Washington and the Israel Lobby

Foreign Policy In Focus-affiliated Scott Charney noted on Friday that Washington’s recently finalized $30 billion weapons sale to Saudi Arabia will modernize the kingdom’s military capabilities.  While the deal is in keeping with the longstanding relationship between the global superpower and one of the world’s most repressive regimes, Charney believes it signals Israel losing its military edge in the region, particularly if Saudi Arabia were to act in concert with other regional forces.

Now, as things stand, the issue is hypothetical. The House of Saud is firmly aligned with Israel and the U.S. in protecting mutual interests against anyone in the region attaining independence from their framework of control. However, one of the things that makes Israel a uniquely valuable ally for the U.S. (despite the PR costs), is that it is very unlikely to seek to end that relationship. Unlike, Mubarak’s Egypt or the Shah’s Iran, a change in power is unlikely to result in the new regime dumping Washington. Thus, Charney notes, “This arms sale [with Saudi Arabia] is essentially a bet on continuity within the Saudi ruling class, and that is now a risky gamble.”

Charney notes that Israel could be none too pleased with the arms deal. The fact that it went through anyway, despite the Israel lobby, he ascribes to oil interests, military manufacturers eager for big contracts, and geopolitical considerations. I’ve never been a believer in the stronger forms of the Israel lobby thesis, which amount to a belief in a tail-that-wags-the-dog understanding. This weapons deal can be seen as further evidence in support of a more restricted view of the Israel lobby’s power, roughly in line with that expressed by Joseph Massad, Noam Chomsky, and Norman Finkelstein. The perennial debate, frequently highly sectarian, about the exact power of the lobby often seems misplaced. However, to the extent that the strong-thesis is used to appeal to latent nationalist sentiments in the U.S., it becomes a problem. Though it might well be argued that tapping nationalist feeling could reach a significant demographic, I have an allergic reaction to such tactics.

Moreover, as this story tends to indicate, the strong-thesis is, I think, simply wrong.

Link citations:

Scott Charney, “Does the Saudi Arms Deal Jeopardize Israel?” (Washington, DC: Foreign Policy In Focus, March 23, 2012) (http://www.fpif.org/articles/does_the_saudi_arms_deal_jeopardize_israel).

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