Decade of Transition: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Origins of the American-Israeli Alliance

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Columbia University Press, 1998 - History - 219 pages

Historians have long held that the Kennedy administration forged the American alliance with Israel as a way of courting political support from American Jews. In contrast, the Eisenhower administration is believed to have considered Israel a political and strategic liability. In Decade of Transition, Abraham Ben-Zvi now shows that the Eisenhower years were an "incubation period" during which the ground-work was laid for the eventual American-Israeli alliance. As a result, President Kennedy's Israeli policy is understood as not the beginning, but a continuation of a process with foundations in the prior administration.

Focusing on the period between Eisenhower's inauguration and Kennedy's landmark decision to sell the Hawk anti-aircraft missile to Israel, Ben-Zvi shows how the warming of American-Israeli diplomatic relations began with Eisenhower's second term. In his first administration, relations between the two countries reached a nadir with the Suez War, but in 1958, Israel's reaction to an intensifying crisis in Jordan caused Eisenhower to reevaluate Israel's strategic potential. Amid growing fears of unrest in the Middle East and a perceived Soviet threat, Israel could now become a useful ally and a new base of stability in the region.

Ben-Zvi argues that both Eisenhower and Kennedy sought an alliance with Israel not to satisfy domestic political concerns, but to invest in Israel's growing strength and political stability. He analyzes Eisenhower's initial perceptions of Israel, and shows how they evolved along with his estimate of the increasing significance of the Middle East on the world stage. Ben-Zvi traces the process of deterrence and coercion used by both presidents to transform Israel into a strategic asset for the United States, from American insistence on inspecting Israel's nuclear weapons facilities to failed attempts to influence Israel's policy on Palestinian refugees.

Thoroughly researched and drawing on thousands of documents-many only recently made public- Decade of Transition provides a significant reevaluation of the nature and origins of the American-Israeli relationship and the shaping of the modern Middle East.

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About the author (1998)

ABRAHAM BEN-ZVI is professor in the Department of Political Science and a research fellow at the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies, Tel Aviv University. In addition, Professor Ben-Zvi will become, in October 1998, the head of the Morris E. Ruriel Center for International Studies, Tel Aviv University. He is author of The Illusion of Deterrence: The Roosevelt Presidency and the Origins of the Pacific War and The United States and Israel: The Limits of the Special Relationship (Columbia).

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