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Israel Shows What Alliances Are For

A residual rancor against America's $3 billion military aid budget to Israel still can be detected in the corners of the conservative movement. Yes, Israel is the only democracy in the region, and yes, Israel is an American ally, but Israel is out for Israel's interests just as America is out for America's interest -- so why should American taxpayers subsidize the powerful and prosperous Jewish state?

Never mind that the $3 billion in military aid amounts to a Pentagon subsidy for American arms manufacturers. Never mind also that Israeli military technology and intelligence make an enormous (and largely untold) contribution to American security.

There's a reason to maintain alliances in the cold light of Realpolitik which conservative isolationists refuse to consider: Allies can do things that we want done at much less risk to us and at far lower cost than if we were to do them directly.

Israel has substantially reduced Iran's military capacity in Syria, for example, and has done so without provoking a confrontation with Russia. If the United States were to use its own planes to bomb Iranian installations in Syria, that would constitute a direct challenge to Russia's presence in the country, and lead to a strategic confrontation that we do not want (and the isolationists want least of anyone). But Israel can do so, because Israel is no threat to Russia, and Israeli bombing raids in Syria do not humiliate the Kremlin. Israeli action keeps the matter on the local level, rather than escalating it to a matter of global tension.

Israel has been doing this for almost half a century. In 1982, Israel's air force shot down almost 100 Russian-built fighters flown by the Syrian air force in what was dubbed "the Beqaa Valley turkey shoot." A combination of new American look down/shoot down radar and Israeli drone technology and other new technologies developed by America and Israel turned top-0f-the-line Russian aircraft into junk. If the United States had done this to a Russian ally, it would have meant war. When Israel did it ostensibly on its own account, though, the Russians watched in stupefaction and silence. That was a turning point in the Cold War: the Russians understood immediately that they could not control the skies in a conventional war, and that Western air superiority nullified their vast investments in manpower and tanks on the Central Front.

Communism collapsed because Russia's generals understood that massive American investments in frontier military technology, including missile defense, would give America an insuperable advantage. Russia was already spending up to a quarter of its national output on defense and simply couldn't compete.

That is what motivated the Gorbachev reforms that cracked the foundation of Communism.

The cheapest and most cost-effective investment America made through the whole of the Cold War was military aid to Israel.