More importantly, saying that Israel and the United States are united by a shared terrorist threat has the causal relationship backwards: rather, the United States has a terrorism problem in good part because it is so closely allied with Israel, not the other way around. U.S. support for Israel is not the only source of anti- American terrorism, but it is an important one, and it makes winning the war on terror more difficult. There is no question, for example, that many al Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden, are motivated by Israel’s presence in Jerusalem and the plight of the Palestinians. According to the U.S. 9/11 Commission, bin Laden explicitly sought to punish the United States for its policies in the Middle East, including its support for Israel, and he even tried to time the attacks to highlight this issue.
Equally important, unconditional U.S. support for Israel makes it easier for extremists like bin Laden to rally popular support and to attract recruits. Public opinion polls confirm that Arab populations are deeply hostile to American support for Israel, and the U.S. State Department’s Advisory Group on Public Diplomacy for the Arab and Muslim world found that "citizens in these countries are genuinely distressed at the plight of the Palestinians and at the role they perceive the United States to be playing."
As for so-called rogue states in the Middle East, they are not a dire threat to vital U.S. interests, apart from the U.S. commitment to Israel itself. Although the United States does have a number of disagreements with these regimes, Washington would not be nearly as worried about Iran, Ba’thist Iraq, or Syria were it not so closely tied to Israel. Even if these states acquire nuclear weapons – which are obviously not desirable – it would not be a strategic disaster for the United States. Neither America nor Israel could be blackmailed by a nuclear-armed rogue, because the blackmailer could not carry out the threat without receiving overwhelming retaliation. The danger of a "nuclear handoff" to terrorists is equally remote, because a rogue state could not be sure the transfer would be undetected or that it would not be blamed and punished afterwards.
Furthermore, the U.S. relationship with Israel actually makes it harder to deal with these states. Israel’s nuclear arsenal is one reason why some of its neighbors want nuclear weapons, and threatening these states with regime change merely increases that desire. Yet Israel is not much of an asset when the United States contemplates using force against these regimes, because it cannot participate in the fight.
In short, treating Israel as America’s most important ally in the campaign against terrorism and assorted Middle East dictatorships both exaggerates Israel’s ability to help on these issues and ignores the ways that Israel’s policies make U.S. efforts more difficult.
Unquestioned support for Israel also weakens the U.S. position outside the Middle East. Foreign elites consistently view the United States as too supportive of Israel, and think its tolerance of Israeli repression in the occupied territories is morally obtuse and a handicap in the war on terrorism. In April 2004, for example, 52 former British diplomats sent Prime Minister Tony Blair a letter saying that the Israel-Palestine conflict had "poisoned relations between the West and the Arab and Islamic worlds," and warning that the policies of Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were "one-sided and illegal."
A final reason to question Israel’s strategic value is that it does not act like a loyal ally. Israeli officials frequently ignore U.S. requests and renege on promises made to top U.S. leaders (including past pledges to halt settlement construction and to refrain from "targeted assassinations" of Palestinian leaders). Moreover, Israel has provided sensitive U.S. military technology to potential U.S. rivals like China, in what the U.S. State Department Inspector-General called "a systematic and growing pattern of unauthorized transfers." According to the U.S. General Accounting Office, Israel also "conducts the most aggressive espionage operations against the U.S. of any ally." In addition to the case of Jonathan Pollard, who gave Israel large quantities of classified material in the early 1980s (which Israel reportedly passed onto the Soviet Union to gain more exit visas for Soviet Jews), a new controversy erupted in 2004 when it was revealed that a key Pentagon official (Larry Franklin) had passed classified information to an Israeli diplomat, allegedly aided by two AIPAC officials. Israel is hardly the only country that spies on the United States, but its willingness to spy on its principal patron casts further doubt on its strategic value.
Modified from John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt