Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Mediterranean NATO Part 2

Part II: The Cold War, Decolonization, and Israel
    While Part I of this series detailed the post WWII ascendancy of the NATO powers through 1958, their grasp began to slip throughout the 1960s.  First, French President Charles de Gaulle gradually withdrew Paris from the Alliance between 1958 and 1967, banning the presence of foreign troops and nuclear weapons on French soil.  As a result, the U.S. Air Force transferred 200 aircraft out of the country and relinquished control of 10 airbases back to France.
   One major development that spawned from the French withdrawal was the basing of nuclear equipped Jupiter missile squadrons in Italy and Turkey.  The U.S. Air Force had originally wanted to station the mid-range ballistic missiles in France, but when De Galle balked at the idea, the Pentagon moved the batteries to Italy and Turkey.  Starting in 1961, ten Jupiter sites were established in Italy, housing two squadrons, each consisting of nuclear warheads, fifteen missiles, and 500 support personnel.  In Turkey, one Jupiter Squadron was deployed over five sites near the eastern coastal city of Izmir.
    These sites, especially in Turkey, were seen as a major Cold War provocation by Moscow, threatening the Soviet's southern flank.  In response, they began to set up similar missile bases in Cuba, triggering what is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.  In the negotiations between Kennedy and Kruschev that ended this crisis, both powers agreed to abandon their ballistic missile sites.

     The rise of nationalist governments in former colonial states also eroded NATO's Mediterranean power.  In Libya, Wheelus Air Force base had originally been established outside of Triploi by the colonial Italian government in 1923, then captured by the British during World War Two and transferred over to the American Air Force shortly thereafter.  According to an article in Air Force Magazine, the U.S. presence at Wheelus was never looked on fondly by the Libyan population, and the 1967 Israeli-Arab war triggered riots at the American embassy and attacks on vehicles going to and from Wheelus, as well as calls from the Libyan parliament to remove all foreign bases from the country.  Sensing that their time at the base was running out, Air Force planners began to seek facilities elsewhere, and when a military coup overthrew King Idris and empowered Colonel Gaddafi in 1969, Wheelus was soon evacuated by the Air Force.
  The 1960's was also when todays "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel was built.  While the U.S., and especially President Truman, had been instrumental in the creation of the Levantine state in 1948, the U.S. provided it with virtually no military support for its first half decade of existence.  This changed during the Presidency of John F. Kennedy, when in 1962 the Pentagon approved the sale of Hawk surface-to-air missiles.
    As recounted by Jeremy Salt in his book, The Unmaking of the Middle East, during his presidential campaign in August 1960, Kennedy struck a deal with top Jewish-American politicos like Abe Feinberg and Meyer (Mike) Feldman, and in return for their money and support placed numerous pro-Israeli voices in control of his Administrations Middle East Policy.  Feldman himself was appointed to be the Presidential "point man" on all matters involving Israel, in what even President Kennedy called "a political debt that had to be paid." (Salt, 187)
     Soon, Israel was pressing the White House on all sorts of issues.  Robert Komer, a senior NSC staff member, speaking to the President in December 1962, put it bluntly: "We have promised the Israelis Hawks, reassured them on the Jordan waters, given a higher level of economic aid (to permit expensive arms), and given various security assurances.  In return we have got nothing for our efforts... The score is 4-0." (salt, 189)  What Kennedy was looking for most in return were inspections of Israel's Dimona nuclear plant, which the U.S. suspected was being used to develop nuclear weapons.
     When Lyndon Baines Johnson assumed the Presidency following Kennedy's assassination, the Pentagon's weapon spigot opened wide for Israel.  Throughout Johnson's long Congressional career, first in the house and then the Senate, he had built close to the Jewish-American political base, and during his Presidency the situation was no different.  Building on Kennedy's overtures, Johnson authorized the sale of 200 Patton tanks to Israel in 1964, and then in 1966, 24 "A24E "intrusion" aircraft.
      The clearest U.S. support for Israel came during the two Arab-Israeli wars, in 1967 and 1973.  In the first, what is known as the Six Day war of June 1967, the U.S. acquiesced to the Israeli position, and by standing pat gave Tel Aviv a virtual green light to launch the war.  The Administration knew that Nasser's Egypt was not likely to launch any sort of attack, and yet still played along with the Israeli position that the war was a "preemptive" strike.  Johnson's White House used none of the U.S.'s numerous ties to Israel in negotiations to prevent the conflict, as described by Salt:
[Johnson] could have followed Eisenhower's example and threatened Israel with economic and political sanctions if it dared to go to war before all the diplomatic processes had been exhausted.  He could have threatened to remove the tax free status of 'philanthropic' donations.  He could have blocked Export-Import loans and the supply of arms.  The crisis involved U.S. national security, so these were all valid means an American president could have used to prevent war, but Johnson resorted to none of them.  At no stage did he involve the power and authority of the world's most powerful country against a government dependent on U.S. aid and presenting a case for war based on obvious untruths and exaggerations. (Salt, 223)
At the conclusion of the war, the U.S. made an equally hollow attempt to enforce UN Resolution 242, which called for Israel to withdraw from the Arab territory it was occupying at the end of war:  the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Jordanian West Bank.  The 1967 war made it clear that the U.S. would stand firmly behind Israeli aggression, no matter the conduct.  In a good metaphor for their overall relationship, the Israeli military "accidently" attacked a U.S. Naval ship, the USS Liberty, killing 34 American seamen, with virtually no consequences.
      During the 1973 war launched by Egypt, known as the Yom Kippur War, the U.S. went further, supplying Israel with emergency military airlifts, pulling tanks and planes directly from bases and the U.S. Sixth Fleet, some of which Israel sent to the front line within hours of it being received (Mehran Kamrava, The Modern Middle East, 129).

     While the first decade of the Cold War saw a NATO ascendency in the Mediterranean, the sixties and early seventies witnessed a diminshed control.  Cold War tensions, decolonization, and the U.S. Israel relationship all served to paint Washington into a corner.  


  1. I'm afraid you are leaving out a lot of detail, in fact you have a lot of innaccuracies. I am not arab or israeli (and not american) but I know a lot more about this than you.

    For example, you say 'The Administration knew that Nasser's Egypt was not likely to launch any sort of attack', the arab forces were gathering on the borders, there was provocative action by some arabs, the arabs wanted to drive the israelis into the sea, in other words, obliterate them from the face of the earth. The US knew what was going on. By the time the supposed diplomatic measures were taken, Israel would probably not exist. The Israelis were left to themselves and in fact, when they saw international help dwindle, they basically said they will defend themselves.

    The pre emptive strike was because of the actions the arabs were taking. If you saw enemy forces building up on your borders, you had seen those who swore they would help defend you back off, what would you do, wait for the inevitable? It's easy to sit back and make judgements but if you had been there and got your information from personal experience and not from a book, you may have a different opinion.

    You mention that the US supplied Israel with military equipment. Dont forget to mention the soviets suppied the arabs with weapons and still do, look at Syria today (13th June 2012). Further, in the 1967 war, Israel only had french planes and a limited number of bombs. Look at the size of the forces Israel had and compare it to the size of the arab forces, it is a miracle Israel survived.

    I suggest you do more research, I could go on but that is enough for now.

  2. I see my comment is gone, I guess it's hard for you to see you are wrong about what you've written, don't let the truth get in the way

  3. I think it might be gone because you're just an apologist for Israeli apartheid, and all you do is blame Arabs for trying to reclaim land that was stolen from them.

  4. You seem like someone who thinks they know what happened, tell me, if you can, where I was wrong, oh and with my 2nd comment, for some reason my first didn't come out when I went back to this page but then it was there later, maybe a computer glitch but I stand by what I
    said, prove me wrong.

  5. Also Nathan, historically the land has changed hands many times, was not King David a Jew? His kingdom included jerusalem for example. Where is Solomons Temple Nathan? Do you know? Abraham was the Father of arabs and the tribes of Israel, wasn't he? The tribe of Judah (Jews) has been scattered over thousands of years. Actual ownership of land varied.

  6. CIA Estimate 5.23.67 (From FRUS 1964-1968, Vol. XIX, Doc. 44) (http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19/d44)

    "The judgment of the intelligence community is that Israeli ground forces “can maintain internal security, defend successfully against simultaneous Arab attacks on all fronts, launch limited attacks simultaneously on all fronts, or hold on any three fronts while mounting successfully a major offensive on the fourth.” In the air, the judgment is less clear: the Israelis “probably could defeat the Egyptian air force if Israel's air facilities were not damaged beyond repair...
    "Moreover, in the air, the Israelis have been acutely conscious of the difficulty of defending their air facilities, and have made strenuous efforts to overcome the fact that their bases are very short warning time from the Arab borders. They have “hardened” their fields with dispersed pens, for example. Israeli pilots and tactics are considered superior, and, in terms of operationally assigned fighter aircraft rather than total inventory, Israel has a slight edge—256 to 222...
    Nevertheless, we consider that the Israeli forces have retained an over-all superiority."

    -Telegram describing meeting between Nasser and U.S. Envoy Robert Anderson 6.2.67
    FRUS 1964-1968, Vol. XIX, Doc. 129 (http://history.state.gov/historicaldocuments/frus1964-68v19/d129)

    "Nasser explained that he did not want repetition of 1956 affair when he was reluctant to believe that an attack had begun and was slow in moving troops to Sinai only to be caught between the Israelis in the north and the British at Port Said....
    "He was asked specifically if he intended to begin any conflict and he said to please explain to my govt that he would not begin any fight but would wait until the Israelis had moved."

    -Menachem Begin (then serving as Minister without Portfolio in Israeli Government), quoted in Jeremy Salt, pg 214-215
    "The Egyptian Army concentration in the Sinai approaches did not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him."

    1. I would have to research your last comment from Begin. I would also be careful in taking as gospel the telegram mentioned. I ask you, would Nasser have been completely up front with Anderson. You do understand the type of person Nasser was dont you?

      Do you know the difference in the size of the Israeli armies as opposed to the might of more than 1 arab nation? The Israelis were not expected to win. The arabs were backed by the soviet union, Israel had no one, they support that was promised evaporated.

      Telegrams are like a lot of correspondance from government, not always true, high probanbility of being innacurate, especially when in reference to Israel as we have seen in recent years.

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