Decade of Transition
Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Origins of the American-Israeli Alliance
by Abraham Ben-Zvi
New York: Columbia University Press, 1998. 219 pp. $47.50 (paper, $17.50).
Reviewed by Robert J. Lieber
Middle East Quarterly
Conventional wisdom long sees American policy toward Israel driven primarily by domestic politics. In this view, Democratic administrations, initially under Truman and increasingly so under Kennedy and Johnson, sought to capitalize on the Jewish vote and so allowed partisan electoral considerations to outweigh objective assessments of U.S. interests. The Kennedy administration's 1962 decision to sell Hawk antiaircraft missiles to Israel, a turning point in American policy, is said to make this calculation crucially evident.
Ben-Zvi, of Tel Aviv University, draws on newly available archival material to demonstrate that a subtle but profound shift in U.S. policy began not in 1962, but in 1958, during the second Eisenhower administration. He marshals evidence convincingly and with telling effect; Decade of Transition not only makes a major contribution to historical understanding but it carries important implications for the contemporary debate.
Ben-Zvi finds that the change occurred not primarily because of domestic American politics but out of a recognition that Israel could be a strategic asset to the United States. The July 1958 crises in Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan were critical to this policy shift, for they gave Israel a chance to prove itself as the sole staunchly pro-Western state in the region. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles wrote Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion in August 1958, defining this new attitude: "We have been glad," he observed, that Israel shares with the United States "the urgent necessity to strengthen the bulwarks of international order and justice against the forces of lawlessness and destruction which currently are at work in the Middle East." He endorsed Israel's strength "to deter an attempt at aggression by indigenous forces" and noted that problems of the Middle East give Israel "manifold opportunities to contribute ... to a stable international order."
Related Topics: Israel, Strategic alliances, US policy, US politics | March 1999 MEQ
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