January 22, 2004

Book Corner

Warren Bass has a new book out detailing how the Kennedy administration was so pivotal in cementing the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Here is the NYRB review.

An interesting snippet on how Nasser helped push Kennedy towards closer ties with Israel:

"Nevertheless, Bass is convinced that Phillips Talbot's fears of antagonizing Arabs were overstated. He shows that Kennedy's opening to Israel came only after an intensive attempt to court Nasser was rebuffed by the Egyptian leader himself. To the chagrin of many of his supporters in the State Department, Nasser launched a disastrous war on Yemen, which he himself soon called his "Vietnam." At one point his forces used poison gas and threatened neighboring Saudi Arabia as well. The dramatic collapse of Nasser's ambitious union of Egypt with Syria only made him adopt more radical policies. Egyptian agents tried to kill King Hussein of Jordan. Arab conservatives led by Saudi Arabia and the American oil lobby worked against Kennedy's attempted rapprochement with Nasser and derailed it.

It was at this point that the US changed its previously cool relations with Israel and swung toward the close alliance that continues today. Relations with Egypt further worsened during the Cuban missile crisis when Khrushchev mistakenly calculated it would be profitable (as he had found during the Suez war) to use the threat of nuclear missiles. The Egyptian press sided with Cuba. Kennedy's attempts at improving the situation of Palestinian refugees came to an end. He secretly taped the decisive meeting on this issue. Up to this point the sale of Hawk missiles had been tied to Israeli concessions on the repatria-tion or compensation of Palestinian refugees. On December 27, 1962, Golda Meir, Israel's foreign minister, met Kennedy in Palm Beach. He told her that Joseph Johnson's plan was dead. America, he said, "has a special relationship with Israel in the Middle East really comparable only to that which it was with Britain over a wide range of world affairs." To Meir's delight, the President added: "I think it is quite clear that in case of an invasion the United States would come to the support of Israel."

And a fascinating snippet on that still very hot topic today, nuclear proliferation:

"Opacity" continues to this day. By 1967, according to Cohen, Israel possessed its first rudimentary nuclear weapons. The BBC, drawing on the analysis of the Federation of Atomic Scientists, recently reported that Israel may now possess as many as two hundred nuclear bombs. A report on the MSNBC Web site estimates that Israel has produced enough plutonium to construct between one hundred and two hundred nuclear bombs and that it could also have by now some thirty-five tactical and strategic thermonuclear devices, as well as the long- and short-range missiles to deliver them.[3] The policy of "opacity" has so far prevented a serious public debate in Israel over what is still called obliquely the "nuclear option." The issue has only once been raised in parliament—by an Arab deputy who addressed a near-empty house.

Israel never signed the non-proliferation treaty originally sponsored by the US. It continues to say only that it will not be the first country in the Middle East to introduce atomic weapons. Israel's recent history vividly illustrates the limits of overwhelming power. "Opacity" did not prevent the 1967 war or the Arab surprise attack in 1973; nor did it prevent the two Palestinian uprisings since or the recent wave of suicide terrorists. On the other hand, when a former Dimona technician named Mordechai Vanunu revealed in the London Sunday Times what he claimed to have seen there, he was kidnapped in Rome, taken to Israel, and given an eighteen-year prison sentence, without parole. His term is nearly over by now. He spent more than eleven years in an isolation cell, an unusually harsh and heartless punishment, and I have seen reports that he nearly lost his mind.

On the eve of the Six-Day War, a few liberal and international-minded Knesset members, led by the Labor poli-tician Eliezer Livneh and the prominent conservative Salman Abramowitz, called for a general Middle Eastern nuclear disarmament agreement. After the war, Abramovitz joined Likud and Livneh became a militant of the Greater Israel Movement. The initiative died. Today, only Egypt advocates a nuclear-free Middle East. Israeli doves, precisely because they favor withdrawal from occupied territories to the less secure pre-1967 borders, are now among the most ardent advocates of the "nuclear option."

Posted by Gregory at January 22, 2004 10:58 AM

There has never been an Israeli Knesset member named or known as Salman Abramovitz. Elon in his NYRB article certainly refers to Zalman Abramov of The Liberal Party (whom, strangely enough, he personally knew well). Truely in 1973, after The Yom Kippur War (and not immediately after the 1967 Six Day War), The Liberal Party became part of the Likkud Party. Yet, Abramov left the Likkud in 1977, after one Knesset term in which he found himself permanently opposed to his own party and particularly to the lack of creative Peace-Seeking policies of the government (a Labour Party one at the time!).

Posted by: Edly Dollar at July 19, 2004 11:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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