CAREER: Foreign policy expert. Council on Foreign Relations, New York, NY, assistant editor of Foreign Affairs, 1994–95, associate editor, 1998–2000, senior fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy and Middle East Studies; member of 9/11 Commission.
Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, U.S. News & World Report, Columbia Journalism Review, New Republic, Jerusalem Report, and Slate. Project editor for The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World, Basic Books, 1997; reporter and researcher for The History of the Persian Gulf War, Times Books, 1992.
SIDELIGHTS: Warren Bass is a Middle-East scholar and a terrorism expert who has contributed to national publications and a number of books. His Support Any Friend: Kennedy's Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance, called "a fine, well-constructed study" by a Kirkus Reviews critic, focuses on John F. Kennedy's Middle-East policy during his thirty-five months in office. Adam Garfinkle wrote in the New York Times Book Review that Bass "argues that with cold war competition foremost in his mind, Kennedy took the diplomatic initiative in the Middle East in order to multiply his options. Bass gives the administration credit for much creativity, yet he soberly explains how it came to be that the outcome of its effort was to estrange Egypt from the United States while simultaneously laying the foundation for the United States-Israel alliance."
Kennedy's predecessor, President Dwight Eisenhower, did not have a good relationship with either Israel or the Arab countries. New Republic reviewer Michael B. Oren wrote that Kennedy "inherited a Middle East policy in shambles. Bass catalogues the failures wrought by the Eisenhower years: the disintegration of pro-Western Middle East defense organizations and the Soviets' successful entrenchment in the Arab heartland, undisguised strains in the American-Israeli relationship, America's inability to fill the vacuum left by the collapse of Anglo-French power in the area—a collapse that Eisenhower himself helped to precipitate in the Suez crisis." The charismatic and powerful President Gamal Abdul Nasser, who had come to power in Egypt with the help of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), "had become America's most implacable foe," noted Oren. "The same CIA was now reduced to monitoring Nasser's alliance with Moscow and to seeking what we now call 'regime change' in Egypt by all means short of assassination."
Jacob Heilbrunn wrote in Washington Monthly that, "ever the cleareyed historian, Bass indulges in no romance when it comes to Kennedy's policies. Kennedy was not, he reports, initially captivated by the idea of closer relations with Israel. It was Nasser that he wanted to appease. Kennedy wooed Nasser, but for naught. Nasser's invasion of Yemen in 1962 threatened American interests in Saudi stability, and the use of chemical weaponry and attacks on Saudi outposts by Nasser's forces did not go down well at the White House."
During Kennedy's administration in the early 1960s, the United States provided Israel with defensive Hawk missiles as a deterrent against the Arab threat to Israel, particularly from Egypt. The agreement was hammered out in a meeting between Kennedy's contact man, Mike Feldman, and Israeli leaders David Ben-Gurion and Prime Minister Golda Meir. Bass writes that "what began with the Hawk in 1962, has become one of the most expensive and extensive military relationships of the postwar era, with a price tag in the billions of dollars and diplomatic consequences to match."
Kennedy limited weapons aid to Israel rather than take a chance on angering Egypt's Nasser, leading to an arms race, or worse, a war. Nation critic Patrick Seale noted that the U.S. president "was not taken in by Ben-Gu-rion's histrionic description of Nasser, the Egyptian leader, as a cruel aggressor bent on Hitlerian genocide. He knew Israel was strong enough to deal with any Arab threat…. He told Ben-Gurion firmly that he did not want to be the U.S. president who brought the Middle East into the missile age. Kennedy was in fact attempting to reach out to Nasser, whom he recognized as a nationalist, not a Communist. He feared that giving Israel preferential treatment might push the Arabs into the arms of the Soviets."
Kennedy feared that Israel's growing nuclear program could lead to an escalation of Arab nuclear proliferation, including the possibility of Soviet nuclear technology finding its way to Arab countries. When Kennedy asked that Israel shut down its nuclear program at Dimona, they said they would if the United States agreed to fully defend Israel, something the United States was not prepared to do.
Bass describes the mission of John McCloy, who in 1963 was sent by Kennedy to mediate an informal arms control agreement between Israel and Egypt. Israel was to freeze its nuclear program, and Egypt its missile program, with the United States acting as inspector to ensure compliance. Garfinkel commented that Bass "seems to have every detail of this remarkable escapade in hand save one, probably because it was nowhere to be found in the archives: McCloy enjoyed the private use of Aristotle Onassis's yacht as a cover for his mission."
Seale wrote that Bass "raises the intriguing possibility that the Hawks were never really intended, as Ben-Gurion pleaded, to defend Israel's air bases from a knockout blow by Nasser's MIGS, but rather as a perimeter defense to protect the Dimona nuclear weapons plant…. In delivering its own knockout blow to Egypt's air force on the first day of the 1967 war, Israel lost eight jets in the first wave of attack. One wounded plane came limping back to base in radio silence. It wandered into Dimona's air space, and was promptly shot down by an Israeli Hawk missile."
When Lyndon Johnson became president following Kennedy's assassination, he reversed the policy of providing Israel with only defensive weapons and approved the sale to Israel of American war planes and tanks. Bass writes that "the U.S.-Israel arms relation-ship was, by the late 1960s, almost unrecognizable from the trickle it had been at the start of the Kennedy administration," and that it was Johnson who "set the precedent that ultimately created the U.S.-Israel strategic relationship: a multimillion-dollar annual business in cutting-edge weaponry, supplemented by extensive military-to-military dialogues, security consultations, extensive joint training exercises, and cooperative research-and-development ventures."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Foreign Affairs, September-October, 2003, Lawrence D. Freedman, review of Support Any Friend.
Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2003, review of Support Any Friend: Kennedy's Middle East and the Making of the U.S.-Israel Alliance, p. 579.
Nation, July 21, 2003, Patrick Seale, review of Support Any Friend, p. 39.
New Republic, September 22, 2003, Michael B. Oren, review of Support Any Friend, p. 42.
New York Times Book Review, July 27, 2003, Adam Garfinkle, review of Support Any Friend, p. 15.
Publishers Weekly, April 14, 2003, review of Support Any Friend, p. 55.
Washington Monthly, July-August, 2003, Jacob Heil-brunn, review of Support Any Friend, p. 56.