Political clashes, spies, deception cloud US-Israeli relations

Despite appearing to be close allies, the US and Israel have a long complicated history of tense disagreements

Despite appearing to be close allies, the US and Israel have a long complicated history of tense disagreements

WASHINTON – The White House snub of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming U.S. visit once again exposed soured US-Israel relations.

Fissures appear to be more visible with the Obama administration than in past ones but there has often been clashes between the two allies since Israel was declared an independent state.

Regardless of the appearance of being “close allies,” the State Department classified Israeli actions as "unacceptable" 87 times in 2014, ranked ahead of China, Pakistan and Russia, according to a Foreign Policy article published in 2014.

Washington was caught unawares earlier this month when House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress.

The White House called the move a “breach of protocol” and said President Barack Obama would not meet with the Israeli leader while he was in the U.S.

It is widely believed Netanyahu's visit will focus on lobbying the administration for tough new sanctions against Iran, and the invitation came a little more than a week after Obama urged Netanyahu not to lobby for the sanctions, CNN reported. 

This dust up might be considered minor when compared to some of the many tense disagreements between the two powerful states.

Perhaps the most significant appeared in May 2011 when Obama criticized the never-ending expansion of Israeli territory and said “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines.”

The suggestion was harshly criticized by Israel and by some Republicans, including Mitt Romney who said "Obama has thrown allies like Israel under the bus.”

American politicians and administrations are known for an almost unanimous support for Israel, but last October The Atlantic reported Netanyahu was called "chickenshit" by a senior White House official for allowing the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem. 

The settlement expansion issue is one Obama has criticized more strongly that his predecessors. And it has drawn rebukes, usually harshly, from Israel.

Secretary of State John Kerry was disparaged by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yalon in 2014 for his handling of the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. “The only thing that can save us is for John Kerry to win a Nobel Prize and leave us in peace," Yalon said.

And at a G-20 summit meeting in France, Obama was caught complaining about Netanyahu to then-President Nicolas Sarkozy of France while a microphone was still on.

Sarkozy said he “cannot stand” Netanyahu and “he is a liar.” Obama responded, “You’re fed up with him, but I have to deal with him every day.”

But verbal sparring aside, Israel has long sought to influence U.S. politics and policies in more sinister ways.

Israel’s government, including Netanyahu, has often faced accusations from Democrats of attempting to interfere in the U.S., for example by allegedly siding with Republican nominee Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential election.

While Israel rejects the claims, there is a precedent for the action.

Israel’s support for Republicans has a history. During the Iran hostage crisis from 1979-1981, it is argued that Israel used its contacts in Tehran to ensure 52 American hostages would not be released before the 1980 U.S. presidential elections between incumbent Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican opponent Ronald Reagan. 

The “October surprise” is often cited as a major factor that lost Carter the presidency and the hostages were released immediately after Reagan’s inauguration in January 1981.

Before the hostage crisis, however, Israel recruited Egyptian Jews in 1954 to blow up American and British targets in Egypt and place the blame on the Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian communists in order to gain support from the U.S. and Britain for Israel’s purposes.

After decades of officially denying any involvement, the Israeli government honored surviving agents from the failed Lavon Affair with a certificate of appreciation in 2005. The operation was named after Israeli Defense Minister Pinhas Lavon who was forced to resign following the debacle.

Similar to the 1954 operation, Israel attacked the USS Liberty in 1967 in international waters – killing 34 and wounding 174 – with the intention of blaming Egypt in order to draw the U.S. into the Israeli-Arab War. 

Israel claimed the attack was an “accident” but survivors say they were clearly identified to their Israeli counterparts.

A senior U.S military lawyer said in 2002 that there was a cover-up involving Israel's attack.

Israel’s operations can take on an even more clandestine nature.

A 2012 CIA report said Israel is the largest spy threat in the Middle East to the U.S., noting Israeli spies break into American diplomats’ homes and offices to steal sensitive material.

Domestically, the Government Accountability Office reported that Israel spies on Washington more than any other ally.

In a high-profile case, Israel has long lobbied successive U.S. administrations to free Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. intelligence analyst serving a life sentence since 1987 for stealing thousands of secrets for Israel.

The U.S. says Israel traded Cold War-era information with Moscow in exchange for the emigration of Russian Jews.

After years of denials that Pollard was an Israeli agent, Israel finally admitted and apologized in 1998. 

It appears that information is not the only thing Israel spies are tasked with obtaining.

The Institute for Research on Middle Eastern Policy concluded in 2011 that de-classified documents from the FBI and CIA showed that as a result of cooperation between Israeli spies and American Jews, mass quantities of uranium from U.S. stockpiles were stolen and shipped to Israel between 1955 and 1970, a claim Israel denies. 

Alongside the possible theft of dangerous chemicals, in 1993 then-Director of the CIA James Woolsey told a Senate committee that Israel sold $2 - $3 billions worth of hi-tech military equipment to China, which ignored Washington’s restrictions on selling weapons to the Chinese.

 But despite these encroachments on its sovereignty and the loss of lives that would not be tolerated were they peretrated by any other state, Washington annually gives a hefty amount of aid to Israel, according a report by the Congressional Research Service. 

Israel is the largest cumulative recipient nation of U.S. foreign assistance since World War II. To date, the U.S. has provided Israel with $121 billion in bilateral assistance. 

The report noted that for 2015, the Obama administration is requesting $3.1 billion in foreign military financing to Israel but just $10 million in migration and refugee assistance. 

Military aid to Israel includes a request from the Missile Defense Agency for joint U.S.-Israeli programs to the tune of $96.8 million. The administration is also requesting $175.9 million for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system to guard against incoming rockets and artillery shells.

The history of U.S. and Israeli relations has been a complicated one from the start. But in spite of the verbal spats, deception and thefts, the US has always stressed that the two are the strongest of allies.

"America and Israel share a special bond. Our relations are unique among all nations," said former President Bill Clinton – a sentiment echoed by numerous American leaders.

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