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Israeli Actions Stir Debate Over Value as US Ally

A debate is stirring in Washington over Israel's value as a strategic ally. Israel's recent raid against a Gaza-bound flotilla has led some to argue that Israeli actions are turning the country into more of a liability for the United States than an asset.

The alliance with Israel has been a pillar of U.S. foreign policy for decades.

It is built on the premise that Israel shares America's democratic values, that America has a moral imperative to ensure Israel's survival after the Holocaust, that Israel is already isolated enough by the rest of the world, and that Israel is a strategic asset in a volatile region.

That last premise is now being called into question. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies criticized the Israeli raid earlier this month that killed nine people on a Turkish ship headed for Gaza.

Cordesman titled his critique "Israel as a Strategic Liability?" He says he is not denying Israel's right to act in self-defense.

"But the way governments deal with realities and the impact that has - both on the prospects Israel has for acceptance from its neighbors and the kind of anger that is directed toward the United States because it is associated with Israel - are things that Israel as a government has to take responsibility for," he said.

The argument is that, because of Washington's support for Israel, actions that provoke anger in Muslim countries endanger American forces stationed there. Analysts say President Barack Obama appeared to accept the linkage when he said earlier this year that conflicts like the one between Israelis and Palestinians are costing America "blood and treasure."

The linkage is highly controversial among Israel's supporters because some interpret it as anti-Semitism.

"Anthony Cordesman might think of writing a piece questioning whether the Palestinians are a strategic liability to the United States. Why is the United States allowing itself to get wrapped around the axle, driven crazy trying to solve this problem, throwing its credibility away, on behalf of the Palestinians who don't really like America," said Noah Pollak, a columnist for Commentary magazine.

Pollak is referring to polls which show that anti-Americanism runs high among Palestinians.

Israel's supporters point to cases where Israel has helped American interests. They say Israel's bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 ensured that American forces were not up against a nuclear power a decade later in the first Gulf War.

Pollak says a strong case can be made for Israel's value as an ally. "And it's simply that Israel is the most powerful and capable and competent society in the Middle East and it shares our values and it stands with us. And when America tries to push Israel away it invites the Arabs to attack; it invites the Arabs to think that Israel is weak," he said.

Bringing peace to the Middle East has been a U.S. foreign-policy goal since the end of the Second World War. It is a problem that has frustrated U.S. presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

"In the Middle East things are not always what they seem." said David Makovsky is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "And the fact is that Israel and the Arabs are pretty much on the same side in dealing with Iran and some of Iran's proxies, such as Hezbollah and Hamas."

Makovsky says the argument that Israel's actions harm American security interests elsewhere is a corollary to the argument that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of many other problems in the Middle East. "But I don't think anybody believes that suddenly, if you solve this conflict, there will be pixie dust that will just spread all over the Middle East and it will unlock all the other conflicts," he said.

Makovsky concedes that Israeli concessions in the peace process might defuse some anger among Europeans and moderate Arabs. But he notes that long before al-Qaida tried to get involved in the Israeli-Palestinian question, it was hostile to the regime of another U.S. ally - Saudi Arabia.