The myth of the US-Israel special bond
It is possibly the greatest of American political myths, repeated ad nauseam by presidential candidates in their election campaigns. President Barack Obama has claimed that the United States enjoys a special bond with Israel unlike its relations with any other country. He has called the friendship "unshakable," "enduring" and "unique," "anchored by our common interests and deeply held values."
His Republican rival, Mitt Romney, has gone further, arguing that there is not "an inch of difference between ourselves and our ally Israel." A recent Romney election ad, highlighting his summer visit to Israel, extolled the "deep and cherished relationship."
But, while such pronouncements form the basis of an apparent Washington consensus, the reality is that the cherished friendship is no more than a fairy tale. It has been propagated by politicians to mask the suspicion -- and plentiful examples of duplicity and betrayal -- that have marked the relationship since Israel's founding.
Politicians may prefer to express undying love for Israel, and hand over billions of dollars annually in aid, but the US security establishment has -- at least, in private -- always regarded Israel as an unfaithful partner.
The distrust has been particularly hard to hide in relation to Iran. Israel has been putting relentless pressure on Washington, apparently in the hope of manoeuvring it into supporting or joining an attack on Tehran to stop what Israel claims is an Iranian effort to build a nuclear bomb concealed beneath its civilian energy program.
While coverage has focused on the personal animosity between Obama and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the truth is that US officials generally are deeply at odds with Israel on this issue.
The conflict burst into the open this month with reports that the Pentagon had scaled back next month's joint military exercise, Austere Challenge, with the Israeli military that had been billed as the largest and most significant in the two countries' history.
The goal of the exercise was to test the readiness of Israel's missile-defence shield in case of Iranian reprisals -- possibly the biggest fear holding Israel back from launching a go-it-alone attack. The Pentagon's main leverage on Israel is its X-band radar, stationed in Israel but operated exclusively by a US crew, that would provide Israel with early warning of Iranian missiles.
A senior Israeli military official told Time magazine what message the Pentagon's rethink had conveyed: "Basically what the Americans are saying is, 'We don't trust you'."
But discord between the two "unshakeable allies" is not limited to Iran. Antipathy has been the norm for decades. Over the summer, current and former CIA officials admitted that the US security establishment has always regarded Israel as its number one counter-intelligence threat in the Middle East.
The most infamous spy working on Israel's behalf was Jonathan Pollard, a naval intelligence officer who passed thousands of classified documents to Israel in the 1980s. Israel's repeated requests for his release have been a running sore with the Pentagon, not least because defense officials regard promises that Israel would never again operate spies on US soil as insincere.
At least two more spies have been identified in the past few years. In 2008 a former US army engineer, Ben-Ami Kadish, admitted that he had allowed Israeli agents to photograph secret documents about US fighter jets and nuclear weapons in the 1980s. And in 2006, Lawrence Franklin, a US defense official, was convicted of passing classified documents to Israel concerning Iran.
In fact, such betrayals were assumed by Washington from the start of the relationship. In Israel's early years, a US base in Cyprus monitored Israeli activities; today, Israeli communications are intercepted by a team of Hebrew linguists stationed at Fort Meade, Maryland.
Documents released this month by the Israeli air force archives also reveal that Israel eventually identified mysterious high-altitude planes that overflew its territory throughout the 1950s as American U-2 espionage planes.