Monday, November 22, 2010

A Short History of U.S. Guarantees to Israel

by Yitzhak Heimowitz

Pres. Obama seems surprised that Bibi is so insistent on dotting the i's and crossing the t's in his letter of guarantees in order to extend the building moratorium for another 90 days. It’s hard to see why he is surprised.

One of the first things he did when becoming president was to declare that the letter of guarantees which Pres. George Bush gave to Arik Sharon did not bind him or the U.S. So who can believe that any letter of guarantees he gives now will be any more binding than that?

Furthermore he will certainly give a counter letter of guarantees to the Palestinians, essentially promising them the opposite of whatever he promises Bibi.

He also supposedly promises (cross his heart and hope to die) that he won’t ask for any further extension after 90 days. If anyone believes that, I have a Brooklyn Bridge in fairly good condition to sell to him. I don’t own it, but why should that matter?

The history of American guarantees to Israel is not a happy one. In 1956-7, in order to get Israel to withdraw from Sinai, the U.S. guaranteed that if Egypt would ever again close the Straits of Tiran to Israel bound shipping, the U.S. would open them.

In May 1967 when Nasser expelled the UN from Sinai and closed the Straits, Abba Eban, Israel’s Foreign Minister, rushed to Washington to ask them to fulfill their guarantee. In the State Department they searched high and low and ransacked all the cupboards, but they couldn’t find the guarantee!

After the Americans made some half-hearted efforts to put together an international flotilla to open the straits, Israel rescued the U.S. from its embarrassment by winning the Six Day War and opening the straits by itself.

Let’s fast forward to the summer of 1970 at the height of the War of Attrition. In order to get Israel to agree to cease fire, the U.S. promised that Egypt would not move its Soviet SAM 3 missiles from Cairo to the Suez Canal. They assured the Israel government that American satellites could detect any such movement in real time, so there was no danger.

As soon as the cease fire went into effect, Egypt began to move its missiles to the Canal and the American satellites went blind. For three days the Israelis desperately tried to convince the Americans of what was happening, but the U.S. couldn’t see it. Finally after three days, and after the Egyptians had emplaced SAM 3 missiles all along the Suez Canal, the U.S. satellites regained their sight. Then the Americans said to Israel, “Do you really want to resume the war over this?” The SAM 3 missiles took a terrible toll of Israeli air force planes in the early days of the Yom Kippur war.

Today we should ask, “Does Israel really want to rely on U.S. guarantees after that record?”

Yitzhak Heimowitz
is an attorney in Tel Aviv, Israel

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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