The Israeli Connection
By Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi
Pantheon, 1987
Reviewed by William Jackson

ON ONE LEVEL, The Israeli Connection is an almanac of Israel's attempts to influence other governments through military aid, mostly, it would appear, in an ill-advised manner. On a second level, it is a penetrating analytical and intuitive look at Israeli foreign policy, at some of Israel's closest allies, and at the Israeli view of the world.

On a more practical level, however, the book is frequently frustrating for the reader, as the author shifts the scene from country to country, discussing Israeli aid programs of different dimensions and varying importance.

As Beit-Hallahmi moves across the globe, from the Middle East to Asia, Africa, Latin America, and back to Israel, the reader may tire of the book's piecemeal approach. Still, Beit-Hallahmi's argument is engaging and the book poses a timely challenge to Israel's popular image. It is not a likeable image, and many will find the book and its message distasteful. But the facts and their meaning cannot be dismissed lightly or ignored--either by Israelis or Americans.

For those already familiar with Israel's role in the Iran-contra arms deal, this book will provide a wealth of background on the strategic partnership which developed between the United States and Israel over Iranian affairs following the downfall of the Shah in 1979. The money trail which the media and congressional investigators pursued with such energy last year now can be compared with the arms trail, which the author lays out in this book.

The two trails overlap frequently--as do, all too frequently, U.S. and Israeli policies. The original Israeli shipment of TOW missiles to Iran and Israel's role in the subsequent attempts to buy the release of the American hostages in Beirut now can be seen as part of an ongoing political and military relationship between the United States and Israel rather than as a single isolated incident.

If Beit-Hallahmi does nothing else, he clearly shows the depth and dimension of that "special relationship"--both in the Middle East and elsewhere.

But what makes the book particularly difficult for the reviewer is that the facts reported--let alone their interpretation--are not widely known in this country. The issues raised are enormous and the discussion of those issues barely has begun.

The South Africa Connection
Still, a number of startling revelations emerge from The Israeli Connection, disclosures that could have far-reaching consequences for Israel, the United States and the future course of world events.

Among these is the multi-dimensional nature of the joint ventures entered into by Israel and South Africa, projects which the author compares with the relationship between Israel and France at the peak of their friendship in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Copious evidence is produced of Israel's far-reaching nuclear cooperation with South Africa, and Israel's involvement at different levels with the puppet "homelands" that South Africa has created in an effort to deny citizenship to its black majority.

At the same time, Beit-Hallahmi devotes extensive coverage to Israel's support for South African-backed insurgent forces--such as Joseph Savimbi's National Union for the Total Liberation of Angola, and the Mozambique National Resistance.

Beit-Hallahmi's revelations, however, spread in all directions on the map. From the Sri Lankan government's fight against the Tamil insurgency to Argentina's "dirty war," from Somoza's Nicaragua to Oliver North's contras, the author carefully lays the groundwork for his charge that Israel systematically supports repressive regimes in their battles against their own peoples, often at the behest of the United States.

The book benefits, but also to some degree suffers from, the particular insights and expertise of the author, himself an Israeli. A clinical psychologist, Beit-Hallahmi has written extensively about the nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict and in particular the "psycho-social payoffs" for both parties that have accompanied that conflict. The author's interest in what lies beneath the surface of events may account for his remarkable intuitive grasp of Israeli policies and motives.

Beit-Hallahmi offers the psychological argument that Israel-- both as a government and as a people--is unwilling to examine the merits of Third World liberation movements too closely, because to do so would leave Israel vulnerable to self-criticism over its own policies in the occupied territories. As he puts it: "The injustice done to the Palestinians is so clear and so striking that it cannot be openly discussed, and any discussion of what Israel has been doing in the Third World is certain to lead to an examination of the rights of Palestinians..."

While that argument may carry some weight, Beit-Hallahmi offers only his own intuitive reasoning as proof. Still, in light of the factual evidence of Israel's dealings presented here, his perceptions clearly demand our careful attention and continuing thought.