In This Review

Decade of Transition: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Origins of the American-Israeli Alliance
Decade of Transition: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Origins of the American-Israeli Alliance
By Abraham Ben-Zvi
Columbia University Press, 1998, 250 pp
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Ben-Zvi takes aim at the accepted view that the American-Israeli alliance began with the Kennedy presidency. Instead, he sees its roots in the second term of the Eisenhower administration, when Israel began to appear more as an asset and less as a liability. Moreover, he maintains, all major U.S. decisions leading to this virtual partnership were based on strategic considerations, not domestic politics. This thesis appears strained. Israel's role in the 1958 Jordan crisis, which the author highlights as an example of closer cooperation with the United States, was quite marginal. It was the 1970 Jordan crisis that stimulated some U.S. policymakers to see Israel in a more favorable light. In any case, the quantum jump to closer U.S.-Israeli ties clearly came after both Eisenhower and Kennedy, during the Johnson presidency. Ben-Zvi's own narrative also makes clear that domestic considerations were indeed always present in America's Middle East policy. Better to read this as a well-researched reconstruction of U.S. diplomacy that persuasively shows how early U.S. policy toward Israel lacked punch by stinting on both carrots and sticks.