The Biden administration is working assiduously to block Israel from defeating Hamas or contending coherently or effectively with the growing existential threats it faces from Iran and Iran’s Lebanese and Yemeni proxies. To force Israel to stand down, President Joe Biden’s top advisers are descending on Israel one after another to pressure and coerce Jerusalem to limit its military operations in Gaza, Lebanon and the Red Sea.
Last week National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan was here to hector Israel’s leaders. Sullivan devoted most of his efforts to demanding that Israel move quickly from major combat operations in Gaza to more limited operations directed against specific “high value targets.” The idea is that Hamas can be left in place, more or less, and Israel can just seek a terror master or two to kill and declare victory.
The United States is using the Security Council as an additional cudgel to force Israel to comply with its militarily self-defeating edicts. If Israel doesn’t obey, the United States will permit a U.N. Security Council resolution requiring Israel to stand down to pass, and then Israel will face international sanctions if it continues fighting.
To maintain U.S. support, a senior administration official told the Israeli media last week, Israel needs to massively resupply Gaza and allow life to return to normal for the Palestinians in Gaza (who overwhelmingly support Hamas).
One of Sullivan’s chief demands was that Israel expand the so-called “humanitarian aid” entering Gaza, and permit that aid to enter Gaza directly from Israel. Once Israel buckled to U.S. pressure on that score and opened the Kerem Shalom crossing for additional trucks of supplies to Hamas, the administration began demanding that Israel permit the renewal of “commercial traffic” to Gaza. “The Israelis understand that the more aid that gets in, the more time they’ll have to continue operations in Gaza,” the U.S. official said.
Biden and his advisers know that the term “humanitarian aid” is a euphemism for resupply of Hamas. They know that the goods entering Gaza are transferred to Hamas, which distributes supplies first to its terror cells and units, then to apparatchiks. After Hamas terrorists and agents are supplied, the “humanitarian aid” is hawked to civilians on black markets at a massive markup.
So, by forcing Israel to permit “humanitarian aid” to enter Gaza, Biden and his top officials are compelling Israel to fortify Hamas’s position as the undisputed ruler of the region, who decides who gets what, when and under what circumstances.
This U.S. policy undermines Israel strategically and tactically in two additional ways. First, its demand that supplies enter Gaza facilitates Egypt’s policy of blocking Palestinians from leaving the war zone to seek shelter in third countries. This policy in turn requires Israel to remain in a strategic trap where it is deemed responsible for the welfare of an enemy population at war with its people, and of accepting an endgame that either enables Palestinian terrorists from Hamas to continue to rule Gaza or pretends Palestinian terrorists from Fatah, who are Hamas’s partners in the war against Israel, are not terrorists and are not Hamas’s partners, and agree that they should take control over Gaza.
Second, and in furtherance of this end, by standing with Egypt in blocking Palestinian civilians from exiting to third countries and insisting that Israel resupply Hamas and the Hamas-controlled population in the midst of war, the U.S. compels Israeli forces in the south to fight in heavily populated areas. Writing in Ynet on Sunday, reporter Yoav Zeitoun described how Israeli forces are subjected to constant danger, and are all but incapable of seizing control over battlefields in Khan Yunis and other critical areas in the south because of the U.S. prohibition on moving civilians out of the area. Operating under these U.S.-imposed limitations, the Israel Defense Forces is forced to fight Hamas while Hamas terrorists are protected by human shields. Not only does this endanger the lives of Israel’s soldiers unnecessarily, but given the U.S.’s additional demand that Israel limit civilian casualties to as close to zero as possible, it makes it all but impossible for Israel to win.
Following closely on Sullivan’s heels, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. CQ Brown arrived in Israel to badger their Israeli counterparts still further. According to media accounts of their plans, the two senior officials intend, like Sullivan and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken before them, to pressure Israel to “transition from major combat operations against Hamas to a more limited campaign.”
The Associated Press revealed that the generals want Israel to enable Hamas to survive more or less intact, “to prevent regional war.”
Unfortunately for all concerned, we are already in a regional war. There are two active fronts in addition to Gaza—the Red Sea, which is under effective maritime blockade by the Houthis, Iran’s Yemeni proxy army, and Lebanon, where Israel faces an existential threat from Iran’s Hezbollah terror regime.
Over the past week, five of the largest global shipping companies announced that they are ordering their commercial vessels to temporarily pause their transits through the Bab el-Mandeb strait. Since Nov. 17, the Houthis have attacked at least 20 commercial vehicles, and attacks have steeply escalated over the past week.
The United States has prohibited Israel from attacking Yemeni ports or Houthi regime targets to protect shipping to the port of Eilat, which is now under effective Houthi blockade. The United States has similarly refused to take any offensive action whatsoever against the Houthis, sufficing instead with interceptions of drones and missiles targeting ships on the Red Sea.
As strategic expert David Wurmser explained in a paper for the Institute for a Secure America over the weekend, the Biden administration policy is to “avoid any Israeli escalation against Iranian proxies anywhere.”
Wurmser placed the administration’s position in the framework of its wider policy of realigning the United States away from Israel and the Sunnis and towards Iran. In his words, “This is part of a broader attempt by the U.S. to burrow more deeply into the paradigm it nurtured prior to October 7 regarding Iran. At its core, it is an attempt to appease Iran by handing it major strategic victories.”
One of the most notable characteristics of the administration’s operations in the region since Oct. 7 has been the role that concealment has played in masking its aims. Austin and Brown shield the U.S. policy of enabling Iran to dominate international shipping lanes (and abandoning 200 years of U.S. naval doctrine which views the United States as the protector of freedom of navigation on the high seas) by proclaiming they intend to build a “regional coalition” to confront the Houthis. Notably, their coalition will not include Israel, the only nation willing to confront the Houthis—and Iran.
As for Lebanon, in the face of Hezbollah’s steadily rising assaults on Israel, the United States is doubling down on the fiction that the Hezbollah-controlled (and U.S. funded, armed and trained) Lebanese Armed Forces is a credible, independent force. Based on this fable, the United States insists that there is a “diplomatic solution” to Hezbollah’s military threat to Israel. It involves the LAF serving as a buffer between Israel and Hezbollah, and Israel surrendering sovereign territory to Lebanon to satisfy Hezbollah’s legally unsupported demands for Israeli territory.
Insisting that this “diplomatic solution” is a viable alternative to war, the administration is demanding that Israel do nothing to physically secure its territory from Hezbollah terror forces and missiles.
As for Iran, the United States showed its continued subservience to the idea that Iran is a responsible regional power last week when it unfroze another $10 billion in Iranian revenue, which had been frozen under U.S. sanctions. Since Oct. 7, the United States has enabled the transfer of $16 billion to Iran.
Sullivan’s interview last Thursday with Channel 12’s Yonit Levi was a sterling example of how the administration obfuscates its hostile policies towards Israel. While speaking emotionally about how Hamas’s attack was the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, Sullivan gave no clear answers to any of Levi’s questions about U.S. support for Israel’s war goals. When she asked him whether the United States was demanding that Israel limit the timeline for its war against Hamas, Sullivan spoke of the need to target Hamas’s terror masters and limit bombing. When Levi asked whether the United States would reject an Israeli determination that it must militarily degrade Hezbollah’s military power on the border, Sullivan insisted that the United States believes there is a diplomatic solution to the Hezbollah threat. And when Levi asked whether Israelis should be concerned that the United States may refuse to provide Israel with sufficient ammunition to win the war, Sullivan said that he had just checked to see where congressional approval of Biden’s request for $14 billion in military assistance stood. He didn’t mention that it still hasn’t been approved.
As Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute wrote on his X account, the interview displayed “what the rhetorically-artful national security advisor openly admits, what he tries to dress up as more attractive than it is, and what he hides entirely.”
Why is the United States leveraging its position as Israel’s primary arms supplier and diplomatic shield at the United Nations—that is, its position as Israel’s ally—to compel an Israeli military defeat at the hands of Iran and its proxies, in a war that Israel rightly views as an existential conflict just as fateful as its 1948 War of Independence?
The answer is politics.
As the war in Gaza has progressed, President Biden’s political problems have multiplied. To win next November, Biden needs to secure the coalition of Democrats and Independents that elected him. But that coalition is split over the war. Most Independents support Israel. But according to a Wall Street Journal poll, 25% of Democrats support Hamas over Israel and only 17% of Democrats support Israel over Hamas. (Forty-eight percent of Democrats support Israel and Hamas equally). To win the election, Biden needs to rebuild his coalition and he can only do this by ending the war. And he can only end the war by forcing Israel to stand down, and so lose.
Israel doesn’t have to accept this state of affairs. According to a Harvard/Harris poll, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoys significantly more public support in the United States than Biden himself. Israel itself is supported broadly by 81% of Americans. The Harvard/Harris polling data has several internal contradictions, but the thrust of the data makes clear that Israel enjoys the support of a broad cross section of American society, including key Biden constituencies.
If Israel stands its ground and refuses to buckle to the administration’s bullying tactics, and if Netanyahu explains Israel’s position in a way the American public can understand, it will be able to maintain the support of the majority of Americans for its war effort and compel the Biden administration to stand with the Jewish state as we prosecute this life and death struggle to victory.