Is Israel the only U.S. ally in the Middle East? An answer in map form

February 12, 2013

Click to enlarge. (Max Fisher/The Washington Post)

During Tuesday night's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination to become secretary of defense, Sen. Joe Manchin made a curious assertion. Israel, he said, is the United States' only ally in "that part of the world," presumably meaning the Middle East.

Above, I've tossed together a map of the countries that we might fairly label U.S. allies in the region (with a couple of caveats). Turkey, Manchin's most surprising omission, is actually a NATO ally. The U.S. recently deployed some troops to Turkey to help defend the country's border with Syria, on which the U.S. and Turkey have been cooperating closely.

There are also five – five! – countries in the Arab Middle East that are officially labeled as "Major non-Nato Allies." The U.S. confers that designation on countries with which it cooperates closely on security issues; it's meant to signal to the world that the U.S. considers that country a strategic partner and, as the name implies, ally. Those five countries are Jordan, Egypt, Kuwait, Bahrain and Morocco.

I've also labeled a few Middle Eastern countries that coordinate closely with the U.S. on security issues. Saudi Arabia, as was recently reported, hosts a U.S. drone base and has previously hosted U.S. troops. The U.S. has a military base in Qatar. And the United Arab Emirates, where U.S. naval vessels often dock, has been buying many billions of dollars in U.S. military sales.

In all, that's nine U.S. allies in the Middle East outside of Israel, eight if you exclude Egypt.

Now, the caveats, and they're significant. President Obama himself recently said that he would not consider Egypt an ally, given the country's tumult since the 2011 revolution, although the State Department quickly affirmed the country's official status. Afghanistan and Pakistan are both designated major non-NATO allies, but those relationships certainly don't look like close or friendly alliances. (I haven't included these two in my count in the paragraph above.) So the "major non-NATO ally" designation does not mean that the relationship is, in practice, necessarily much of an alliance at all.

Still, Manchin's apparent insinuation that Israel is the only Middle Eastern ally that counts – whether deliberate or accidental – would be a strange rejection of the eight countries that certainly look like American allies.

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Max Fisher · February 12, 2013