The U.S.A. and Israel: Mutual Ideals, Mutual Interests An Interview
Victor Cygielman: Has U.S. policy in the Middle Eastern conflict been fair to the different parties?
Moshe Arens: I doubt whether fairness is the appropriate term in order to describe a government's policy. Every government has interests. The United States has its interests and U.S. policy is motivated primarily by the need to ensure them. I don't know whether you can describe it as being fair to other people in the area.

Is it fair to Israel?
As I said, I don't think fairness is the question. The United States and Israel have certain common interests and part of the U.S. interest is to maintain that very special relationship with Israel.

As far as Israel's interest is concerned, have you noticed a change for the better or the worse in U.S. policy since 1948?
For the better. In 1948 there were many people in the U.S. establishment who thought that Israel was going to lose the war and it was not in the U.S. interest to provide backing to a country that was going to lose. It would also create a relationship of enmity with the Arabs. This was seen by those people as a losing proposition, as backing the wrong horse. Some wanted to postpone the creation of the state. There were others who said Israel would be a Soviet satellite and since the people in charge here were Socialists and felt a degree of empathy with the Soviet Union, why should the U.S. provide backing?
All that has changed. The U.S. concluded, first, that Israel is not a losing horse, that it can defend itself and is not going to be defeated by the Arab states; second, that Israel is a democracy and did not become a Soviet satellite - on the contrary, some of the Arab countries became allies and clients of the Soviet Union while Israel became an ally of the United States. These were the reasons why the relationship between Israel and the U.S. has greatly improved over the years.

Would you see a different approach by Republicans and Democrats toward Israel?
No. We have had good friends in the White House in times of Republican administration, the most recent case being Reagan, and under Democratic administration, the most recent case being Clinton. Both are very good friends of the State of Israel, which is an indication of the fact that the U.s.-Israeli relationship - in fact, the alliance between Israel and the United States ¬is recognized as serving U.S. interests by Republicans and Democrats alike.

It has often been said that the main U.S. aim is to ensure the regular flow of Middle Eastern oil to the U.S. and to the rest of the industrialized world. If that is the case, wouldn't it be better for U.S. interests if Israel, as a source of permanent tension with the Arabs, had not been born or would cease to exist?
I think it is in the U.S. interest to arrive at a settlement, to reduce or put an end to the friction which exists in the area. But I don't think it is in the U.S. interest to do that at the expense of Israel's existence. Why? Because Israel and the United States share common values, they are both democratic countries, with common ideals. In the world in which we live, common values inevitably make for common interests.
The latest example of this was the Gulf War [1991]. Saddarn Hussein was an enemy of the State of Israel. For many years he was not seen as an enemy of the U.S. and he received considerable support from the U.S. before the Gulf crisis. He looked to them like a guy one could talk to and do business with. But sooner or later it was to turn out that he was not only an enemy of Israel but also of the United States. He is a totalitarian leader using totalitarian methods. He had no respect for international boundaries, and didn't mind using force to achieve his objectives, which is characteristic of totalitarian leaders. Inevitably, this led him to a clash, not only with Israel, but also with the United States.
In the volatile environment of the Middle East, I think the United States feels that it is a very good thing for them that the State of Israel is over there, a strong state militarily, some have said the biggest aircraft carrier that the U.S. has in the area. When people in America consider possible dangerous eventualities which may arise in the Middle East because of these totalitarian rulers and their capricious behavior, they see it as a good thing that Israel is there and is strong.
On Iraq and Saddarn Hussein I would add that this is today the major Middle East problem in U.S. policy and it is unfinished business, left behind in the Gulf War by George Bush's serious mistake in not finishing what he started. Finishing the job would have taken another 48 or 72 hours. Instead, Saddam Hussein is still thumbing his nose at the U.S. and the U.N., in possession of biological weapons which are a terrible danger to everybody. Unless the U.S. handles this adequately, it is going to send the wrong signal to the entire Middle East and to other totalitarian rulers.
It is surprising to me that Saddarn Hussein seems to enjoy sympathy and support from many of the Arab countries. He wants to maintain weapons of mass destruction and one would think the other Arab leaders would also see it as a danger to them. It is also morally wrong. It looks as if the Arab leaders are rather hesitant to support the U.S. position. Saddarn Hussein is similar to Hitler and the U.S. should see to it that he leaves power in Baghdad. As long as he remains, with weapons of mass destruction, the world is going to have a very serious problem.

President Clinton has hinted that the deadlocked Israeli-Palestinian peace talks made it difficult for him to rally against Saddam Hussein the 1991 coalition of the Gulf War. In this context, is Israel becoming a burden to the U.S.?
If I am right in saying that a strong Israel is in the interest of the U.S., then Israel is an asset and not a burden. This is the reason for the relationship, for the assistance Israel gets from the U.S. because it is considered an asset and the u.s. wants to support this asset to the extent this is possible.
Now, like everything else in our world, no one thesis explains the whole story. The U.S. would like to see a strong Israel, but one that lives at peace with the surrounding countries, which finds a resolution to the Middle Eastern conflict. But the U.S. doesn't want a resolution of the conflict that would destroy Israel.
The perception of the conflict and what it takes to resolve it, of course, looks different from Israel and from the U.S. There has not yet been born a U.S. president who will tell an Israeli prime minister that you are making too many concessions and this is dangerous for you. If the Israelis are prepared to make concessions, the president will be only too happy.
Accordingly, whether the president is Republican or Democrat, he finds it easier to go along with an Israeli PM who wants to make mncessions, like Shimon Peres or the late Yitzhak Rabin, than with an Israeli PM like Binyamin Netanyahu, Yitzhak Shamir or the late Menachem Begin [all of them Likud¬Ed.]. The latter had a "risk-averse" approach, didn't want to take too many risks and, therefore, didn't want to make too many concessions.
So everything else being equal, it's natural for the U.S. president of either party to prefer dealing with an Israeli government that is prepared to make concessions. He may sometimes become a little frustrated and a little angry with an Israeli government which says no, these concessions are too dangerous for us. However, this does not basically impair the relationship between Israel and the u.S.

Do you imagine a situation of tension, deadlock, and violence maybe leading to a new Arab-Israeli war, in which U.S. friendship for Israel would be overturned?
It is not on the cards, not feasible, not to be anticipated or expected that, were Israel to be in danger, it would not enjoy the support of the United States, This is because, over and above the sympathy for Israel in the U.S. government and general public, it is in the basic interest of the U.S. that Israel remain strong as an asset to the U.S.

Whatever Israel's policies? In the event of war, escalating from the conflict with the Palestinians?
Whatever Israel's policies. If there is to be another war, which I hope won't occur and which I don't expect, it is not going to be Israel's fault. It will be aggression, as in the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein launched missiles against Israel. If the Arab states were to come to the aid of the Palestinians, which I don't think is likely, they may say they have good reason, but it would be aggression, not acceptable in international law or by the U.S. The U.S. would do everything to help Israel fight off such aggression. Probably the leaders of Arab countries like Syria and Egypt are aware of this.

Do you see a danger in Israel being allied with the radical Christian right (Jerry Falwell) which is pro-Israeli in the Middle East and anti-Semitic in the U.S.?
First, Falwell is not anti-Semitic. He may be considered on the right of the political spectrum, but he is not anti-Semitic. Menachem Begin, in answer to similar questions, used to say he would meet with anyone who is a friend of Israel and supports Israel. I have yet to meet the person who is an anti-Semite but a friend of Israel. It is a contradiction in terms and it certainly isn't true of Falwell. There may be differences between his circles and American Jews over schools, etc., but at the moment, in terms of real interests today, these people are very strong supporters of Israel and it would be wrong for any Israeli PM, Likud or Labor, to say we don't want to have anything to do with you or to meet with you. Not only would this be politically stupid, since we enjoy their support, it would not be morally correct.

Do you see any difference in the U.S. dealing with a Likud or a Labor government?
I don't think so. There is a natural preference for Israeli governments which are prepared to make concessions and, generally speaking, as far as the U.s. is concerned, the more concessions the better, on the assumption that whatever government is in power in Israel, it will look after Israel's security interests. That is not something for the U.S. to worry about, they can rely on the Israeli government.

Contrary to European countries and other allies of the U.S., the U.S. has not recognized the Palestinian right to self-determination or statehood. Why, in your opinion, does a country which in the days of President Wilson invented the concept of self-determination in 1918, lag behind in this aspect?
First, you should ask people in the U.S. rather than me. But I don't think that, in principle, anyone in the U.S. or in any democratic country in the world, supports unlimited exercise of self-determination. If every national or ethnic group has to be allowed statehood, this would lead to world anarchy, a break-up of many countries in the world, possibly including the United States. The U.S. also has a majority of certain ethnics in southern California (Mexicans and Latinos) so could self-determination not lead to a break-away? This is not a principle which anybody can accept.
In certain circumstances, it seems right to grant the right to self¬determination, maybe to statehood, to a certain ethnic group located in an appropriate manner geographically. The U.S. policy is not unreservedly to support or promote the establishment of a Palestinian state. Under certain circumstances, the U.S. would not be opposed to it, but I can understand that at the present time it is not their policy to promote this unreservedly, especially since they know this is not Israel's position either. It's quite appropriate that countries which have a very strong relationship - Israel and the U.S. have an alliance - are very careful about openly taking positions contrary to those of their allies.