Anyone who thinks Prime Minister Netanyahu, in order to improve relations with the U.S., should succumb to American pressure in return for a U.S. incentives package and extend the freeze of Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria is either mistaken or misguided.
It is no secret that there were sharp disagreements in the early 1990s between then-President George H.W. Bush and my father, then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. But my father succeeded in deflecting pressure from the White House thanks to his principle-driven positions and his astute approach in dealing with the U.S. Congress.
Thus, irrespective of President Bush’s objections, my father received $650 million in special assistance, $700 million worth of military systems, a considerable expansion of American ammunition pre-positioned in Israel, enhancement of Israel-U.S. counter-terrorism cooperation, upgrading the Haifa port for the use of the 6th Fleet (which yielded $1 million in daily revenues) and breakthrough access by Israel’s defense industries to Pentagon repair, maintenance and refurbishing bids – all in addition to annual foreign aid.
Nothing better illustrates my father’s success than Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s words in his dedication to the book Yitzhak Shamir: Firm as A Rock:
During President George Bush’s term in office, while I was serving as the IDF’s Chief-of-Staff, I was once summoned to the Prime Minister’s Office to meet with then-U.S. Secretary of State James Baker who had been demanding that Israel make far-reaching concessions. Upon the request of Shamir, I briefed our prominent guest with the range of military threats facing Israel. Baker did not retract his demands. Instead, carrying the weight of the only superpower leading the free world today, he insisted that Israel concede. Shamir’s face became very tense and alert, it looked like a volcano about to explode. He banged on the table and told the secretary of state in a very blunt and undiplomatic manner, in a very sharp but self-controlled tone: “Mr. Secretary, you can demand what you choose to demand but this is our country and we will not agree to do anything that will harm its interests and future even if demanded by our best friend.”
My father’s refusal to budge from his principles may not have led to a round of applause and praise in the media, but it elicited respect for the man and improved Israel’s national security. His stance should serve as an example to Israeli prime ministers that it is possible to stand up to American pressure and refuse to relinquish both vision and strategic goals. In fact, such a surrender would only serve to erode Israel’s power of deterrence in the Middle East and its standing in the corridors of power in Washington.
Genuine leaders realize that saying “no” and withstanding pressure advance strategic goals – while retreat and submission undermine those goals and only increase international pressure.
Fending off pressure sometimes requires an alteration of tactics – but not the abandonment of strategic goals.
Defiance of American dictates may harm a prime minister’s personal popularity in the short run, but in the long run it will transform Israel into a stronger strategic ally of the U.S.
There are those who say we cannot compare the state of the world during the 1980s to the state of the world in 2010, and that an Israeli prime minister today faces tougher pressure.
True, the world has changed – but in Israel’s favor. Israel has undergone dramatic upgrades in the military, economic, demographic, technological and medical fields. Moreover, the Free World is much more aware of the threat of Islamic terrorism and Iran’s nuclear power and therefore comprehends better the security predicaments of the Jewish state.
Most important, the U.S. Congress has been a bastion of support of enhanced U.S.-Israel relations, displaying a more hawkish approach than even the Knesset when it comes to Israel’s national security and especially on the issue of Jerusalem. The Congress is equal in power to and independent of the president. The president executes but Congress initiates, legislates, authorizes – and possesses the Power of the Purse.
Washington’s respect for my father was eloquently expressed by then-Senate Majority and Minority Leaders George Mitchell and Bob Dole. At the end of a 1989 visit by my father to Washington, they told him: “You know why we respect you despite our disagreements with your policies? Because you’re tough!”
Yair Shamir is chairman of the board of directors of Israel Aerospace Industries.