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Israel Is Losing America

In a surprise announcement on May 31, US President Joe Biden outlined a road map for “a permanent ceasefire [in the Gaza Strip] and the release of all hostages.” He said the plan was drawn up by Israel and urged Hamas to comply with its conditions. Biden's speech gave the president the advantage in his escalating conflict with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and it took the prime minister by surprise. Biden's action has presented Netanyahu with a difficult dilemma. If he accepts the deal, members of his right-wing coalition will likely keep their promise to bring him down. But if he refuses, it will increase tensions with the United States. For now, the prime minister has settled for ambiguous support, insisting that Biden had described the offer inaccurately and that Israel had not accepted Hamas' precondition of a cessation. completeness of the war. Hamas' reaction was less positive.

For months, as Israel tightened its grip on Gaza despite growing international condemnation, the impasse between Biden and Netanyahu appeared to be worsening. In the weeks leading up to Biden's speech, mutual accusations intensified. “We are not a state subordinate to the United States,” Netanyahu told his cabinet on May 9. More recently, Biden suggested that observers could legitimately conclude that Netanyahu is prolonging the war to maintain his grip on power. As a result of this dispute, the US-Israeli relationship went from a close friendship to a contentious feud. The ability to resolve disputes and coordinate policy behind closed doors is quickly disappearing, replaced by hostility and opposition.

Washington continues to present to Israel the normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia in a deal that includes a cessation of hostilities, the release of hostages held by Hamas and a specific path towards the establishment of statehood Palestinian. But on May 19 – two days after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and US national security adviser Jake Sullivan met to discuss the “near final version” of agreements between their countries – Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. , stating: “Israel may be unable, or unwilling, to move forward on this path and motivated by political or personal considerations – which told the United Nations last September that peace with Riyadh “will bring the possibility of peace to this whole region.” - appears to have suddenly become lukewarm to the idea, and his resistance has encouraged the Saudis to explore a bilateral framework with the United States that would leave Israel behind.

In December 2023, I argued in Foreign Affairs that Israel was at risk of losing to the United States. Subsequent events – particularly the Israeli government's continued aversion to committing to a credible plan for post-conflict Gaza – have only strengthened this argument. In a repeat of his classic divide and rule, Netanyahu is fanning the flames of polarization in Israel and the United States to ward off criticism of his leadership. In doing so, he makes a serious mistake. The benefits of any tactical victory over a Biden administration would be far outweighed by the strategic defeat that would result from a greater breakdown in Israel's fundamental relationship with the United States. These relations fundamentally contribute to strengthening Israeli national security in the face of any defeat of Hamas. The Prime Minister must change course and work with the United States, not against it.


So far, Israelis have overwhelmingly supported the campaign in Gaza and, in particular, Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers operating in the combat zone. This spirit of unity stole some of the spotlight from the huge anti-government protests that preceded October 7, co-opting their enthusiasm. For months, calls for immediate elections to replace Netanyahu's unpopular coalition have been tempered by genuine doubts about the desirability and feasibility of holding a vote while the fighting rages. Although a majority of Israelis favor early elections, they differ on the timetable and fear that those who could replace Netanyahu share his culpability for the mistakes that led to October 7.

This national consensus on the war, which the prime minister sought to exploit to his own advantage, provided an ironic backdrop to his plan to sow discord among Israeli public opinion. Invoking an outdated paradigm, Netanyahu has sought to rally loyalists against what he sees as an insidious and defeatist Israeli left that would make irresponsible concessions to the Palestinians. But according to an April poll by Tel Aviv University's Peace Index, only 12 percent of Israeli Jews identify as left-wing. Another April survey, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute, found that only 26 percent of Israeli Jews would support "the creation of a Palestinian state in the future" even if Israel signed a regional defense treaty with Arab partners. The dominant fault line in Israeli politics overlaps with the question of whether Netanyahu himself is fit to remain in power.

To strengthen Netanyahu's position, some of the prime minister's acolytes have given voice to conspiracy theories. They alleged that Israeli defense chiefs collaborated with Hamas and colluded with the White House to sabotage the war effort and topple Netanyahu. The prime minister's son was active in this regard, retweeting and then deleting a video clip showing an IDF reservist who threatened to bypass the military chain of command and only obey direct orders issued by Netanyahu. This was a blatant attempt to suggest that generals are untrustworthy. The Prime Minister’s reaction, “categorically rejecting any refusal [to obey orders] from anywhere,” was totally evasive.

The military and intelligence services have not been the only target of Netanyahu’s criticism. Right-wing spokespersons regularly accuse supporters of a hostage deal at all costs of wanting to save Hamas from oblivion and, therefore, of undermining the sacrifices of Israeli troops. At the same time, Netanyahu and his allies point the finger at the United States, saying the Biden administration has limited Israel's ability to defeat Hamas. The president's recent decision to suspend the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to the Israeli military and continued U.S. calls to step up the flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza have been cited by Israeli politicians and experts as significant obstacles to Israel's performance on the battlefield. For the prime minister, the dissemination of these beliefs serves to protect him and his government from responsibility for, among other failures, the October 7 attacks, the fate of tens of thousands of still displaced Israelis and the to the country's credit rating. It also conceals its failure, after more than eight months, to bring the war in Gaza to a satisfactory conclusion.

He stormed Washington

Despite Netanyahu's caustic attitude toward the Biden administration, the United States remains at the center of the prime minister's calculations. Even though Netanyahu is known for refusing to grant interviews to Israeli media, it is no coincidence that since the beginning of 2024, he has appeared on the three major American networks, CNN, Fox News, and even Dr. Phil. At a time when countries around the world have become openly hostile to Israel, Washington's support is unmatched. This is partly due to the upcoming US elections, which make both Democrats and Republicans particularly supportive of the Prime Minister's initiatives. Notably, on May 31, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in Washington invited Netanyahu to address Congress in the coming weeks, posing a challenge to the U.S. administration's efforts to pressure the Israeli government. Many members of Congress are eager to participate on Israel's behalf and advance any Israel-related legislation that could improve their electoral chances. Furthermore, the well-organized American Jewish community, as well as conservative Christian and other circles in the pro-Israel world, have fully mobilized to defend Israel when it needs it most.

Netanyahu hopes to exploit these sources of sympathy within the United States to maximize the military, diplomatic and economic assistance he can obtain from the Biden administration and reduce its resistance to continuing the war. Although American public opinion – particularly Democratic voters – has become more negative towards Israel, a recent poll conducted by the Center for American Policy Studies shows that American citizens still favor Israel and side on its side against Hamas by a margin of four to one. The prime minister is counting on this pluralism to encourage Biden, who describes himself as a Zionist, to continue pushing for a premature end to the Israeli war in Gaza.

By implementing this strategy, Netanyahu has a reasonable chance of success in the short term, thereby avoiding further restrictions imposed by the White House that could impact the ongoing offensive in Gaza. However, this outcome could be jeopardized if the administration decides that Netanyahu is hindering progress toward a settlement. But the biggest long-term risk is that open confrontation with an outgoing president will further erode what remains of the partisan consensus in Washington on Israel, ultimately destroying the working relationship with the United States.

Netanyahu is playing a high-stakes balancing act, betting that he can mock the Biden administration in its handling of the war without causing irreparable damage to relations between Israel and the United States. But this game could fail catastrophically. In May, Biden temporarily halted a shipment of bombs, an action the Pentagon attributed to specific concerns about "the impact they could have in a dense urban environment." This break could be just the beginning. Under fire from within his own Democratic caucus and amid obvious frustrations with how Netanyahu has sought to achieve his goals, Biden could impose additional sanctions with truly disastrous consequences for Israel. This could include suspending the delivery of additional weapons systems or deciding not to veto UN Security Council resolutions that harm Israel.

A losing hand

Israel will lose even if Netanyahu wins his showdown with Biden and heads to Gaza. The prime minister's controversial approach – exemplified by his government's attempts to push through a controversial reform of Israel's justice system that would significantly limit the independence of the judiciary – has damaged Israeli social cohesion. His blessing of a widespread exemption from military conscription for Israel's ultra-Orthodox population – in the face of overwhelming popular opposition – is just one reason he could soon spark widespread civil unrest. Adhering to the demands of the right-wing parties that maintain his government, Netanyahu has often preferred to give in to paralysis rather than answer the urgent questions necessitated by the war and its devastating effects on Israeli communities and infrastructure.

The prime minister's tendency to stir up friction with the US government is not in Israel's long-term interests. The repercussions of his previous confrontations with US Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have not been forgotten in Israel or the United States. Netanyahu's outreach to Clinton's political enemies in the 1990s and his spats two decades later with Obama over the Iran nuclear deal made Israel toxic within Democratic Party circles, exacerbating political trends resulting from the simultaneous rise of the progressive left. Today, unwavering support for Israel is increasingly an almost exclusively Republican position. In fact, the White House is currently under attack from a portion of the Democratic base that despises U.S. policy toward Israel and Gaza. This division could mean that Israel will no longer be able to count on American support, regardless of party.

However, it would be unwise for Israel to assume that salvation could come from a second Trump presidency. In February 2017, Netanyahu warned his cabinet members against being overly enthusiastic about U.S. President Donald Trump, warning them that they should take into account his "character" and not expect to achieve everything. their ambitions. In fact, Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 – a move inspired by Netanyahu – created a vacuum that, according to IAEA findings released on May 11, 2024, only pushed the Iran only a “brief technical step” arms levels of 90%. . It would be a mistake for Israeli leaders to expect Trump to give them a blank check on Gaza. “You have to end your war,” Trump told an Israeli newspaper in March.

I can't do it alone

To avoid a broader collapse in U.S.-Israeli relations, it is essential that Netanyahu quickly change course and find ways to work more closely with the Biden administration. This is especially true as Israeli National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi said on May 29: “The fighting in Gaza will continue for at least seven more months.” Going it alone against its adversaries without U.S. support does not represent a viable strategy for Israel, whose war depends on access to foreign munitions and the removal of international embargoes on its actions. The United States must be part of the solution, not the problem.

Despite the Biden administration's growing reservations about the war, the White House has been particularly attentive to the difficult situation in which Israel finds itself. On April 24, Biden approved an aid package providing $17 billion to strengthen Israel's defense capabilities. The following month, the administration notified Congress of its intention to transfer an additional $1 billion in munitions and tactical vehicles to Israel to enable the IDF to maintain its position against Hamas and other enemies of Israel. This funding is essential. Although the Netanyahu government has begun efforts to boost production in Israel's defense industries, the country is destined to remain dependent on U.S. military assistance for the foreseeable future. The importance of this relationship was demonstrated on June 8, when four Israeli hostages were rescued from Gaza, in an operation facilitated by American intelligence and logistics.

Israel also needs diplomatic support from the United States. Washington's involvement will be essential to crafting a viable transition that prevents Gaza from descending into chaos. Additionally, U.S. support is vital for Israel to overcome a series of daunting legal challenges related to the war. International Court of Justice judges are considering requests to end the Israeli army's maneuvers in Gaza, and at the same time, the ICC prosecutor is seeking to issue arrest warrants for Netanyahu and his minister of justice. Defense, Yoav Galant. Reckless statements made by Israeli officials figured prominently in these debates. Here too, Washington supports Israel, and American policymakers responded by passing a law in the House of Representatives to punish the Court.

The United States remains the only reliable bulwark against a possible wave of UN Security Council sanctions against Israel. Washington is also leading Israel's efforts in multilateral forums to emphasize that direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – not unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood – hold the key to progress between the two sides. Additionally, the United States plays a central role in the delicate network of regional alliances – with countries like Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – that protect Israel. The help these countries provided to protect Israel from an Iranian drone and missile attack on April 14 underscores the importance of respecting American concerns, not second-guessing them. This alliance provides a much-needed counterweight to Iran and its proxies – one that could become more important as the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon threatens to escalate into a full-scale war.

Netanyahu's opportunity to repair relations with Washington may soon disappear, as problems intensify at home and hamper his ability to govern. The resignation announced in April of Aharon Haliva, head of Israeli military intelligence, increased pressure on the prime minister to take personal responsibility for the events of October 7. On May 15, Gallant, drawing criticism from many in Israeli security, attacked Netanyahu's imbalance. Managing the war in Gaza. Furthermore, Netanyahu's rejection three days later of an ultimatum issued by war cabinet member Benny Gantz to, among other things, adopt concrete goals to end the war, laid the groundwork for departure, on June 9, from the national unity faction of Gantz and his party. Let's return to the opposition.

Thus, the Prime Minister finds himself alone facing a narrow and rigid parliamentary majority, whose priorities are often repugnant in the eyes of the Biden administration. Among the coalition members is the far-right Jewish Power faction, which has frozen its commitment to voting with the government until Netanyahu shares the text of the agreement he presented to mediators. The faction has since suspended its engagement, saying the agreement no longer appears to exist. Haredi parties may also soon revolt, if Israel's Supreme Court responds to public expectations and issues rulings requiring ultra-Orthodox Jews to be subject to military conscription. Netanyahu's position was further compromised on June 6 when Israeli Attorney General Gali Baharav Meara called on the prime minister to establish a government commission of inquiry to investigate the war in Gaza. This investigation will almost certainly raise serious doubts about the quality of Netanyahu's leadership.

Before it is too late

Israel changed its position as the Israeli army's Rafah incursion entered its second month. He did so keeping in mind the Biden administration's message that U.S. support for this operation is conditional on obtaining a "credible and achievable plan" from Israel to protect civilians. Israeli forces advanced toward the city center and took control of the Philadelphia Corridor along the Egypt-Gaza border. Dozens of tunnels used by Hamas to smuggle weapons, supplies, money and other supplies into Gaza have been discovered and destroyed. Meanwhile, the Israeli army deployed to other parts of Gaza as Hamas sought to regroup.

Everything suggests that Israel is keen to avoid crossing the red lines set by Biden. Nearly a million Gazans were evacuated from the Rafah region to “humanitarian zones” designated by the Israeli army. Israel also refrained from launching large-scale attacks and resorted to more targeted raids. On May 28, White House spokesman John Kirby reiterated the administration's objection to a major ground operation in Rafah, stating that it "could force [the president] to make different decisions regarding support for [Israel].” But, at least for now, the United States believes Israel has heeded that warning. On June 6, Biden told ABC News that although the Israelis intended to "fully penetrate Rafah...". . They did not do it.

Old habits die hard. The prime minister is expected to address a joint session of Congress on July 24, which could spell disaster for Israel. Many Democrats said they would boycott the event, giving the impression that Netanyahu's appearance was a partisan affair. If the prime minister uses his speech to attack the Biden administration in the same way he criticized Obama in 2015, the consequences could be dire. Now is precisely not the time for Netanyahu to be thinking about his political supporters – many of whom believe he should stand up to the United States – rather than Israel’s national security. The situation in the Middle East is becoming more and more dangerous. Israelis are demanding a response to Hezbollah's escalating aggression, and concerns are growing over hotspots including the West Bank, Yemen and especially Iran. To resolve these problems, Israel will need help from the United States. If Netanyahu does not act carefully, Israel's complete victory could be against itself.


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