The Patriot’s Do More Than Down Missiles:

Their Arrival Opens the Way to U.S. Links that Could End Israeli Peace-talk Fears


Newsday, January 24, 1991


The news footage of Israelis cheering the American troops that arrived in Israel with Patriot missiles was one of the most powerful images to emerge thus far from the war. That the missiles do not provide perfect defense is not the critical fact. In Israel’s 42-year history, this is the first time that U.S. soldiers are there to par­ticipate in its defense. The decision of the United States to send soldiers rather than just weapons, and the decision of the Israelis to accept them, will have profound consequences for the region long after the current war is over.

            For many Israelis there is a sense of uneasiness. Israel has a long and powerful tradition of military self-reliance. It has never asked Americans to fight for it; it has always preferred to have the United States provide weapons and economic resources. In part this reflects the theme of self-reliance that was central to the Zionist movement. In part it reflects the deep Jewish fear, born of historical experience, that when the chips were down Jews can’t count on anyone other than themselves.

            For many Americans, sending troops to Israel is also troubling. There is concern that this will fur­ther entangle the United States in Mideast affairs that we had best stay out of. There is the fear that this will set a precedent that will bind us far too tightly with the actions of any and every Israeli government. And there is the fear that the Israeli right wing, with its ideological commitment to Greater Israel, will only be more determined never to withdraw from occupied West Bank territories if it can rest secure that in a war situation American troops will fight for Israel. None of these concerns should be dismissed lightly. Nonetheless, I believe that the multiple impacts of having American troops in Israel will have a positive overall impact on the long-term prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace and for Israeli-Arab peace.

            The Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab con­flicts will never be resolved if the Israeli govern­ment continues to reject the essence of UN Resolu­tion 242: that Israel withdraw from West Bank territory as part of a peace settlement that ensures its security. So long as the ideologues of Greater Israel have control of the government, Israel will continue to flout Resolution 242. What is needed is political change in Israel that replaces ideologues with national-security pragmatists.

            One element of a U.S. policy for ending the Is­raeli-Palestinian conflict should be a formal American defense safety net for Israel. The terms must be explicit: If Israel withdraws from West Bank territory as part of an overall settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and if subsequent­ly Israel is the target of unprovoked aggression, the United States, by treaty, would be committed to ensuring by all necessary means, including troops, that Israel would be adequately defended.

            The United States has such formal defense trea­ties with many countries. It is time to make this commitment to Israel. There are several advan­tages to providing an explicit defense safety net:


  • It would go far toward addressing Israeli fears that withdrawal from West Bank territory would leave Israel vulnerable in case of future war. These fears, held most strongly by ordinary Israelis, have to be addressed. Given that Washington sent troops to defend Saudi Arabia, a defense commit­ment to Israel would be highly credible.
  • The defense safety net would have some ad­ditional deterrent value with respect to any pos­sible future aggressor. Israel does have enormous conventional resources as well as a nuclear arse­nal. But an additional layer of defense would be of use in strengthening the hand of realists within the Arab world.
  • It would lessen Israel’s tendency to rely upon preemptive strikes in a crisis situation. The 1967 war, through which Israel became saddled with the curse of occupation, started when Israel pre­empted in the face of Nasser’s bellicosity in word and deed. Yet many historians believe that Nasser was playing an internal political game and never intended to go to war.
  • In the event of a conflict that did seriously threaten Israel, a U.S. defense commitment would provide a firebreak between Israeli conventional weapons and Israeli nuclear weapons. At present, if Israeli conventional weapons are inadequate in a war situation, it is clear that Israel will turn to its nuclear weapons.
  • A formal defense commitment to Israel would also be an essential element in making possible a comprehensive regional arms limitation agree­ment that would address conventional as well as nuclear weapons. Indeed, without such a commit­ment it is hard to see how Israel will ever be in­duced to abandon nuclear weapons, and if Israel has nuclear weapons, Arab efforts to achieve nu­clear parity will be a constant.
  • Finally, and not to be overlooked, is the com­plex relationship between Israeli defense objectives, American politics and U.S. foreign policy. A formal U.S. defense treaty with Israel, if it is enacted now, can playa useful role in limiting if not ending the current U.S.-Iraqi war. For instance, if the United States is prepared to enter into a defense treaty with Israel, there is significantly less to fear, from Isra­el’s point of view, from an international conference to address the multiple issues facing the region.
  • At bottom, the central reason for the proposed defense safety net is political: to facilitate the establishment of structures of peace.