The USA has been Israel’s greatest friend and supporter in recent years.
It is also Israel’s biggest problem.
Our dependence on American military aid has sharply limited our freedom of action, distorted our decisions about procurement of weapons, crippled the development of our own military industries, corrupted our decision-makers, and damaged our standing as a sovereign state.
It is true that on some occasions Israel has acted against America’s wishes, such as the bombing of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981. It is also true that far more frequently, Israel has been forced to bow to US demands, even when they are not in her best interests. In several wars and smaller operations, cease-fires have been dictated by American pressure, although Israel would have preferred to continue fighting longer in order to achieve a decisive victory. During the Gulf War, the US prevented Israel from retaliating for Iraqi Scud attacks. In peacetime, US pressure has prevented Israel from building in Judea and Samaria, and forced Israel to accept Palestinian demands for the release of prisoners. American opposition was a major factor in the decision not to attack Iranian nuclear facilities in the 2010-2012 period.
Israel’s relationship with the US has been better or worse depending on the direction of political winds there, but pressure to reverse the outcome of the 1967 war has been a constant ever since – with the notable exception of the Trump administration, which for the first time recognized Israeli rights to Jerusalem and the Golan heights. But now it seems that the US is taking a turn in the other direction; and this time – thanks to Israel’s conclusive loss of the cognitive war for the consciousness of American elites, the partisan division of attitudes toward Israel, and the new strength of the radical Left in American politics – our time in the wilderness may turn out to be much longer than before.
The inroads being made by elements hostile to Israel into the American educational system, previously limited to higher education, but now reaching into high school and even grade school levels, are troubling. The “intersectional” connections being made between every progressive cause, and the politicization of almost every field of endeavor, have injected the issue of Israel vs. the Palestinians into places where it was not found before.
This is a problem, because our enemies – particularly Iran – are taking advantage of the less pro-Israel climate in the US. The Biden Administration, which has already significantly released the pressure on Iran, appears to be galloping toward a full removal of sanctions, whether or not it will gain significant leverage over their nuclear weapons program. Trump’s sanctions had sent the Iranian economy into a tailspin, which helped energize the Iranian opposition to the repressive and backward regime of the Ayatollahs. Even today, Iranians are in the streets protesting against the regime. But the removal of sanctions will not help them; the regime will funnel cash into its nuclear program, into the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria, and to build up Israel’s most dangerous enemy, Hezbollah.
At the same time, the Biden Administration, which has staffed its echelons dealing with the Middle East with people less than friendly to Israel – including some with a history of anti-Israel activism (see here, here, and here) – has already restored funding to the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA, plans to re-open the Jerusalem consulate, the unofficial “US Embassy to the State of Palestine” in Jerusalem, and to allow the PLO to restore its embassy in Washington.
A recent poll shows that the Democratic Party, which now controls the House, Senate and the Presidency, has moved significantly away from its formerly solid support for Israel in recent years, with sympathy for Israel among Democrats maintaining a slight edge of only 3 percentage points over sympathy for the Palestinians. The “liberal” wing of the party is far worse, with the Palestinians holding a 15% margin over Israel. Younger respondents also were more likely to favor the Palestinians, which argues for a continuation of the trend. And there is a very vocal contingent in the US Congress that is strongly anti-Israel, and not at all constrained from giving voice to the most extreme anti-Israel propaganda.
The Israeli leadership must come to understand that the continued expectation that Israel will receive military and diplomatic support from the US is unrealistic and dangerous. Israel needs to take action now, to reduce its dependence on the US, to increase its freedom of action, and to build up its own resources in important areas.
There is only one way for a small country in a strategic area to obtain independence from the various empires that wish to make it a satellite, and it is difficult and precarious. That is to play the empires off against one another, and to make alliances with other unaligned nations. I believe that Binyamin Netanyahu understood this, and made small but steady progress in this direction. It remains to be seen if the present government, whose foreign policy appears to be in the hands of the obsequious Yair Lapid, can pull this off.
From the military standpoint, Israel needs to be its own main source of supply. That has implications for the kind of military forces it can field. For example, it may be unrealistic to try to maintain a large fleet of the most sophisticated manned combat aircraft. Drones and precision-guided missiles are far less expensive than F-35s, and while they can’t entirely replace conventional aircraft, a small country will find it more practical to produce and maintain them.
There are also economic considerations. Iron Dome is a wonderful thing, but if it costs $100,000 to intercept a $500 rocket, then massive-scale use of it will bankrupt us. It is much less expensive to deter rocket attacks with the threat of forceful reprisals than to depend on antimissile systems to ward them off. The former strategy is more appropriate for a smaller country whose defense budget is not bottomless. I don’t suggest doing away with antimissile systems entirely, just changing our strategy so that we will not need so many of them.
I recommend that we start moving in this direction now, by agreeing with the US to a gradual phase-out of military aid. At the same time, we will have to revitalize our domestic military industries. Barack Obama very cleverly did not decrease the level of military aid we received, to maintain the maximum leverage over our actions. But the percentage of that aid that could be spent outside of the US was set to gradually drop to zero over the next few years. This had the effect of increasing the subsidy that aid to Israel provided to US defense contractors, and weakening Israel’s home-grown industry. This made us more dependent and at the same time reduced the competition to American weapons suppliers in the world market. A win-win-win for the US, but a loss for us.
America is changing in ways that are not good for America, and not good for us. I hope that the political/cultural pendulum in the US will swing the other way. Probably it will, if the nation survives the present storm intact. But here on the other side of the world, Israel’s enemies are not waiting with their hands folded. She will either adapt to the new situation or find herself in deep trouble.
All of the points you make are true and your recommendations are right on the money.
However, how to realize them?
The IDF top echelon have relied on America for 50 years, which means that two generations of them are still around to want to continue this reliance and rebel against any change, just as they did when Bibi (and Barak) wanted to bomb Iran.
If Bibi, at the height of his powers, could not overrule the IDF, how will it be possible for the present abortion of a government to do anything?
I have said it before. I believe that only an impending catastrophe, such as the days before June ’67, will move Israel’s leaders, political and military, out of their mindset.
This is an accurate and gloomy report on the Israel-US relationship. But it does not mention the truth that Israel’s dependence on the US in the diplomatic realm is absolutely essential. It too does not mention that we do not have as Iran does a China-Russia alternative. One more difficult point has to do with a possible strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. Does Israel have the capability to do this, when it seems even the US would need multiple strikes over a considerable period to achieve the desired result?