OpinionU.S.-Israel Relations

Unconscionable US interference in Israel’s war prosecution

Pressure to restrain an ally in conflict with its enemies is reflective of past American interference, which is deleterious to the interests of both Washington and Jerusalem.

Military personnel examine a Scud missile shot down in the desert by an MIM-104 Patriot tactical air defense missile during “Operation Desert Storm,” May 26, 1992. Credit: U.S. Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons.
Military personnel examine a Scud missile shot down in the desert by an MIM-104 Patriot tactical air defense missile during “Operation Desert Storm,” May 26, 1992. Credit: U.S. Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons.
Lawrence Franklin
Col. Lawrence Franklin was the USAF Reserve Military Attaché to the U.S. Embassy in Israel and the U.S. Defense Secretary's Farsi-Speaking Iran Officer and Islamic Terrorism specialist. He holds a PhD is in Asian Studies.

The open split been between the Biden administration and the Israeli government as to how Israel should conduct war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip has become a gut-wrenching policy dispute while the goal to expunge the terror organization is still ongoing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s recent public statement, “Israel is not a vassal state of the United States,” is evidence of how both pungent and exasperating policy and personal divergence has become.

U.S. President Joe Biden has taken the bold step of dispatching cabinet level interlocutors to Israel to seek separate and private talks with Netanyahu’s political rivals. These attempted cabals border on a U.S. strategy to encourage a political coup against the prime minister, who leads the current national unity government in Israel. Biden, who recently sent U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on his fifth trip to Israel since the onset of the conflict, had authorized the diplomat to seek private meetings with the Netanyahu’s political opponents, such as Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Galant. Likud Party allies in the cabinet blocked any such meeting unless trusted aides of the prime minister were in attendance.

Blinken’s opposition to Netanyahu may have been more muted than the mid-March blatant call for his ouster by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Shumer, a Biden ally. However, it is nonetheless a startling interference with the War Cabinet’s decision-making. Moreover, it oversteps the bounds of sovereignty even by the closest of allies.

The Biden administration is under pressure from his Democratic Party’s left wing, which is decidedly anti-Israel, and whose support he believes is required for him to be elected to a second term in November. Parenthetically, Biden has called for a ceasefire and announced his opposition to an Israeli Defense Force ground offensive in Rafah—the southernmost city in Gaza, where Hamas strongholds remain—for fear that many civilian casualties would ensue. The Biden administration also is conditioning U.S. military assistance to Israel unless its demands are accepted. However, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives—fed up with Biden’s “slow-walking” of an already funded weapons package—has insisted on immediate delivery of all weapons an ordinance, including tunnel-busting U.S. bombs to Israel.

Biden officials in the State Department and Pentagon are directly interfering in Israeli War Cabinet debates. This American inveigling has encouraged Benny Gantz, former IDF chief of staff and defense minister, and Gallant to openly criticize Netanyahu’s alleged lack of policy on how Gaza would be governed once Hamas is eradicated. Gantz, long a political adversary of Netanyahu, has threatened to resign from the national unity government unless the prime minister makes public a plan for the post-war administration of Gaza. If Gantz resigns, it is likely that his protégé, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, will also leave, further feeding chaos at the top level of leadership during a war.

The Israeli government has already agreed to America insistence that the IDF implement changes to guarantee that a substantial increase of food and medical aid reach Gaza’s civilian population. However, the IDF appears determined to obliterate the remaining Hamas battalions in the Rafah region as pledged by Netanyahu. Halevi announced that approximately 700 tunnels, some of which extend into Egyptian territory, is proof why the war must continue so that Hamas will be unable to play any role in a future Gaza government.

The ongoing policy differences between the United States and Israel also surfaced following Iran’s April 13-14 missile and drone attack on Israel. The Iranian assault was in response to Jerusalem’s targeted killing of generals in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at an Iranian diplomatic compound in Damascus, Syria. Israeli and allied air-defense systems destroyed and/or disabled nearly 100% of the more than 300 missiles and drones launched by Tehran. Warning of the risk of a “wider war,” Biden counseled Netanyahu to take Iran’s failure to harm Israel as “a win” and not respond against the Islamic Republic. Israel complied but nevertheless sent a message to Iran’s terrorist regime by destroying an advanced, Russian-provided S-300 air-defense system near in Isfahan. The message was clear to Teheran that its nuclear sites are vulnerable to an Israeli airstrike.

The current U.S. administration’s meddling in our Israeli ally’s wartime decision-making is not without precedent. During “Operation Desert Storm” in 1991, when the U.N. General Assembly authorized coalition forces to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s occupation, President George H. Bush applied enormous and daily pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir to refrain from responding to Iraq’s Scud missile attacks into Israeli territory. U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of the coalition forces, promised Shamir to initiate “Scud Hunt,” which was only partially successful. Iraqi forces fired approximately 42 Scud missiles into Israel from Jan. 17 to Feb. 23. Ironically and tragically, the last Scud fired by Iraq occurred on Feb. 28, the last day of the Gulf War, killing 39 American servicemen in a barracks encampment in Saudi Arabia.

The excuse that Arabist U.S. Secretary of State James Baker gave Shamir was the grand coalition of anti-Iraq forces would dissolve, losing Arab state support if Israel retaliated. In retrospect, this U.S. counsel was a self-serving canard, The Bush Sr. administration—in league with the Arab Gulf States, particularly Saudi Arabia—had already agreed to a post-war deployment of U.S. troops on Saudi territory. Riyadh was a good deal more motivated by fear of Saddam Hussein than by any hostility towards Israel because of the Palestinian issue.

Today’s U.S. pressure on Israel to restrain itself in conflict with its enemies is reflective of past American interference, which is deleterious to the interests of both Washington and Jerusalem. U.S. officials have also made it clear to Israel that it wants advance knowledge of any future strikes on Iranian targets. Since notification would give U.S. policymakers an opportunity to dissuade Israel from executing such strikes, Israeli leaders are not likely to provide American policymakers with the requested warning.

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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