The AIPAC espionage scandal should have broken over Washington like a thunderclap, portending a torrential rain of investigation, recrimination and debate over the nature of the relationship between the US and Israel. Instead, the whole affair has so far manifested itself as mere sprinkles on the windshield of American politics. Very few commentators -- with, of course, the obvious exceptions -- seem to understand, or care, just how deep this rabbit hole goes.
Up front, let's get this straight: I consider myself a reasonably staunch supporter of Israel. I support the right of Jews to live unmolested in Palestine and to create such societal institutions (including, as long as we're going to have the damn things around at all, their own states) which best serve to secure that right. I consider Israel more sinned against than sinning in its conflict with the Arabs and, although its imperfections abound, I regard it as a light of comparative liberty and civil equality in the region.
That said, spying -- on an ally or an enemy -- is a serious thing, and if you get caught doing it, you'd better be prepared to pay the price.
For nearly 60 years, Israel has benefited immeasurably from US support of both the governmental and private varieties. It is the single largest recipient of US foreign aid, and much of that aid which doesn't go directly to Israel goes instead to buy off surrounding Arab countries and dissuade them from waxing militaristic toward Tel Aviv. Israel is at the front of the line to receive the latest US military technology. In American politics, our relationship with Israel is a "third rail" issue -- no politician who expects to be elected to high office dares utter even the most muted criticism of that relationship.
And what has the US received in return for its $10 billion a year and various and sundry policy accomodations?
Over the last 57 years, Israel has attacked US ships, spied on the US, and attempted to dictate US policy toward, and limit the sales of US arms to, other countries (most notably the sale of AWACS aircraft to Saudi Arabia in 1981). The US has been drawn into the Arab-Israeli crossfire several times, resulting in more than 200 American deaths during the 1983 incursion into Lebanon and numerous targetings of American civilians by Arab terrorists.
Lately, Israel has been profiting from "this special relationship" by selling sensitive US military technology to China.
And now, they've been caught reading our classified information. Again. So far, the trail on this particular spy ring leads back at least as far as 1999, and the implications are quite strong that the information gathered has been used to substantially affect US foreign policy -- with respect, for example, to Iraq.
The standard retort to this kind of thing is that Israel is an "ally" of the US, and that it doesn't really hurt us if they spy on us, since our interests are linked. This contention, however, is a distortion of the very concept of "alliance." Even allies have separate, and often divergent, interests -- and it's a given that Israel's espionage is undertaken for the purpose of advancing Israeli interests whether those interests coincide with the interests of the US or not.
At this point, I believe that it is time, and past time, to question the claim that Israel is even an ally at all. If anything, the relationship is more reminiscent of tributary province to distant imperial capital, with Washington and Tel Aviv respectively so situated. Which, of course, explains why the matter is raised so seldom and with such difficulty.
It's time for Israel to start acting like an ally, or for the US to stop treating it as an ally.
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