George H. W. Bush served the United States of America for many decades. He was a young fighter pilot in World War II. A few decades later he served in Congress and then as the US Ambassador to the UN. Afterwards, he was the head of the CIA. Then in 1980, he ran for President of the United States and lost. Ronald Reagan won the nomination of the Republican Party, but then chose George H. W. Bush as his Vie Presidential Nominee. When Ronald Reagan won the nomination, George Bush became the Vice President for the next 8 years.
George Bush and Israel
As Ambassador to the UN, George Bush gave an important speech when the resolution passed that called Zionism is Racism.
But in general, Bush was not a central figure vis-a-vis Israel until he became the President in 1988. Bush only served as President for 4 years. But, enormous things happened during those 4 years around the whole world that affected Israel in major ways.
In 1989, the Soviet Union – which had been teetering – fell apart. That had massive ramifications around the whole world. But as far as the Jewish people, what happened was that more than a million Jews in the former Soviet Union were able to consider immigrating to Israel.
Immigration of Soviet Jewry
Most of the Jews who wanted to leave the former Soviet Union were thinking about the West – Europe or more specifically – America. George H. W. Bush did not allow a mass migration to the United States. He assisted Yitzhak Shamir, the Israeli Prime Minister, who was eager to bring as many Jews to Israel as possible. The million or so Jews from the former Soviet Union that came to Israel have had a major impact on the State of Israel – especially in the fields of hi-tech, music, and sport.
The Persian Gulf War
In the fall of 1990, Iraq, under the leadership of a dictator, Saddam Hussein, invaded Kuwait. This was a major step by a dictator. It was clear that if Hussein was not stopped, he would keep going and perhaps invade Saudi Arabia. The amount of oil that flowed from the Middle East around the world was so significant that it was clear that the United States and other countries would not allow that to go unchecked. And George Bush threatened Saddam Hussein that if he would not withdraw, the US would lead coalition forces and drive the Iraqi army back and out of Kuwait. Saddam Hussein countered that if the United States attacks, Saddam Hussein will bomb Israel. For months, there was a major build up of tension of impending war. Some thought that Saddam Hussein would back down. But he didn’t.
Saddam Hussein called the bluff of the United States. On Jan. 15th, 1991, George Bush led a major invasion from Saudi Arabia towards Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq. Saddam Hussein began to bomb Tel-Aviv with scud missiles.
George Bush persuaded Yitzhak Shamir, the Prime Minister of Israel to hold fire and let the US and coalition forces do their job and fight the war for Israel. This was a major decision. Israel had never let anyone fight for them. But this time they did. The war was an overwhelming success and Saddam Hussein was pushed back. Israel had weathered the storm, and miraculously the 39 missiles that hit the Tel-Aviv area did not kill anyone despite major damage. One person died of a heart attack and it was not clear that it was connected to the Scud missiles from Iraq.
Post-Persian Gulf War
George Bush, along with his Secretary of State, James Baker, then proceeded to pressure Israel into a difficult peace process with it’s Arab neighbors at Madrid. It did not lead to much. But a few years later, the Oslo peace process did lead to major agreements which impacted on Israel in a major way. Many claim that Madrid led to Oslo. In general, most people did not see George Bush as a strong friend of Israel. However, the successful war in the Persian Gulf in addition to his handling of the unraveling of the Soviet Union will probably be the main parts of his presidential legacy.