Part II: The Cold War, Decolonization, and Israel
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.
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.
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.