong and must be punished. Israel is wrong for selling arms to China given Chinese abuses and given the US’s legitimate concerns. Economic aide to Israel harms Israel’s economy as it helps prop up Israel’s bloated welfare state which weakens Israel and Israeli society and is damaging to her economy.

  • Funny that the US can sell advanced weaponry to Arab states that are just an excuse away from open war with Israel, but the US gets its panties in a twist when Israel does the same with China. In geopolitics, might makes right I suppose.

    It’s also interesting that Turkey, who embarrassed the US and directly impeded the Iraq invasion, is on the short list of cooperative nations on the F35 project.

    Israelis always pride themselves on their putative self-sufficiency and independence. Perhaps its time they wean themselves off the American teat.

  • I think the US is taking steps to prevent any such weaning by being this aggressive regarding the China trade relations with Israel.

    In any case, I don’t see a connection between the US selling its own advanced weapons to the Arabs and Israel selling sophisticated arms to a country that is potentially a powerful adversary to the US. If the technology is of US origin and is proprietary, then Israel doesn’t have the right or moral right to resell it. If it is Israeli technology, then it probably has the legal right, but it is morally questionable if the weapons system was developed with US money. If elements of the technology are American and sophisticated enough not to be sold to the Chinese, that should also be a red line.

    The Israelis have to make sure they take the high road here. Trade is important and relations with a power like China are important, but Israel has to make sure they don’t violate contracts or ethics with respect to the US, a country that has been a patron and supporter for more than 3 decades. Also, ultimately, there is a price to pay here and Israel cannot afford it.

    And Evan, I apologize for the bad news. If we were functioning properly, ck would have posted some pics of Jewlicious people to balance things out.

  • Avi, I agree that if any one of those three violated the law, they should be punished. I believe the indictment did not seem accusatory toward Gilon, although it appears the two AIPAC men are in some trouble. On the other hand, they did call the White House with the exact same information they then gave to Gilon an hour later. I don’t think “spies” act like this.

    Your comment about the economic aid is not completely on the mark. Israel has a $70- $75 billion government budget. The $2 billion in grants and $600 million in loans are important but do not have the type of impact everyone ascribes to them.

  • According to the article, the point of contention is the sale of high tech weaponry to China itself, regardless of whether or not it contained any US technology. Thus my point stands – the US does what it wants, and Israel must do as the US says. But let me be clear than I’m not at all in favor of selling China anything remotely high tech. (In fact, I don’t even like buying anything made in China although it’s often impossible to avoid that). China has the potential to become a more formidable foe than the USSR ever was – no need to help it on its way.

    As for the Larry Franklin/AIPAC situation – it looks like one big set up, especially reading Haaretz article. Steven Rosen was under surveillance for 4 years prior to 2004, and all they could get him for is passing along information given to him during an FBI operation? Please. There may have been a technical violation because the information was indeed classified, but Geraldo Rivera did more damage to the US with his sand art stunt.

  • Middleman, while paranoia has its usefulness, I think you’re overreacting. Essentially, you’re implying that these ostensibly anti-Israel moves on China and trade amount to a kind of singling-out of Israel for harsh treatment.

    In fact, we’re engaged in trade disputes with all manner of allies/other nations all the time: with the Canadians regarding beef, the Chinese regarding textile imports, the EU over steel imports, the French over genetically-modified foods, the EU over US tax breaks for exporting businesses.

    And Israel is hardly the only state to have attracted US ire with arms sales to China. The EU contemplates ending its 15-year embargo on such sales, and the US has retaliated with threats to impose trade sanctions.

    In this context, the US is hardly singling out Israel. Or is your concern rather that the US is not cutting the Israelis a unique form of slack?

    The merits of these discrete issues can be argued, of course. You may contend that Israel should stroke the leadership clique in Beijing, for example (hmm), or that Israel is right on trade and the US, wrong. But why do these matters cause you to question whether the US still sees Israel as a stategic asset? There is a war on terror going on, you know. In any event, the evidence you present is unconvincing.

    Some day, I hope (a hope you may or may not share), Israel will have an ordinary, workaday relationship with the US– an ally treated no differently that, say, Belgium or Holland. A trade dispute in such a setting is merely business as usual. File it under globalism and its discontents. In the meantime, grab yourself a Guiness, stay out of the hot sun, and relax, pal.

  • Tom, thanks for the bonus points.

    As to your other comments, I do think there is some singling out in that the leverage the US has over Israel is far greater than, say, over Western Europe. Also, the impact upon Israel is far deeper. The pharmaceutical and patent problem, for example, can truly undermine Israel’s strong high tech sector, and Teva as a company has become a vital part of the Israeli economy (for better or worse). When China violates IP laws, the US does little and in fact does not discourage significant American companies from setting up joint ventures with Chinese counterparts who then steal the production and technology know-how. The US doesn’t do anything because it is in this deadly dance with the Chinese right now where neither party can break away. Israel is so small that if trade between the two nations ended tomorrow, the US wouldn’t feel very much (by the way, excluding oil, Israel’s trade with the US is greater than that of virtually all of the Arab countries combined with the US).

    Finally, if you must know, I do wonder about the US and its relationship with Canada sometimes. It seems very aggressive at times, in favor of interest groups that can influence the politicians and not necessarily in favor of goodwill and good trade relations. So I wasn’t singling out Israel, it’s just that we’re not (quick, somebody buy that domain).

  • Middle, part of the concern seems to be the disproportionate economic power of the US vis-a-vis these smaller nations. Hard to know how to address or eliminate that. And, of course, the US has obvious and massive leverage where the Israelis are concerned. Your post evidences that leverage– the US coughs and Israel gets a cold (or worse).

    I suspect this is a dilemma without a solution, save, perhaps, for Israel weaning its way off dependence upon America. A prospect that seems well off in the distant future….

  • By the way, did anybody notice the mistake with respect to the word discreet?

    “The Defense Ministry is holding discrete and pertinent talks with the United States to solve the misunderstandings, which it does not believe need to make public,” said a statement issued by ministry spokeswoman Rachel Naidek-Ashkenazi.


  • Tom, not to sound condesecending, but you’ve got to understand where Middle is coming from. He’s a Jew, and we’re all paranoid about this sort of stuff. It’s just part of who we are. Like they say “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re no out to get you”. You guys have a much more relaxed attitude about life in general, but we’re worry-warts. It’s part of the DNA.

    The faster Israel can figure out a way to stop relying on the US, the better. I hope Israel’s burgeoning relationship with India could go to warp speed. The US treats Israel like a batlan and it’s humiliating. (The idea that Turkey should get to partitipate in the development of a new fighter and Israel should not is just, well, insane and an example of the US cutting off its nose to spite its face. Once Israel gets its hands on US technology, it improves on it like nobody’s business. The US gets at least as much out of the relationship as Israel does if not more. You think Turkey is going to be able to bring that kind of value-added to the relationship? Not bloody likely). This AIPAC “spy scandal” is just one example. It’s a shot across Israel’s bow to tell it to behave and toe the US line.

    This has State’s fingerprints all over it. State is lousy with Arabists who see Israel as an impediment to cozier relations with the Arabs. They’ll do anything to weaken it. There has always been an argument in the government between the “let’s sacrifice the Jews to the Arabs to ensure the oil supply” “realpolitic” types and the people on the other side who see clearly that supporting Israel is not only the right and moral thing to do but in the long run is better for the US.

    The position of the Jewish community in the US depends absolutely on the powers-that-be in the US continuing to see Israel as a lackey….I mean, an “ally” of the US. If and when the US ceases to see Israel in that light, the dual loyalty, fifth column drumbeat will start in earnest. I expect that at some point there may be a real break between the US Jewish community and Israel over the direction Israel should take, with the US Jews arguing for Israel to what the US says so as not to come under suspicion.

    Oh, yeah, the US is a bully. Always has been, always will be.

  • The major problem I have w/ Jews supporting this Iraq war, is that there will be a backlash against the Jews in the USA, who are among the architechs of, and the strongest supporters of this war, which many in USA feel is in the interersts foremostly of Israel, and indeed there are many dark theories put out there. As the toll of American lives increases, this will be worsened as well. As it is becomes clear, that the USA has not really ‘won’ the war in Afghanistan either, there will be much bitterness.
    That is why I despise this gung ho militant attitude that many Jews posess in the past 20 or so years, this ‘move to the right’.

  • As history has proven time and time again, there will always be a backlash against the Jews…..regardless of politics, besides Jews are usually portrayed as the leftist ACLU types… Conservative? Please, I would welcome that stereotype, politics aside my first statement rings true

  • The real issue surrounding the Franklin case is not so much about the information he passed to Israel, as it is about the information Israel may have passed to him. Franklin worked at the Office of Special Plans, a branch of the Pentagon responsible for cooking up much of the faulty intelligence surrounding the Iraq invasion. Many are interested in just what role, if any, Israel may have had in the misleading intelligence that arose from Farnklin, Feith and Co.

  • Puhleeze, putting aside the fact that Franklin was handling Iran, not Iraq, and that he is merely one analyst among many, we know the Israelis weren’t even on board the idea of having an Iraq war until Bush asked Sharon for support. It was only then that the Israeli government and its leaders specifically began to lobby the Israeli public that such a war might benefit the region and Israel. Prior to that, we have people like Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz saying that Iraq is not of great concern to Israel.

    I specifically remember attending a talk given by Barry Rubin, a respected and well connected Israeli political historian and writer, speaking in a public forum before the war saying that the Israelis don’t want the war but the Americans have probably decided to go ahead anyway and the Israeli leadership would be wise to show some support.

  • TM you see I agree with you! 😉

    Israel and Jews have to understand that the US is concerned about the US. There are no friends amongst countries. There are only self-interests. Indeed israel has cancelled many deals with China in the past due to the american ‘monopoly’- ie america says if you do business there you can’t do business with us.

    We better start weaning off the aid which we get and come to need the way druggies need drugs. Its hard but it must be done. We will then be able to make decisions in our best interest without being told what to do by some other master.

  • We in the US still love ya’ Middleman. At least as long as Iran has a development program that will need ‘special’ attention in the near future.

  • Tonight on Dateline NBC Tom Browkaw’s focus was on the war on terrorism. Tom interviews Saudi Prince Awaleed Ben Fallal (which I’m sure I’ve spelled horribly wrong). Tom theorizes that Arabs don’t like the US because young Arab men don’t have ample opporuntities for jobs, education, etc. He thinks the anit-American attitude stems from jealousy. Awaleed disagrees, he says the roots of the anti-Americanism is because of the “blatant for Israel stand – people just don’t like it.” To quote Tom – “You hear it wherever you go in the middle east, the strong American relationship with Israel, the Israeli/Palestinean conflict has long been a flashpoint in that part of the world and one of the underlying causes of the hostility that Arabs feel towards the United States.” Maybe this isn’t news to some people, but it’s news to me. I thought Arabs were anti-American because of our supposed lack of morals and values, because we keep invading their countries and trying to change their way of life, but apparently not. Apparently it’s because we play nice with Israel. Tom continues, asking another expert, “If there is some progress between the Israeli’s and the Palestineans how would that alter some of that rage?” The answer – it would go a long way to convincing people of America’s good intentions. That we really have the interests of the people in mind.

    So in order to make nice with the Arab world, to help prevent a repeat of 9/11 we have to solve the Arab/Israeli conflict. Gee… telling the American public that is a sure way to place even further doubt on the benefits of a United States relationship with Israel.

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