American support for Israel has long been a loaded political issue. Whatever difficulty the United States faces, opponents of Israel find some way to claim that it’s all because of U.S. involvement with Israel. America’s bogged down in Iraq? Well, Bush and his guiding neocons sent the troops in just to protect Israel, right? America’s economy isn’t in great shape? Well, what can you expect when Israel soaks up untold billions in American aid? Oil shortages? Let’s not even get started. And since 9/11, everyone’s thinking about terrorism – and, as usual, it’s all Israel’s fault.
I wasn’t entirely surprised, then, to receive the following question:
If we (America) ditched Israel, wouldn’t that solve all our terrorism problems?
Here’s my response:
The short answer: No.
The medium-length answer: No, it wouldn’t, for various reasons.
First, not all terrorism emanates from the Moslem world (although Islamist terrorism is definitely the flavor of the month nowadays). Anything that would be perceived as a major victory for Islamist terrorists would encourage not only further Islamist terrorism, but also non-Islamist terrorism. It’s a very bad idea to hand any terrorist, anywhere, a major victory, unless the compensating benefits are enormous. Appeasing terrorists does not reduce terrorism – it encourages terrorism.
Second, not all Islamist terrorism has anything to do with Israel. In fact, most of the Islamist terror directed at targets outside Israel is organized, inspired, and sponsored by al-Qaeda (including its many offshoots) and Iran – and neither of these is primarily concerned with Israel. (Both, of course, dislike us, and Iran in particular does sponsor a great deal of anti-Israel terrorism; but both have agendas far beyond opposition to Israel. Al-Qaeda, in particular, is widely viewed in the Arab world as having publicly adopted opposition to Israel as an opportunistic attempt to cash in on the general anti-Israel sentiment in the region.)
Radical Islamic groups perceive themselves as being immersed in a global struggle against “infidels” – a “clash of civilizations”, to borrow a phrase. In this view, Israel is certainly one of the insults inflicted on the Islamic world by the West, but it is hardly the only one, or even the most important one. Were Israel magically to disappear tomorrow, the Islamic world would still be mostly poor, backward, ignorant, envious, and led by incompetent despots; and the West, with the United States as its largest, richest, most powerful, and most “decadent” member, would still be the enemy.
Terrorism, in my view, results from a combination of real – and, more importantly, perceived – grievances, and an ideology that focuses attention on these grievances, promotes violence as a “solution” to them, discourages societal introspection, and dehumanizes “the other”. Once a society has embraced terrorism as a strategy to cope with its self-perceived problems, I believe that a dynamic is established that is very difficult to eliminate; and in particular, I don’t believe that removing the ostensible external causes of grievance is likely to have a significant effect in reducing terrorism emanating from such societies. It’s simply too easy to find new grievances.
Third, eliminating U.S. support for Israel would not eliminate Israel itself – and would cause a great deal of damage to the United States. Israel, while small, is relatively prosperous and technologically advanced, with a per-capita GDP (according to the CIA estimate for 2005) of almost $25,000 and a total GDP of well over $100 billion. This means that U.S. aid to Israel, at about $2 billion per year, represents less than 2 percent of our annual GDP; and in fact, this overstates the importance of this aid, since much of it consists of credits that we must use to purchase U.S.-manufactured military hardware that we would otherwise make – and export – ourselves. In effect, then, the bottom-line value to Israel of the aid it receives from the United States is far less than the official amount of that aid; and for the same reason, the real financial cost to the U.S. of this aid is much lower than it appears. So while losing this U.S. aid would be costly to Israel, it would hardly be fatal to us. (Further, U.S. weapons that are known to be used by Israel are considered to be especially attractive to other international buyers; thus, having Israel as a major export customer brings substantial financial rewards to the U.S. defense industry.)
Were the U.S. to “ditch” Israel, the political and military cost to America would be substantial. While losing U.S. diplomatic support would be painful and difficult for Israel, being perceived as having abandoned one of its closest allies would be terribly damaging to America’s reputation for loyalty and trustworthiness. It would also leave the U.S. without a single strong, stable, genuinely friendly, and reliable ally in the Middle East.
In short, I don’t believe that abandoning support for Israel would in any way help to reduce terror attacks on the United States; in fact, I believe that such a move would only encourage terror organizations and their supporters to continue targeting the U.S. If America’s antagonists believe that America is weak and inconstant, they will redouble their efforts. Nothing is as encouraging as success.
(This post can also be found at the Guns and Butter Blog.)