Understanding the U.S./Israeli Relationship

Doomed To Succeed, by Dennis Ross, is an extraordinary book for anyone who wants to understand how U.S. presidents from Truman through Obama have reacted toward Israel, their policies, and the reasoning behind them. Dennis Ross has been a direct participant in shaping U.S. policy toward the Middle East, and Israel specifically, for nearly thirty years, participating in two Republican and two Democratic administrations. This book is not a history of Arab-Israeli peace efforts but rather a discussion of the evolution of Israeli-American diplomatic relations. American Thinker spoke to Ambassador Ross about his book and the current issues involving U.S./Israeli relations.

In reading this book, people will learn how different presidents have viewed the relationship with Israel. For example, JFK was the first president to sell arms and talk about the special relationship, Eisenhower and LBJ were preoccupied with other events such as the Cold War and Vietnam, and that the reason Nixon supplied Israel with arms on the eighth day of the Yom Kippur War was because no ceasefire was accepted, the Russians were resupplying Egypt and Syria, and he did not want it to be seen in the context as Soviet arms defeating U.S. arms.

One of the most important points to be made in the book is that presidents, such as Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Bush 41, and Obama, were not successful when they chose to redefine the relationship with Israel in order to gain with the Arabs. Yet, those presidents who cooperated with Israel did not have the expected negative fallout with the Arab countries. Ross emphasizes in the book, “As the scope of U.S. strategic and military cooperation with Israel has grown to unprecedented levels, the U.S. presence in a number of Arab Gulf states has also dramatically increased.”

He directly noted that the recent Iran Deal is the perfect example. “What I say in the book is that the Arab leaders are focused on their regional rivals and see it as a direct threat to their security and survival: Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s, Saddam and Gaddafi the 1970s and 1980s, and today with the Iranians.

Look no further than Iran’s violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution in October by test-firing a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead. Then there was the IAEA's report, meant to be the agency's final word on Iran's weapons program after more than a decade of queries. It found evidence that Iran had stalled or even actively misled investigators, leading to calls in the U.S. Congress for more sanctions on Tehran.

Ross told American Thinker, “The testing violated the UN resolution but not the agreement. This is the problem where they are engaged in a series of behavior that clearly tests limits. There appears to be no consequences. I am worried that we may be putting the real implementation over time at serious risk because the message to them is that they can get away with stuff. They are not violating the understanding because they have not yet received the sanction relief. Once they get it their stake in continuing to live by every element of the understanding may not be as high.”

Furthermore, he believes one of the reasons the Sunni Arab states are doing so little in Syria is “because it looks like the only one we are prepared to fight is ISIS. By doing that it looks like we are strengthening the Iranian position there. What they see is Iran being fully committed to preserving Assad in power, largely as a tool of the Iranians. They do not want the Iranians to gain power and leverage.”

American Thinker asked him, since he was initially involved, what kind of deal would he have negotiated? “Remember, I left at the end of 2011. All of us who had one approach in the first administration were gone.  In reality, the kind of deal we had in mind was not negotiated. We were constantly focused on how we could build our leverage with the idea to have a rollback of our sanctions, but only in return for a far-reaching rollback of the Iranian nuclear infrastructure. What emerged was a very different kind of deal than I would have had in mind.”

Regarding the Palestinians, President Obama, according to Ross, “sees them as too weak to criticize and therefore reserves his criticism for Israel. The problem is when you give them a pass it becomes difficult for them to compromise because they also see themselves as the victim. If you always give them a pass and never hold them accountable why would they change their behavior? I remember commenting, if they are too weak to be criticized, to weak to be held accountable, then they are too weak to have a state. Those in this administration that feel that there must be a peace accord between the Palestinians and Israelis do not understand that nothing is going to change what is happening in Syria, or with ISIS.”

When asked what advice would he give the presidential candidates, Ross jokingly commented to read his book, but then went on to say, “They need to know the history.  Look at every peace proposal made between Israel and its neighbors.  In no case have the Palestinians been prepared to say yes in order to resolve the conflict, not in a single case. I often quote Abba Eben who used to say, ‘the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’”

He explained the reason he titled the book Doomed To Succeed: “Although we may have differences from time to time what binds us is so much stronger than what divides us.  Our relationship is rooted in shared values of being governed by the rule of law, civil liberties, separation of powers, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and respect for gay rights and women rights. There is no other country like Israel in the Middle East. It has retained its democratic character even with all the threats it faces.”

Doomed to Succeed offers compelling advice on how to understand the priorities of Arab leaders, Israel, and how future administrations might best shape U.S. policy in that light. This book is a must read for anyone interested in understanding the U.S.-Israel relationship.

The author writes for American Thinker. She has done book reviews, author interviews, and has written a number of national security, political, and foreign policy articles.