U.S. President Joe Biden recently remarked that he wanted no daylight between the United States and Israel. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he hopes to go back to a “no surprises, no daylight” relationship with the U.S.
Israel has frequently suffered from bouts of national insecurity—of appeasing the predominant world power. For 3,000 years, Israel’s leaders have tried to ingratiate themselves with one world power or another, hoping to be saved and, ultimately, to be loved. The results have been disastrous.
If there is a lesson to be learned, it’s the benefit that Israel reaps when it acts in its own best interest and in that of its Torah-rooted values, regardless of the views of the world power de jour. Examples in both distant and recent history abound.
At the end of the First Temple period, Zedekiah (Tzidkiyahu in Hebrew) was the King of Israel who thought that the Egyptians would come to his rescue. It didn’t happen. Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed what was left of Israel.
At the end of the Hasmonean Dynasty in the Second Temple period, it was Antigonus who thought that the Persians (Parthians) would save Israel. Again, it didn’t happen.
In 1973, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir was waiting for a green light from the United States to preemptively strike Israel’s neighbors, who were poised to invade. That didn’t happen.
In contrast, in 1967, when Arab armies were set to launch a joint attack, Israel preempted with “Operation Moked,” without a green light from Washington. To the surprise of the United States, Israel destroyed its neighbors’ airfields. The result, in terms of the saving of Jewish lives, was legendary. Had Prime Minister Levi Eshkol waited for U.S. approval, the result would have been horrific.
Today, Iran is the concern. To be fair, Bennett said that Israel isn’t going to outsource its security. In addition, both Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken agreed that the time for diplomacy is running short.
But words are words. How will the Israeli government ultimately act if Iran is not a priority for America? Is Israel going to depend on full U.S. support before taking military action, in the event that it is needed?
If Israel needs to act preemptively against Iran, daylight with the United States may save Israeli lives. Such daylight is important in other realms, as well, including moves that have an impact on Israel’s relationship with the Palestinian Authority.
America is continuing to urge Israel to make peace with P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas, “paymaster” of the 1972 Munich massacre. Is this in Israel’s interest? Does the Biden administration not understand that even the Palestinians don’t support Abbas, as a recent survey illustrated that 80 percent of them want him replaced?
Israel’s national insecurity seems to characterize all of its governments. During the Trump administration, for example, which coincided with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure, Israel would not make any moves regarding the Palestinians without U.S. approval. During the negotiations over former President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” Mideast plan, one American aide told me that some in the administration were wondering why Israel did not begin to take steps to enhance civil administrative authority in Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, with or without a peace plan in place. He could not understand why Israel thought it needed a green light from Washington.
There are those who believe that Israel cannot afford daylight, due to its being beholden to the United States for financial reasons, specifically because of an annual $3.8 billion military assistance package. To be clear, the assistance package is important, but it also requires that Israel spend the funding with American military industries on items specified by the United States or on mutually beneficial research and development.
That sum is substantial, as it represents some 20 percent of Israel’s current defense budget, which is $18 billion. Its gross national income is approaching $400 billion.
Meanwhile, the Bank of Israel this year is purchasing more than $30 billion in foreign currency in an effort to help Israeli manufacturers cope with an ever-strengthening shekel. Obviously, then, Israel is very grateful for the assistance package.
Yet is worrying about the potential impact on the package worth a policy of “no daylight and no surprises”?
There are many areas in which more daylight may be beneficial. Take education, for instance. In the United States, schools are focused on race and gender issues. American NGOs and exchange programs will attempt to influence Israeli curricula, as well.
Does Israel really wish to follow the U.S. lead where culture is concerned? Does Israel really want its schools teaching fourth graders the merits of gender fluidity? Are these current U.S. values those that Israel wants to pass on? How do traditional Muslim and Christian Israelis feel about the potential spread of these values to their schools?
Health care is another area in which more daylight may help. During the current COVID-19 crisis, the Israeli Health Ministry has frequently sought the direction and policies of the Food and Drug Administration and the World Health Organization. While it’s important to seek the best advice, can Israel not chart the best path for itself?
Israel has some of the best scientists in the world, and it was at the forefront of vaccine procurement. Yet what if Israel had not put all its eggs in the vaccine basket and, in addition to vaccines, had also focused on early-onset and other treatment options?
Israel has much to learn from the U.S. and excellent reasons to carefully consider its requests and guidance. (Conversely, the United States also has much to learn from Israel.)
Nevertheless, Israel should not strive to be the 51st state. If history is anything to go by, this will not go well. A little more daylight will ensure a better outcome.
Gary Schiff is a Jerusalem-based resource consultant connecting Israel and the United States.