‘THIS is the 51st state of the USA” sang Matt Johnson in The The’s 1986 hit Heartland.

He was referring to Margaret Thatcher’s Britain but he would have been even closer to the truth had he been referring to the State of Israel.

The Israeli economy and its massive military have been propped up by billions of US government dollars since Israel was established in 1948. The primary reason for this is not, as is often suggested, the influence of the “Israel lobby” in US politics. Rather, the American ruling class sees Israel as a key component in the geopolitical framework of modern US imperialism.

How else to explain the US’s donation of $300 billion (in today’s money) in military and economic aid to this little country with a population of fewer than 10 million people (smaller than the population of the state of Michigan)?

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In recent years, Washington has financed Israel to the tune of $3.3bn annually. The US’s backing for Israel far outstrips that granted to any other nation. Indeed, it is almost double the aid given over the last 80 years to its second-favourite country for support, Egypt. Washington has long financed repressive military juntas in Egypt (population more than 109m) for fear of communism or Arab nationalism among the masses.

The US’s backing of Israel extends into the international diplomatic and political arenas. Of the 86 times the US has used its veto powers at the United Nations, 45 of those have been exercised in Israel’s interests (including two of ceasefire motions during Israel’s current genocidal onslaught on Gaza).

On February 20, the US alone voted against a ceasefire proposal at the UN Security Council – the vote was 13-1 in favour, with the UK abstaining, as it so often does on motions criticising Israel). Back in December, the US and Israel were two of only 10 nations that voted against a ceasefire motion which was supported by some 153 countries at the UN General Assembly.

The National: The UN General Assembly during debate on the Israeli-Hamas war (Bebeto Matthews/AP)

It is US protection that enables Israel, alone in the world, to have an undeclared nuclear arsenal. It is in this context that we should consider the widely reported strain that Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s murderous belligerence in Gaza is putting on relations between Tel Aviv and Washington.

Much has been made of Joe Biden’s apparent exasperation with Netanyahu (the White House even let it be known that, behind closed doors, the US president supposedly called the Israeli leader an “asshole”).

US air drops of aid to Gaza (at least one of which killed desperate Palestinians on the ground due to a malfunctioning parachute) and the establishment of a Cyprus to Gaza sea route are provided as further evidence of frustration with Israel’s famine-inducing near-blockade of the territory.

As many international aid experts have attested, the recent US efforts have provided Gaza with only the tiniest fraction of the food, medicine and other supplies that its traumatised population requires. Given that the US is, by a massive distance, the principal funder of Israel’s assault on the people of Gaza, the recent charitable efforts are akin to blasting someone in the chest with a shotgun and then offer them a Band-Aid.

The National:

The air drops and Cyprus crossings are mere face-saving operations on Washington’s part, rather than genuine attempts to stop the escalating catastrophe in Gaza.

If the US wanted to prevent the horrifying acceleration of the cataclysmic famine that Israel has engineered, it would simply threaten Netanyahu with the withdrawal of all military and economic assistance unless and until there is a complete Israeli ceasefire and the road crossings into Gaza are opened to aid. Instead, one month ago, and at Biden’s urging, the US Congress voted through $14bn in emergency military aid for Israel. Little wonder, then, that – outside of the ranks of the Western, pro-Israel commentariat – many professional observers consider recent criticisms of Israel by the Biden administration to be little more than window dressing.

As my friend Professor Henry Maitles – a staunch, Scots-Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights – said to me recently: “If Israel was to fall, it would be the greatest defeat for US imperialism since the Vietnam War, greater than the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s why the US backs Israel to the hilt, even if the war crimes in Gaza are beginning to embarrass the White House.”

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Before the collapse of the British Empire and the US’s rise as the primary Western power, it was the UK that envisaged being the sponsor of a powerful Zionist state in the oil-rich Middle East.

That’s why, in his famous declaration of 1917, Scottish Tory and then-foreign secretary Arthur Balfour proclaimed the British government’s support for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. In 1943, Sir Ronald Storrs (the senior British administrator in Jerusalem between 1917 and 1926) described the purpose of the Balfour Declaration as being to create a “little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism”.

The UK’s support for the Zionist project was not motivated by concern for Jews seeking refuge from antisemitic oppression or Nazi genocide in continental Europe. Louise London – the leading researcher on Britain and Jewish migration during the Holocaust – has shown that only 70,000 Jews fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe were admitted to the UK, while at least half a million were not.

In fact, Britain’s support for Zionism – including the mass, violent expulsion of 750,000 Palestinian Arabs in the Nakba (“catastrophe”) of 1947-48 – was rooted in a cynical, imperialist calculation. The US’s attachment to Israel today has a similar, equally disreputable motivation.

The US has built Israel up as its faithful watchdog in the Middle East. Netanyahu is all too aware of Israel’s value to the US, which is why he is able to continue his bloody course in Gaza, secure in the knowledge of the continued support (for the Israeli state, if not for him personally) of even a disgruntled White House.