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OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

America wants to help, but is undermining the war effort

Constraints imposed by the U.S. will prolong the conflict, which is something Washington doesn't want.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Nov. 3, 2023. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Nov. 3, 2023. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat
Meir Ben Shabbat is head of the Misgav Institute for Zionist Strategy & National Security, in Jerusalem. He served as Israel’s national security advisor and head of the National Security Council between 2017 and 2021. Prior to that, for 25 years he held senior positions in the Israel Security Agency (Shabak).

“We’re determined to help Israel ensure that Oct. 7 never happens again,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stated last week.

It was not the first time he made this promise. Similar statements were made during his four solidarity visits to Israel since the Oct. 7 massacre. However, concurrently with his statement, under American pressure, the Israeli war cabinet was forced to discuss an increase in fuel deliveries to the Gaza Strip, essentially supplying oxygen to Hamas terrorists fighting our soldiers through terror tunnels. 

Soon after Blinken’s declaration, a spokesperson for the State Department announced that the United States would oppose the creation of a buffer zone in the Gaza Strip, thus adding more constraints on Israel’s actions, particularly the options at its disposal when it comes to protecting towns near the border. 

There were also U.S. statements that the duration of the war is not unlimited, along with pressure on Israel before the renewal of hostilities in southern Gaza to reduce the intensity of the fighting and increase humanitarian aid.

There is no room to doubt President Joe Biden’s and his officials’ commitment. The administration’s support for Israel is unwavering and deserves much praise. The U.S. has accepted Israel’s right to destroy the military and governance capabilities of Hamas and has provided substantial and vital assistance. But at the same time, the U.S. has been imposing limitations that prevent Israel from achieving these goals without heavy losses. 

Moreover, the limitations imposed by the U.S. will undoubtedly prolong the conflict, which is something Washington doesn’t want. The best way to ensure a quick and effective military operation with minimal risk to the uninvolved population is to temporarily relocate this population outside the combat zones. However, there are also objections to this.

The increased pressure on Israel may be related to Biden’s domestic travails ahead of the 2024 elections. It may stem from differences between how Washington sees Gaza and the reality on the ground. 

Nevertheless, Israel cannot compromise on achieving its goals while minimizing the burden on its fighters—regardless of how long it takes. This is the message Israel has to drive home when U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan visits in the coming days.

Those who insist on getting answers from the Israeli government over what happens “the day after” are doing so despite knowing full well that there are no good options in Gaza. If there were, they would have presumably been implemented during one of the many opportunities to do so over the years.

There is no obligation to debate between bad alternatives in public during the war itself. Attention should be solely directed towards victory, maintaining internal unity and minimizing the necessary involvement in issues that could stir controversy, whether internally or with our friends overseas.

The way Israel sees it, the question of “the day after” in Gaza is secondary to the more critical goal of the war: reestablishing the deterrence that was shattered on Oct. 7. The endgame of the war must be shaped primarily according to this criterion.

The toppling of the Hamas government, the destruction of its military capabilities, the killing or neutralization of most of its commanders and military units, along with the devastation resulting from all these will serve as pieces of the desired endgame puzzle. 

Of course, Israel must not forget the hostages and should not leave them for “the day after.” Israel’s moral obligation towards the hostages and their families requires leaving an open channel for negotiations (preferably through Egypt, not Qatar, whose chief interest is to ensure Hamas survives). It must ensure that a sword is swiftly placed on the necks of Hamas leaders until they understand that the hostages are their responsibility and they must release them.

As the fighting continues, the IDF and the Shin Bet security agency continue to crack down on terrorists in Judea and Samaria. Israel’s political leaders must decide whether to allow Palestinian workers from Judea and Samaria to return to work in Israel, which has been prevented since Oct. 7 except for a relatively small number of positions defined as critical even at this time. 

The main argument for allowing them back into Israel is the fear that economic hardship, frustration and unemployment will push them to act against Israel. Another consideration is the impact on the Israeli economy, particularly housing construction. Against these considerations stands the concern over attacks they may perpetrate because they have been inspired by Hamas in Gaza or because they want to avenge the deaths there, especially in light of the images and propaganda broadcast continuously on Al Jazeera. 

The successful counterterrorism operations in Judea and Samaria, followed by a not insignificant number of casualties, also add motivation for revenge. The security establishment is fully preoccupied with the fighting in Gaza and the intelligence efforts in Judea and Samaria. Its ability to track terrorist elements and neutralize them in advance is not guaranteed, as we have seen recently in the attacks at the Gush Etzion junction and in Jerusalem.

Today, the public in Israel is vigilant and shows a high degree of awareness regarding any Palestinian in Israel. This contributes to efforts at detection and neutralization. It will not be the same if tens of thousands of Palestinians are allowed into Israel. Another consideration, although not mentioned in setting policy, is the perception of the price Israel exacts. 

Hamas in the Gaza Strip gains points in the battle for hearts and minds in Judea and Samaria because it managed to exact the release of terrorists and because it “stood up” to Israel. But Hamas could lose hearts and minds if Palestinians blame the terrorist organization for harming their livelihoods. It seems that, at this stage, the scale leans towards maintaining the current situation and not letting the workers back into Israel. Caution requires us to avoid unnecessary security risks in the short term.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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