28. FOREIGN POLICY AND THE CONSTITUTION #3

Harrison Schmitt

Former Senator Schmitt Compares the Relationship Between Israel and America

The importance of a democratic Israel to the long-term security interests of Americans stands as the rationale for continued U.S. support of that country. This fact, however, does not allow America to turn a blind eye toward serious Israeli errors committed through the years as that democracy works to preserve itself in an extraordinarily hostile world. All democracies make mistakes. But it is critical that democracies learn from their mistakes. Israel’s recent attack on blockade-runners, it should be noted, was not one of those mistakes.

The most serious error made by Israel came with the attack, in international waters, on a U.S. intelligence ship, the 7725 ton USS Liberty, on June 8, 1967. The attack occurred during the stress and fatigue of Israel’s Six Day War with three of its Islamic neighbors, but still had no rational justification. Thirty-four of the Liberty’s crew died and 171 were wounded.

Officially, both the Johnson Administration and the Israeli government attributed the attack to “a case of mistaken identity.” Significant logic and evidence contradicts this conclusion, not the least of which include Israeli reconnaissance flights at low level prior to the attack and the intensity and duration of the attack once initiated. Many indications exist that those Israeli military leaders with clear knowledge that this was a U.S. naval vessel still pressed the many faceted, two-hour long attack.

The motives of Israel’s leadership in initiating and pressing the attack on the USS Liberty remain a mystery. They have claimed consistently that the attacking Israeli Defense Forces erroneously identified the Liberty as an Egyptian supply ship; however, the flying American flag and distinctive U.S. Navy hull markings make this explanation highly suspect. It also is possible that the Israelis feared that Soviet monitoring of U.S. communication intercepts might eventually reveal to its adversaries that an attack against Syria in the Golan Heights was imminent. Other than coincidence, there appears to be no definitive evidence of such a motive and would hardly constitute a justification for an attack against the Liberty.

Some U.S. communications during the Liberty incident and testimony afterwards strongly suggest that the Johnson Administration condoned the attack, allowed it to proceed without interference once begun, and significantly limited the subsequent incident investigation. Even if the Johnson Administration had a reprehensible role in the attack or its outcome, Israel never should have agreed to collude in this course of action.

In addition to the USS Liberty attack, Israel conducts an intensive spying effort against the United States. One can imagine but not justify its motives for doing so: collection of classified military technology as well as advanced information on U.S. foreign policy moves. The loss of good will and the political damage, however, from this spying effort when uncovered and attributed to Israel would be and has been far greater than any value that might be gained.

The most famous Israeli spy is Jonathan Pollard. Pollard’s theft included identities of U.S. agents in the Middle East and Russia as well as classified nuclear deterrent documents. Israel appears to have traded this information to the then Soviet Union for increased emigration quotas for Russian Jews. Pollard’s exploits, however, make up only one of the most publicly visible penetrations of U.S. governmental and industrial entities attempted by Israeli intelligence, many successful. Numerous electronic and personal intrusions into defense and diplomatic offices in both the U.S. and Israel have been documented.

Other than Pollard, however, the U.S. Government over many Administrations has turned a largely blind eye on the continued evidence of Israeli spying, activity that appears to have begun at least as early as 1950 and almost certainly continues today. Some elected officials also may be conflicted in pressing on this issue as a result of significant campaign contributions from organizations sympathetic to Israel’s cause.

Do these Israeli errors in policy, however overtly complicit the U.S. Government may have been in condoning them, constitute a reason to let Israel disappear as a democratic nation in the Middle East? Clearly, our own national security continues to be better served with Israel at the front lines than if those front lines move to our shores. Should both the United States and Israel work to avoid future errors? The answer is definitely “yes;” but it will take better adult supervision in the White House and in the Justice Department than we have at present. Most importantly, Israel’s own leadership must realize now more than ever that they need more friends and fewer opponents in America.

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