Rodman's study of U.S. arms transfers to Israel provides important insight into this critical and oft-misunderstood element of the strategic relationship. Relying on extensive U.S. archival research, the book details the evolution of this relationship from Israel's early reliance on Western European equipment through the start of U.S. arms sales during the Johnson era to the end of the Reagan administration.
Rodman's thesis is that arms sales have provided Washington with critical leverage over Israel, enabling the United States to "wring concessions out of Israel in order to advance American national interests," particularly during Middle East wars. For Israel's part, according to Rodman, weapons purchases from the United States constitute an acceptable sacrifice of autonomy for security. The slender volume is a quick and absorbing read and is full of well-footnoted examples illustrating the complicated dynamics of U.S. and Israeli decision-making related to weapons sales.
The argument is convincing. Rodman points out that U.S. efforts to influence other Israeli policies via this lever, such as its pursuit of a nuclear weapons program, have proved decidedly less effective except during Middle East wars, when, as Rodman argues, U.S. influence on Israeli policy has been dramatic. In 1967, pressure from Washington forced Israeli restraint in the face of Egyptian provocations, such as the closure of the Straits of Tiran. When the United States recognized the futility of diplomacy, Rodman says, Washington gave the Jewish state a tacit "green light" to embark on war. The same held true, Rodman points out, during the 1969-70 War of Attrition when Israel was compelled to stop its bombing raids against Egypt after Washington threatened to withhold the military aid and diplomatic support necessary for the raids to continue.
In perhaps the most striking example, in 1973 U.S. pressure appears to have dissuaded the government of Israel from taking preemptive military action against Syria and Egypt. "Caught between the Israel Defense Forces General Staff and the Nixon administration," Rodman says, "the Meir government chose to follow the position of Israel's patron rather than the advice of its own military experts." After the outbreak of hostilities, the Meir government accepted the Nixon administration's cease-fire proposal because, Rodman writes, Israel had no alternative but to "trade the postwar concessions desired by the United States for continued American [military] support."
As Rodman deftly points out, Israel's conduct during the 1967-1973 period is "not comprehensible unless it is examined in the context of the American-Israeli patron-client relationship." Arms Transfers to Israel provides a comprehensive picture of the origins and development of the U.S.-Israeli military assistance relationship. In doing so, although not intentionally, Rodman's study goes a long way toward dispelling the now fashionable myth that the strategic relationship with Israel is driven primarily by domestic U.S. politics.