The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and Why
by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi
Pantheon Books, 289 pp., $18.95
The Lobby: Jewish Political Power and American Foreign Policy
by Edward Tivnan
Simon and Schuster, 304 pp., $19.95
The Israeli connection remains one of the mysteries of the Iran-contra affair. The Tower Commission report mentioned the importance of Israeli initiatives aimed at pushing the American government, by means of arms sales, toward a better relationship with Iran. The report said that David Kimche, the director-general of Israel’s Foreign Office, had first suggested such an approach to Iran to administration officials in Washington; but the report drew no lessons from this. Israelis, if one believes some of the witnesses at the Congressional hearings, may also have suggested the diversion of funds from these arms sales to the contras—whom Israel itself had been helping for years. But again, the members of the House and Senate committees showed little curiosity. The issue of Israel’s influence on American foreign policy and of the extent of cooperation between the two countries’ secret services was avoided.
The Pollard spy case had already cast a shadow on the idyllic picture of US-Israeli relations so often painted by those, on both sides, who describe Israel as a “major asset” and key ally of the US. In this instance, understandably enough, it was the Israeli government that showed no enthusiasm for revelations and attributions of responsibility. A subcommittee of the Knesset, headed by Abba Eban, ended its investigation with a report that put much of the blame for hiring Pollard on Shimon Peres, the prime minister at the time; but it avoided specifics, and thus pleased nobody. The affair caused turmoil among prominent American Jews, some of whom spoke out strongly against Israel’s use of an American official to spy on the US, and provoked angry charges from Israeli public figures (such as the political philosopher and former high official Shlomo Avineri), who rebuked American Jewish critics as if they were letting Israel down. The relation of American Jews to Israel was called into question more acutely than it had been for some years.
Two recent books examine, respectively, Israel’s arms dealings throughout the world and the domestic political activities of American Jewish pressure groups on behalf of Israel. Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, in The Israeli Connection, makes a survey of “who Israel arms and why”; he is a clinical psychologist and teaches at Haifa University. Edward Tivnan, a journalist, discusses in The Lobby “Jewish political power and American foreign policy.”
Beit-Hallahmi’s account of the scope and variety of Israeli military dealings in such countries as Iran, Taiwan, Marcos’s Philippines, Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia, Morocco, Liberia, Zaire, Somoza’s Nicaragua, Chile, and Argentina under military rule—and with Edén Pastora’s contras—is derived from many sources, and even if some of the newspaper and other reports he has used may be challenged, the picture is, on the whole, convincing. It is, indeed, confirmed by the narrower, and meticulous, work of a young Palestinian scholar, Bishara Bahbah, in Israel and Latin America: The Military Connection, which shows that Israel for years sold arms to the dictatorships in Argentina, Chile, Paraguay …