The Forgotten Diplomat Who Helped Lay the Groundwork for Israel’s Special Relationship with the U.S.

Feb. 22 2018

James G. McDonald came to the fledgling state of Israel in August 1948 as President Truman’s “special representative”; the next year, after official diplomatic relations were established, he became the first American ambassador to the Jewish state. Known to be sympathetic with Zionism even before his appointment, McDonald often communicated directly with Truman, bypassing the significantly less sympathetic bureaucrats of the State Department. Benny Morris reviews the recently published fourth volume of McDonald’s diaries, which deals with his interval in Israel:

Among the visitors [McDonald received] was Arthur Koestler, the Hungarian-born journalist and novelist, who had already lived in and reported from Palestine in the late 1920s and again in 1945. . . . McDonald characterized the meeting as “delightful and civilized.” Koestler avowed that his “chief interest in this country is its intellectual future,” by which he meant its cultural-ideological-political evolution, [about which he was less than optimistic]. . . . In his quiet way, McDonald sprang to the defense, arguing that Israel was “a pioneer country in which it was natural for a generation or two or three [that] the emphasis would be on material development and perhaps rather crude nationalism rather than on culture.” This had been the case with “pioneer America and pioneer South Africa.” Koestler “seemed inclined to agree.” Somewhat contradictorily, McDonald then added that Israel was sui generis, and that all comparisons were unreasonable. . . .

McDonald spent much of his two and a half years in the country meeting and entertaining people. But most of his time was devoted to matters of state and diplomacy—and this fascinating volume provides a wealth of information and insights about the forging of the American-Israeli “special relationship” and the foreign-policy deliberations inside the Truman administration about the Middle East. It also abounds with data and insights about young Israel’s (dour) relationship with the UN and its agencies and the failed secret peace talks between Israel and Jordan, Israel and Syria, and Israel and Egypt, facilitated in part by the United States. . . .

McDonald was born in Ohio to parents who managed small hotels. After a brief academic career and working for a foreign-relations nonprofit, he was appointed the League of Nations high commissioner for refugees from Germany, where he helped Jews attempting to flee Nazism. In 1945 and 1946, he served on the Anglo-American Committee on Palestine. . . . His [subsequent] years in Tel Aviv were marked by continuous military, political, and diplomatic crises. “There is never a dull moment in Israel,” he noted in December 1949. “Moreover, the Jewish people in proportion to their numbers cause more stir in the world than any other folk.”

Read more at Commentary

More about: Arthur Koestler, Harry Truman, History & Ideas, Israeli history, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations

To Undermine Russian and Iranian Influence in Syria, the U.S. Must Go on the Offensive

March 22 2018

When Iranian-lead, pro-Assad forces attacked U.S. allies in Syria last month, they found themselves quickly overwhelmed by American firepower. The incident, writes Tony Badran, makes clear that the U.S. has the capability to push back against the Damascus-Tehran-Moscow axis. By taking a more aggressive approach while working closely with Israel, Badran argues, Washington can at once prevent Russia and Iran from cementing their control of Syria and avoid getting drawn into a wider conflict:

Israeli assets can augment U.S. capabilities considerably. A few days after the skirmish in Deir Ezzour in February, Iran flew a drone into Israeli air space. Israel responded by destroying the Iranian command center at the Tiyas military air base near Palmyra, and then proceeded to bomb a large number of Iranian and Assad-regime targets. The episode again underscored the vulnerability of Iran, to say nothing of the brittle Assad regime. Close coordination with Israel to expand this ongoing targeting campaign against Iranian and Hizballah infrastructure, senior cadres, and logistical routes, and amplifying it with U.S. assets in the region, would have a devastating effect on Iran’s position in Syria.

By going on the offensive, the U.S. will also strengthen Israel’s hand with Russia, reducing Jerusalem’s need to petition the Kremlin and thereby diminishing Moscow’s ability to position itself as an arbiter on Israeli security. For instance, instead of haggling with Russia to obtain its commitment to keep Iran five or seven kilometers away from the Israeli border, the U.S. could adopt the Israeli position on Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and assist Israel in enforcing it. Such a posture would have a direct effect on another critical ally, Jordan, whose role is of high importance in southern Syria and in the U.S. zone in the east.

Assad and Iran are the scaffolding on which the Russian position stands. Targeting them, therefore, undercuts Moscow and reduces its leverage. By merely forcing Russia to respect Israeli and Jordanian needs on the border, the U.S. would undermine Russia’s attempt, more generally, to leverage its position in Syria to make headway into the U.S. alliance system. In addition to adopting a more offensive military posture, the U.S. should also intensify the economic chokehold on Assadist Syria.

Read more at Caravan

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy