A New Basis for a Relationship

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be arriving at the White House today with two respectable supporters on his side - Congress and the Pentagon.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon will be arriving at the White House today with two respectable supporters on his side - Congress and the Pentagon.

This is not personal support: The long-standing and quite popular brand name, "Israel," is suffering from its identification with the man chosen a year ago to advertise it. It is also no big surprise that the politicians on Capitol Hill are in a hurry to add their signatures to any petition organized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). What's new is the U.S. Defense Department's position alongside Israel, despite the anticipated cost to relations with Arab countries.

Of the three important elements in strategic balance - geography, energy and technology - the first two have traditionally favored the Arabs in the considerations of the security planners in Washington. In order to maintain its balance, Israel used the political leverage of the American president and Congress. The Saudi Arabian peninsula is losing its relative power as the oil well of the West, but even during the years of total dependence on the Persian Gulf, the oil produced in the peninsula had an essential partner in American emergency plans - the military base.

Powerful countries that wish to operate beyond their borders need bases - if not a permanent air or naval base, then at least one at which they can refuel; if not for mounting operations, then at least for gathering intelligence; and if not for takeoffs, then at least for landings. The local neighbors which have hosted western bases charged a political fee for their hospitality. The claim that the foreign armies in these bases also protected their hosts was countered by the contention that the foreign presence fomented the local populations and endangered the stability of the regimes.

The failure of the Gulf States to prevent attacks against the American forces stationed there prompted the Pentagon to develop a different operational concept - from a distance. This is also a tempting idea since in the absence of conscription, young people shy away from military service if it means long sojourns away from home; and it is possible mainly due to the maturation of war technologies - navigation and control, both from space and from the depths of the oceans - at U.S.-based facilities. There is no need to live in Kuwait in order to attack Iraq; one can make a lightning strike from Colorado. Instead of being "high profile," military presence can be low profile and remote.

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has strengthened America's relationship with Turkey and the various central Asian countries that host bases. In aspiring to transform the American army, Rumsfeld encountered opposition on the part of the conservative military leadership, which refuses to give up the weapons systems of previous wars. The conservative generals have connived with their friends in Congress to invest billions of dollars in upgrading these systems. Rumsfeld wants that money for weapons for future wars. This week, the Pentagon erupted with the affair of the army's efforts to foil Rumsfeld's decision to cancel the Crusader mobile artillery.

Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command Tommy Franks is a land general of the old school of General William Westmoreland in Vietnam, and, like him, is demanding legions of soldiers for the war in Iraq - up to 250,000, in five division, with all the cumbersome logistics that this entails. Franks was stuck in his position before the arrival of Rumsfeld, who rid himself of Army General Henry Shelton as the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and established a savvy leadership team from the Air Force and the Marines.

The European Command, which includes Syria, Lebanon and Israel (and therefore also the Palestinian Authority), will soon also incorporate Russia and Central Asia, with their oil reserves, and in doing so, it will counterbalance the pro-Arab structure of the Central Command.

All the things that help Rumsfeld operate via remote control from the comfort of the Pentagon also help Israel. It is worth it for Israel to harness its political friends - the long-standing Democrats and the new Republicans - and to support any move Rumsfeld makes to reduce the footprint in the Gulf: the special operations forces, air-lift and sea-lift capabilities and the development and procurement of stand-off precision-guided munitions.

As the third member of a trilateral mutual interest group with the Pentagon and Congress, Israel can gain from the loss to the Arab countries caused by the obsolescence of the local bases.