The uproar over the US decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem was based in part on the outdated and specious Arabist argument that American support for Israel threatens our relations with the Arab world. As many of us expected, the embassy decision had no impact on our ties with the Arab states, just as the strengthening of our alliance with Israel over the last 70 years did not prevent US-Arab ties from improving. The Arabists have, however, had a deleterious impact on US-Israel relations. One example is President Kennedy’s rejection of Israel’s request for a formal alliance.
On May 12, 1963, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion wrote to the president asking for a mutual security agreement in which the United States would supply Israel with arms equivalent to those being acquired by Egypt and the Arab states. The context for the request was the danger at that time that King Hussein of Jordan would be deposed by Egypt, which had just signed a tripartite pact and was using Nazi German scientists to develop rockets for use against Israel.
Kennedy argued that the United States had to maintain the ability to talk to both Israel and the Arab leaders, and that a bilateral security relationship would have “a distinct contrary effect.” He was especially concerned — and this was a frequent argument made by Arabists during the Cold War — that the Arabs would respond to any US.-Israel agreement by seeking similar assurances from the Soviet Union. Kennedy was also resistant to providing Israel with additional arms for the same reason and concluded, “It is not so much Arab hostility as the hostility plus Soviet arms support which creates the threat to your security.”