From March to Novem­ber 2017, Gallup con­ducted an an­nual world­wide opin­ion poll on the lead­er­ship of the United States. Some like the di­rec­tion the U.S. is head­ing, some don’t, but in four of the 134 coun­tries sur­veyed the U.S. ap­proval rat­ing rose by a wh

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - WORLD -

That Is­rael was in­cluded at­tests to how starkly U.S.-Is­rael re­la­tions have changed un­der the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Don­ald Trump. Be­fore he be­came pres­i­dent, bi­lat­eral ties seemed on the verge of col­lapse. In 2015, Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu trav­eled to Wash­ing­ton to lam­bast Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in front of the U.S. Congress, prac­ti­cally beg­ging the govern­ment not to move for­ward with the Iran nu­clear deal – a plea that ul­ti­mately fell on deaf ears.

In March 2018, Ne­tanyahu vis­ited Wash­ing­ton again, but in­stead of crit­i­cis­ing the sit­ting pres­i­dent, he com­pared him to a mod­ern-day Cyrus the Great – the Per­sian king who al­lowed the Is­raelites to re­turn to their home­land to re­build their tem­ple, end­ing the Baby­lo­nian ex­ile. Ne­tanyahu is a stu­dent of his­tory. His fa­ther was a his­tory pro­fes­sor. So when he com­pares Trump to one of the most im­por­tant gen­tiles in Jewish his­tory, he means it.

Ne­tanyahu’s dis­po­si­tion to­ward the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is no per­sonal quirk – an im­por­tant dis­tinc­tion for a char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally quirky per­son who once re­quested nearly $3,000 in the govern­ment bud­get for his per­sonal ice cream needs. He speaks for the ma­jor­ity of Is­raelis, among whom Trump’s ap­proval rat­ing has hov­ered around 70%, ac­cord­ing to a poll con­ducted by Haaretz. (For per­spec­tive, his ap­proval rat­ing among his own cit­i­zens is around 40%.) In June 2018, an Amer­i­can Jewish Com­mit­tee sur­vey found that 77% of Is­raelis ap­proved of the way Trump has han­dled U.S.-Is­rael re­la­tions.

This is hardly sur­pris­ing. From Is­rael’s per­spec­tive, there is much to ap­prove of. Trump’s first trip abroad as pres­i­dent was to Is­rael, where he be­came the first U.S. pres­i­dent to visit the Western Wall. Trump recog­nised Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal and moved the U.S. Em­bassy there, seem­ingly ap­a­thetic to the cho­rus of re­gional and global dis­sent. Un­der Trump, the U.S. has can­celed its fund­ing for the U.N. Re­lief and Works Agency on the grounds that it dis­pro­por­tion­ately sup­ports the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries. Gone also is some $200 mln of U.S. aid for the Gaza Strip.

Sym­bolic ges­tures

And these were just the sym­bolic ges­tures. The more mean­ing­ful pol­icy is the re­turn of agency to Is­raeli for­eign pol­icy, or at least the ap­pear­ance of it. Trump has al­ready se­cured what Ne­tanyahu could not: ter­mi­na­tion of the Iran nu­clear deal. Ne­tanyahu, who is poised to be­come the long­est-serv­ing prime min­is­ter in Is­raeli his­tory, staked his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer on be­ing the politi­cian best equipped to bat­tle Iran and its stated de­sire to de­stroy Is­rael. But he was pow­er­less to stop the U.S. from agree­ing to the Iran nu­clear deal. He was pow­er­less against Obama, who ba­si­cally forced him to apol­o­gise to Turkey in 2013 for the Mavi Mar­mara in­ci­dent of 2010. And he was pow­er­less when the U.S. ab­stained to vote against a U.N. cen­sure on Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the West Bank. For eight years, Ne­tanyahu seemed im­po­tent. Trump gave him back his chutz­pah.

Since 1967, the most im­por­tant job of any Is­raeli leader has been to se­cure U.S.-Is­rael re­la­tions. The world tends to for­get that Is­rael and the U.S. were not al­ways such close al­lies. Is­rael would likely not have sur­vived its 1948 war for in­de­pen­dence had the So­vi­ets not sold Is­rael weapons on the black mar­ket via Cze­choslo­vakia. And had it not been for the sup­port of France, Is­rael would not have de­vel­oped nu­clear weapons, nor any of the mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy that al­lowed it to pre­vail in the wars with its Arab neigh­bors in 1967 and 1973. It was only at the height of the Cold War, and un­der the strate­gic machi­na­tions of Henry Kissinger, that Is­rael be­came such a close U.S. ally. (And even then, the re­la­tion­ship was not with­out its chal­lenges. The ac­ci­den­tal Is­raeli bomb­ing of the USS Lib­erty in 1967 could have ir­re­vo­ca­bly poi­soned bi­lat­eral re­la­tions. The first Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion was tougher on Is­rael when it came to the Pales­tini­ans than per­haps any other U.S. pres­i­dency, in­clud­ing Obama’s.)

Back then, the U.S. had clearly de­fined in­ter­ests in the Mid­dle East. Most im­por­tant was con­tain­ing the Soviet Union, the al­tar be­fore which all U.S. poli­cies had to bow dur­ing the Cold War. The United States also needed Mid­dle East­ern oil. Led by Saudi Ara­bia, OPEC pro­duced al­most 55% of the world’s oil in 1973. The U.S. had to be sure the oil kept pump­ing, and it had to keep open the sea lanes by which the oil was shipped to its shores. This meant that trade through the Suez Canal had to be main­tained – which ex­plains why the U.S. could not al­low the United King­dom to re­take con­trol of it in 1956 any more than it could al­low the Egyp­tian govern­ment, led by Ga­mal Ab­del Nasser and sup­ported by Moscow, to block the canal when­ever it wanted.

Is­rael per­formed its du­ties in the Cold War al­liance

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