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OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

Breaking Israel’s addiction to US aid

Israel must restore its lost doctrine of preemption and strategic autonomy.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Joe Biden in New York, Sept. 20. 2023. Credit: Cameron Smith/Official White House photo.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with President Joe Biden in New York, Sept. 20. 2023. Credit: Cameron Smith/Official White House photo.
Gidon Ben-Zvi
Gidon Ben-Zvi contributes to The Algemeiner, The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post, CiF Watch and blogs at Jerusalem State of Mind.

Recent events have made it clear that Israel is addicted to U.S. military aid. For example, according to a Wall Street Journal report, a preemptive Israeli strike on Hezbollah set for Oct. 11 was canceled after U.S. President Joe Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stand down.

Netanyahu dismissed the report, but members of his own Likud Party are increasingly speaking out against what appears to be the outsourcing of Israel’s security to wider U.S. geopolitical interests. Economy Minister Nir Barkat stated at a recent cabinet meeting, “The number of air force bombardments has fallen dramatically. Soldiers are being sent to booby-trapped buildings like [sitting] ducks.”

Netanyahu’s reaction was revealing: “There are countries we have to take into account. If we don’t do that, eventually there’ll be a U.N. decision to impose a blockade on us. The whole world will be against us.”

It is true that the U.S. rapidly supplied Israel with over 3,000 tons of weapons and munitions after the Oct. 7 massacre, but it came with strings attached. As a result, instead of destroying Hamas, Israel’s strategy is to fight a limited war until Washington, Doha, Cairo and Hamas iron out a final ceasefire agreement that will end the latest round of violence and prevent it from spreading across the region.

Washington’s pressure likely stems from its belief that Israel’s military response to Hamas’s atrocities is an obstacle to a two-state solution. Netanyahu has insisted that Israel will permit neither Hamas nor the Palestinian Authority to rule Gaza, but the Biden administration still promotes the P.A. as a viable alternative to Hamas rule; even though, since the October 7 massacre, Hamas’s popularity among Palestinians ruled by the P.A. has skyrocketed.

The growing rift between the administration and the Israeli government highlights the ramifications of Israel’s dependence on U.S. aid.

History proves the detrimental effects of this dependence. The Israel Defense Forces once put a premium on preemptive action, largely because of the limited resources at its disposal. The IDF’s lightning-fast, lean and mean approach proved triumphant in the 1967 Six-Day War. In the aftermath, Israel began to receive substantial U.S. aid for the first time.

But this generosity came with a steep price tag. As a result of it, Israel has all but scuttled its doctrine of preemption. At U.S. behest, Israel is now expected to absorb a first strike.

This led directly to the disasters of the opening days of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, yet Israel’s dependence only deepened. In an echo of the mistakes of 1973, Israel downplayed or simply ignored repeated warnings that Hamas was planning the Oct. 7 massacre.

Yes, U.S. aid has made it possible for Israel to remain on a perpetual war footing. But it has also removed any incentive for Israel’s domestic defense industry to become more efficient and productive. As a result, the IDF has shrunk to a dangerous extent.

For example, Maj. Gen. Eyal Zamir, a former deputy IDF chief of staff, stated in 2021: “The IDF is on the verge of [not having] the minimum size needed to face more complex threats than those we have experienced in recent years. Along with advanced technological capabilities, Israel also needs a critical mass of people to improve the IDF’s overall quality and quantity.”

In its latest war, Israel’s codependent relationship with the U.S. has reached a new low. When Israel began to plan a massive ground operation in Gaza, American generals were dispatched to sit in on high-level meetings at IDF headquarters. The reason for their involvement was reportedly the Biden administration’s concerns about a “lack of achievable military objectives.”

Shifting to a first-strike strategy with clear goals and timetables that does not require U.S. approval and financing would greatly improve Israel’s security situation. It would force Israel to ramp up its domestic defense industry and streamline its defense budget, allowing funds to be diverted to pressing domestic issues.

Moreover, a swift and decisive Israeli victory would mean shorter wars with fewer casualties on both sides. This might also hasten a just and comprehensive resolution to the conflict with the Palestinians. In addition, a less dependent Israel would be able to independently develop its regional ties with Sunni Arab countries to counter Islamic extremism and Iranian terrorism.

This would also benefit the U.S., allowing it to shrink its military footprint in the Middle East and pivot towards other pressing matters like Ukraine and Taiwan.

Israel will only recover its once-vaunted deterrence capability if it recovers from its decades-long addiction to American military aid. Otherwise, the task of keeping its citizens safe and maintaining its sovereignty will remain dependent on the next fix of aid.

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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