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What was the U.S. relationship to the occupation?

At the time of the Six-Day War U.S. relations with Israel were friendly and supportive, but not anything close to the "special relationship" that defines U.S.-Israeli ties today. In 1967 the Pentagon predicted that the balance of forces was so one-sided that no matter who struck first, no combination of Arab forces would overcome Israel's superior strength. But nonetheless, on May 25th the Pentagon sent battalions of Marines to the Sixth Fleet, then cruising the Mediterranean, in case they were needed to bolster Israel. By June 2, the date was set for Israel to teach Syria and Egypt the long-awaited "lesson." But first Israel needed permission from the U.S. On June 4, even as Nasser was negotiating with the U.S. representative in Cairo, President Lyndon Johnson telegraphed Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and gave Israel the final green light. The next day, Dayan ordered the attack.

After the War, relations between Washington and Tel Aviv became much closer. In the U.S., the war was presented as evidence of a heroic Israel triumphing over the aggressive Arab Goliath. Support skyrocketed for closer U.S. ties to Israel. Fundraising by Zionist organizations, blood drives, volunteer campaigns all soared. During the six days of the war, the United Jewish Appeal sold $220 million worth of Israeli bonds; American contributions for Israel in 1967 totalled $600 million.

But the biggest gain was not those individual contributions. Even more important was the new recognition in Washington of the role Israel could play. It was the Cold War, after all, and Israel's military prowess showed U.S. policymakers how valuable an ally it could be as the regional policeman for U.S. Middle East interests. Soon Israel's junior partner role would be expanded to include Cold War battlefields much farther afield-places like Angola, Mozambique, El Salvador, Chile, Guatemala—where Israeli military assistance, training, and arms bolstered unsavory U.S. allies.

Just ten days after the Six-Day War ended, a State Department memo noted "Israel has probably done more for the U.S. in the Middle East in relation to money and effort invested than any of our so-called allies and friends elsewhere around the world since the end of the Second World War. In the Far East, we can get almost nobody to help us in Viet Nam. Here, the Israelis won the war single-handedly, have taken us off the hook, and have served our interests as well as theirs."

The reward, for Israel, was a flood of sophisticated weapons, including advanced Phantom jets. In the four years after the 1967 war, Israel would receive $1.5 billion in U.S. arms—ten times as much as the total for the last twenty years.

Given all of that, Israel's occupation of Palestinian land was hardly a concern for Washington. Over the years different U.S. presidents criticized the settlements in the occupied territories, variously describing them as "unhelpful," "obstacles to peace," "a complicating factor in the peace process," or, briefly, "illegal." But little action matched the words. America's presumed strategic interests seemed to outweigh humanitarian and legal concerns in the Middle East.