Joel Beinin, “The US-Israeli Alliance,” in Joel Beinin, Bassam Haddad, and Sherene Seikaly (eds.), A Critical Political Economy of the Modern Middle East (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2020).

Jadaliyya (J): What made you write this chapter?

Joel Beinin (JB): I am both a co-editor of the entire volume and the author of two chapters—the “Introduction” and “The US-Israeli Alliance.” The volume as a whole grew out of several workshops organized by the Political Economy Project (PEP), a project of the Arab Studies Institute, beginning in 2015. The co-founders of PEP are Bassam Haddad and Adam Hanieh, both of whom are authors of chapters in the book.

The purpose of the book, as my “Introduction” lays out, is to stimulate a broad discussion on studying the Middle East and North Africa using the methods of political economy. The editors of the book define political economy as the study of the mutual and historical constitution of states, markets, and classes. We adopt a pluralistic approach to the tradition of political economy. The “Introduction” addresses some of those approaches, including a version of Marxian class analysis, dependency theory, socialist feminism, and the regulation school, although not all the approaches we regard as falling under the rubric of political economy are represented in the book.

My chapter on “The US-Israeli Alliance” seeks to counter the perceptions of many scholars and political activists that US policy on Israel/Palestine, and sometimes broader Middle East issues, are determined primarily by the power of the Zionist lobby in Congress. Of course, I do not deny that the Zionist lobby is very powerful, and its heavyweights contribute millions to both major parties. But part of the strength of the Zionist lobby is due to the fact that Israel is a key strategic partner of US imperialism in the Middle East and beyond. So, for the most part, the lobby does not seek major changes in US imperial foreign policy. 

J: What particular topics, issues, and literatures does the chapter (on the US-Israel alliance) address? 

JB: Since the 1970 Palestinian-Jordanian civil war (Black September), and even more so since the mid-1980s (during the administration of President Ronald Reagan), Israel has become a US strategic ally of the highest importance. The chapter is primarily devoted to the political economy of this relationship. It also examines some of the financial structures of the Zionist lobby. The cultural aspects of the US-Israeli relationship—such as evangelical Protestant support for Israel and the liberal understanding of Israel as a response to the Holocaust and the moral legatee of the Jewish victims of Nazi mass murder—are acknowledged in passing. Unlike the structure of a typical academic article, which first situates itself in relation to the broader literature, I took the approach of laying out the case as I see it. I do not, for example, conduct an argument with people like John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the leading proponents of the Zionist lobby explanation for US policy. One reason is lack of space. More fundamentally, Mearsheimer and Walt do not acknowledge the existence of a US empire or of political economy as a method for understanding US foreign policy. So we are operating in different universes.

J: How does this chapter connect to and/or depart from your previous work?

JB: Much of my work has been on Egypt and, more recently, Tunisia. But I have always kept a hand in both the history and current analysis of events in Israel/Palestine, often in the form of co-edited volumes, for example, Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation (co-edited with Zachary Lockman) and The Struggle for Sovereignty: Palestine and Israel, 1993-2005 (co-edited with Rebecca L. Stein). The book as a whole and my “Introduction” in particular are in the same intellectual sphere as my previous book, Workers and Peasants in the Modern Middle East (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

J: Who do you hope will read your chapter and/or this book, and what sort of impact would you like it to have?

JB: The book is meant to provide an introduction to political economy for both undergraduate and graduate level university students. We hope it will be used as a text in many courses. I would especially like my chapter on “The US-Israeli Alliance” to be read by political activists and strategists.

J: What other projects are you working on now?

JB: I am considering writing a book focusing on the decolonization of the Middle East and North Africa since World War II and the simultaneous rise of US hegemony in the region.

J: What kinds of research on political economy would you like to see in the near future?

JB: Several chapters of the book—by Shana Marshall on the regional militaries and Adam Hanieh on Khaleeji capital, for example—open the door to relatively new topics that can be pursued further. I would like to see studies of the US alliances with other countries of the region—such as Turkey, Egypt, and Morocco—framed in political economy terms.

There is also almost nothing in the book that uses social reproduction theory. There is, however, a substantial literature on women and gender in the MENA region. Indeed, Middle East women’s studies is one of the liveliest sectors of scholarly work on the region. Perhaps some of it can be rethought in the light of social reproduction theory.

When I was in Qatar about a year ago, I visited the Bin Jelmood house in Doha, the first museum devoted to slavery in the Arab world. I learned a great deal despite the soft touch treatment of some topics. It seems to me that research on slavery in the twentieth-century Gulf (and obviously its connection to East Africa) can complement the kinds of arguments about capitalism in the region that Kristen Alff makes in her chapter.


Excerpt from the chapter

Israel and the United States have jointly developed weapons systems since the secret 1986 agreement on Israeli participation in research for President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”). From 1988 to 2002 Israel received about 1 billion dollars in R&D grants for the Arrow anti-missile missile produced by Boeing and IAI. In 1996, Israel began co-production of the Nautilus tactical high-energy laser with Northrop Grumman as lead contractor. But in 2005, after 300 million dollars had been spent, the Nautilus was discontinued due to its high cost and mediocre performance.

Lockheed Martin (LMT) is the world’s largest arms manufacturer by sales volume. Lockheed Martin Israel was established in 2014. It operates offices in Tel Aviv and Beersheba, where the Israeli government is promoting military-oriented hi-tech development.

LMT has been arming Israel since 1971. Its F-16 fighter jets have been the mainstay of its Air Force since 1980. Israel purchased an updated and customized version, the “Sufa,” in 2004. That year LMT completed an industrial collaboration valued at 1.45 billion dollars with some forty Israeli firms in the military, hi-tech, venture capital, and R&D sectors.

LMT is the lead contractor, with Northrup Grumman and British BAE as secondary partners, for the notoriously over-budget and under-performing F-35 “stealth” fighter jets. Israel has contributed prominently to the project and will acquire at least 50 F-35I “Adirs,” with Israeli-customized avionics. LMT’s co-production agreements with Israeli enterprises for F-35 components have an anticipated value of over 4 billion dollars. In 2014 IAI opened a new production line to manufacture over 800 pairs of F-35 wing skins valued at 2.5 billion dollars. Cyclone, an Elbit subsidiary, produces F-35 aerostructures. Elisra provides its electronic warfare suite. Rafael manufactures the F-35’s advanced weapons and sensors. The F-35 and many other U.S. military aircraft use the Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System, a “digital eye piece” developed by Elbit and Rockwell-Collins. LMT Vice-President for Customer Requirements, retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Gary North, proclaimed, “There’s a part of Israel in every F-35 that’s ever been built.” In December 2017 Israel became the first country outside the United States to deploy operational F-35s, a good news advertisement for the much-maligned aircraft.

LMT is expanding its R&D collaborations with Israeli institutions. Its joint venture with Bynet Data Communications Ltd. will construct the IDF Intelligence Corp’s Negev technology campus, known as the 5/9 project. In 2014 LMT and Yissum Research Development, a subsidiary of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, agreed to cosponsor joint research in quantum information and material sciences. LMT has the option to purchase exclusive licenses to products resulting from the partnership. LMT is partnering with Dell EMC and Ben-Gurion University on cyber security research.

Israel has similarly extensive relationships with Boeing, the second-largest global arms manufacturer based on 2015 revenue. Boeing has maintained an office in Tel Aviv since 1969. Israel’s national carrier, El Al, has operated an all-Boeing fleet since the 1960s, and the Israeli Air Force has used aircraft and helicopters manufactured by Boeing and its predecessor firms since the 1970s. In 2003 former IAF commander and former ambassador to the United States David Ivry became president of Boeing Israel.

Boeing’s F-15I, a dual-seat ground attack aircraft initially acquired by Israel in 1998, was the first U.S. military jet coproduced with Israeli firms: Elisra (electronic warfare suite); Elta (secure radios); IAI (structural subassemblies); Cyclone (external fuel tanks). Israeli firms supply parts for many other Boeing commercial and military products, including the Apache Longbow helicopter, and the 737, 777, and 787 airliners. In 2002 Boeing designated Elta, which manufactures the electronics support system for Boeing’s Nimrod maritime surveillance aircraft, its “Supplier of the Year.”

[…] In 1994 Rafael began working with General Dynamics, the manufacturer of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, to develop its Reactive Applique Armor Tiles for use on General Dynamics products. In 2005 General Dynamics received a 37.8 million-dollar contract modification to fit Rafael’s add-on armor to Bradley Fighting Vehicles and armored personnel carriers deployed in Iraq.

In 2011 U.S. forces in Afghanistan began using the Israeli-manufactured Skystar-180, an aerostat reconnaissance system which demonstrated its value during Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza. The U.S. Army approved the Skystar-180 for purchase the next year. Since 2010, five NATO countries have deployed Israeli-manufactured drones in anti-Taliban operations in Afghanistan.

In March 2015 the U.S. Marine Corps awarded Elbit a 73.4 million dollar-contract for new laser systems. The U.S. Army uses the “Iron Fist Light Configuration” active protection system for light and medium armored vehicles designed and manufactured by IMI Systems. The Jewish Virtual Library, an Israel lobby-aligned website which may exaggerate such matters, lists over a dozen other Israeli manufactured weapons systems employed by U.S. military and domestic security forces.

[…] The conjuncture of the second Intifada, which erupted in the fall of 2000, al-Qa‘ida’s 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., and the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq elevated U.S.-Israeli military and security collaboration to a new level with a focus on radical Muslim groups and Iran. In 2008 the CIA and Mossad collaborated in assassinating ‘Imad Mughniyya, who was allegedly responsible for the 1983 Beirut embassy bombing and many other attacks on military and civilian targets. In 2010 the United States established “unusually tight collaboration” with Israel in “Operation Olympic Games,” which launched the Stuxnet computer worm that disabled some 1,000 Iranian nuclear centrifuges at Natanz. In 2017 Israeli cyber operators penetrated a cell of ISIS bombmakers in Syria and learned they could make explosives resembling laptop computer batteries that would evade detection by airport screening devices. Israel shared the information with the United States, which then banned laptops in carry-on luggage on flights from eight Muslim-majority countries.

Israel is a world leader in the “new military urbanism” – crowd control, border surveillance, and counterterrorism – that burgeoned after 9/11. It advertises its extensive experience in the post-1967 Occupied Palestinian Territories to promote its techniques and equipment to increasingly militarized police forces and the thriving homeland security market. Israel’s homeland security sector comprises 600 firms, of which 300 export training services and goods, mainly surveillance technologies, with an annual value of 3 billion dollars.

Israel is a leading global supplier of drones to armed forces, police, and security agencies. A promotional video by the American subsidiary of Elbit, the principal supplier of tactical drones to the Israeli military, advertises its “Proven Technology, Proven Security” and “10+ years securing the world’s most challenging borders.” As a subcontractor for Boeing, Elbit provided camera and radar systems for the George W. Bush administration’s Strategic Border Initiative. In 2004 Elbit’s Fort Worth, Texas-based subsidiary, EFW Inc., leased two Hermes 450 drones, along with ground control stations, operational crews, and support personnel to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for its Arizona Border Control Initiative. In 2014 Elbit won a 145 million dollar-contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to supply electronic sensing technology for the (pre-Trump) barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border.

[…] Since 9/11 thousands of U.S. police officers, sheriffs, border patrol agents, ICE officers, TSA, and FBI agents have trained with the Israeli military and police forces.

[…] In addition to promoting Israeli techniques of militarized policing, underwritten trips to Israel create a strategic social base of support for Israel well beyond the “usual suspects” of the Israel lobby.

[…] In 2003 Israeli commandos and intelligence forces trained U.S. special forces at Fort Bragg, NC to use aggressive counter-insurgency tactics in Iraq “that echo(ed) Israeli operations in the occupied territories,” including “assassination squads against guerrilla leaders” and “sealing off centers of resistance with razor wire and razing buildings from where attacks [were] launched against US troops.” Israeli military consultants also visited Iraq. U.S. Army units reportedly underwent training at the IDF’s anti-terror school and subsequently returned to Iraq.

[…] Deputy Chief of Staff for Doctrine, Concepts, and Strategy for the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, acknowledged, “We recently travelled to Israel to glean lessons learned from their counterterrorist operations in urban areas.” Vane considered Israel’s “experience… pivotal as U.S. forces tried to confront the proliferating urban insurgencies on the streets of Iraq’s cities.”

[…] Israeli and U.S. commercial corporations, technology, and personnel are closely interconnected. Since 2000, Israel has been the largest U.S. trading partner in the Middle East. Between 50,000 and 200,000 Israelis and over 100 Israeli firms make their home in Silicon Valley. Nearly 100 Israeli firms are listed on the NASDAQ; only China has more. Dozens of U.S. hi-tech enterprises maintain R&D facilities in Israel. Leading firms invest substantially in Israel and regularly acquire local startups.

Intel has invested 17 billion dollars in Israel since 1974, more than any other American firm. It employs over 10,000 people, 60 percent of them in R&D. Intel is planning an additional 5 billion dollar-investment in its Kiryat Gat manufacturing facility. In 2017 Intel bought Mobileye, which makes sensors and cameras for driverless vehicles, for 15.3 billion dollars, perhaps the largest single foreign acquisition in Israeli history.

[…] Microsoft established an Israeli R&D center in 1991 and expanded it substantially in 2006. Between 2014 and 2017 Microsoft acquired five Israeli startups for at least 550 million dollars. Paypal acquired Fraud Sciences, for 169 million dollars in 2008 and built a fraud and risk detection center around it in Tel Aviv. In 2015 PayPal bought CyActive, for 60 million dollars; it became the base for its cybersecurity center near Beersheba.