The Israeli – US ‘Special Relationship’
The concept ‘The Israeli – US Special Relationship’ describes the unique characteristics of the political, security and economic connections between Israel and the US. This concept has become one of the cornerstones in Israel’s National Security Strategy.
The term ‘special relationship’ was first coined by Winston Churchill in 1946 to describe the Anglo-American pact during the Second World War. The Israeli – US ‘special relationship’ began during the Eisenhower Administration at the end of the 1950's when Israel was first perceived as a strategic asset to the US. These relations deepened after the Six Day (1967) and Yom Kippur Wars (1973) and became further entrenched following the peace accord with Egypt (1979). Israel has since been the largest recipient of foreign aid from the United States.
Over time, this relationship has become a central pillar of Israel’s National Security Strategy and reflects the implementation of Ben Gurion’s principle of prioritizing close strategic cooperation with a superpower.
The Security Dimension
The special relations in the security realm were first shaped in the 1960's and 70's and have a number of characteristics:
Maintaining Israel’s qualitative edge
Arms Deals – The US sells large amounts and various types of weapons systems to Israel and is committed to maintaining its qualitative military-technological edge. A permanent delegation from Israel’s Defense Ministry is based in New York to purchase weapons. Moreover, the two sides work closely regarding Israel’s need for weapons stocking and replenishing in times of emergencies.
‘Controlling’ the sale of weapons to Israel’s neighbors – Several times the US has frozen the sale of weapons to states ‘surrounding’ Israel such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt due to the fear of altering the region’s ‘strategic balance’ against Israel.
Aid during emergencies – The US has proven in the past that it is willing to sell, transfer, lease or lend Israel the means to defend itself during emergencies.
Strategic Coordination and Cooperation
Pre-coordinating Israel’s military steps – Israel generally coordinates strategic military operations with the US or at least updates the administration in advance via the ‘hotline’ between the Pentagon and Israel’s Defense Ministry.
Military training and joint work groups – Joint IDF-US armed forces exercises are frequent occurrences while regular Israeli-US working groups take place to discuss a wide range of common strategic issues.
Joint weapons development – Israel and the US are jointly developing weapons systems and Israel uses American aid to develop Israeli weapons such as the Merkava tank and the Arrow rocket system. At the same time, the special relations have also forced Israel to ‘sacrifice’ the LAVI airplane project.
Coordinated intelligence against terrorism and common enemies – Israeli-US intelligence cooperation, which first began during the Cold War, today primarily focuses on the issue of fighting global terrorism.
Coordination of Israel’s nuclear policies – Israel’s policy of nuclear ambiguity has been coordinated with the US since its inception. In a 1969 agreement between President Nixon and Golda Meir, the US Administration recognized Israel’s nuclear option and relieved it from having to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in return for an Israeli commitment to maintain ambiguity regarding its nuclear development.
This relationship has become a central pillar of Israel’s National Security Strategy and reflects the implementation of Ben Gurion’s principle of prioritizing close strategic cooperation with a superpower.
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