The Gaza War and the Future of U.S.-Israel Relations

Yesterday morning, President Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu had their first phone call since February 15, which lasted long enough for Biden to be late to his next engagement. The conversation came amid a clear sense that the U.S. is becomingly increasingly impatient with Israel’s conduct of the war, a sense driven by, for instance, Senator Chuck Schumer’s speech last week calling on Israel to hold new elections and vote Netanyahu out of office. Elliott Abrams, Michael Doran, and Jonathan Silver, in a conversation moderated by Zineb Riboua, fit these developments into the broader context of U.S.-Israel relations. They also examine how recent statements from Washington influence the calculations of Hamas’s leader Yahya Sinwar, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, and others. (Video, 55 minutes. You can also listen to the audio on any of the usual podcast platforms.)

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More about: Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship