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U.S., Israel ties steeped in controversy
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Moshe Milner/GPO/AFP/Getty Images A handout picture by Israeli Government Press Office shows Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (L) offering an Israeli football team jersey to visiting US President George W. Bush, Jan. 9, 2008, in Jerusalem.
The United States was the first country to recognize Israel, just minutes after it declared its independence in 1948, but it took Washington nearly 20 years before it began to provide Israel with military aid.
Since then, the relationship between the two countries has grown to become one of the closest and most controversial alliances in history.
A combination of Cold War calculus, which drove the United States to oppose Soviet-armed Arab states, united with an authentic friendship and admiration of Israel to forge a bond that has never been broken.
For some evangelical Christians, the alliance is a union of two promised lands - the biblical land of Moses and a superpower that claims to be "One Nation Under God."
Today, Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world, having received nearly US$140-billion in direct military and economic assistance since 1973.
This year's U.S. budget alone calls for $2.42-billion in U.S. aid to Israel, including $2.38-billion in military aid and $39.6-million in assistance for the resettlement of refugees.
Israel receives that aid on better terms than any other nation in the world.
For example, Israel can use up to 25% of its U.S. military assistance for purchases from Israeli manufacturers and it gets most of its foreign assistance from Washington in one lump sum early in the year, instead of in instalments, like all other aid recipients.
When this year's budget was passed, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel U.S. lobby group, confidently declared: "The U.S.-Israel relationship is the keystone of America's policy in the Middle East, and our enduring partnership with our democratic ally Israel is one of our nation's key strategic assets."
During the Cold War, former U.S. Secretary of State Alexander Haig described Israel as the largest U.S. aircraft carrier in the world, noting it couldn't be sunk, does not carry a single U.S. soldier and is located in a critical region for U.S. national security.
More recently, Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton responded without hesitation, when asked during a televised debate what she would do if Iran ever made a nuclear attack on Israel: "If I'm the president, we will attack Iran. We would be able to totally obliterate them."
Critics in both countries have raised concerns over the longstanding alliance, arguing it limits each country's room to manoeuvre in their own national interest.
Yuval Levin, of the Jerusalem-based Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, has argued that U.S. aid to Israel has slowed economic growth by bloating government spending. With 70% of Israel's GDP coming from government spending and a third of the Israeli workforce on the public payroll, Mr. Yuval says Israelis are living beyond their means and can only do so because of American aid.
In the United States, political scientists John Mearsheimer, of the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, of Harvard, created a political storm when they argued that the United States has set aside its own security interests to advance those of Israel.
Israel is a liability in the war on terror, they argued in The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, saying unwavering U.S. support for Israel has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion against Washington.
When their arguments were widely attacked and criticized, the two authors replied: "Anyone who criticizes Israel's actions or argues that pro-Israel groups have significant influence over U.S. Middle East policy stands a good chance of being labelled an anti-Semite."
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