TAIL ATTEMPTS TO WAG DOG.

Now this is fascinating:

In a sign of growing concern in Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government over US President Barack Obama's Middle East policies, Minister-without-Portfolio Yossi Peled proposed Israeli sanctions on the US in a letter to cabinet ministers on Sunday...

In the interim, the minister suggests reconsidering military and civilian purchases from the US, selling sensitive equipment that the Washington opposes distributing internationally, and allowing other countries that compete with the US to get involved with the peace process and be given a foothold for their military forces and intelligence agencies. Peled said that shifting military acquisition to America's competition would make Israel less dependent on the US. For instance, he suggested buying planes from the France-based Airbus firm instead of the American Boeing.

This puts to test the notion that Israel is a major strategic asset for the United States, rather than a strategic liability. I have never been particularly convinced by the "Israel as asset" notion; it seems to me that underwriting the Israeli economy and Israeli military capability has had limited strategic payoff for the United States. An irritated Israel could genuinely threaten the U.S. in the short term by selling advanced military equipment to China or Russia, or by sharing the fruits of U.S.-Israeli intelligence cooperation with either. Both, of course, have already happened; the U.S. had to apply severe pressure on Israel to halt sales of military equipment to China, and Israeli intelligence cooperation with the Soviets in the 1980s resulted in the severe degradation of US capabilities in the USSR.

The key thing to remember, however, is that Israel only has such leverage over the United States because of extraordinary U.S. military and intelligence generosity; if the U.S. were to cut the cord, Israel would have virtually nothing to offer the Russians or the Chinese. In terms of regional military capability, the U.S. obviously did not need Israeli assistance to undertake the simultaneous conquest and extended occupation of two Middle Eastern countries. Israeli intelligence on the capability of Soviet weapon systems following the 1967 and 1973 wars did prove useful to the United States, but the technical characteristics of Syrian tanks and surface-to-air missiles are no longer overriding U.S. security concerns. The Syrian and Iranian nuclear programs are a bit more of an issue for the United States, and Israeli intel has done good work especially with the former; given that the Russians and the Chinese don't particularly care about the issue, however, I'm not convinced that it grants the Israelis much leverage. Israeli intelligence is focused primarily on states and organizations that threaten Israel, not on those that threaten the United States.

This is a short way of saying that Israel needs the U.S. MUCH more than the U.S. needs Israel. The Israelis can buy equipment from France, China, Russia and whomever else, but they are extremely unlikely to find a patron willing to undertake the degree of generosity that the United States has exhibited.

--Robert Farley