Too often, U.S. Serves as a Contrarian Indicator.
The State of Israel appreciates all that the United States does. It considers the United States and the American people Israel’s most steadfast friends. The U.S.-Israel relationship has evolved from a patron-client connection to a strategic partnership of shareholders in a significant military joint venture. Israel’s inclusion in the workings of the U.S. Central Command [USCENTCOM] and the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet attests to Israel’s enhanced status, translating into the Israel Defense Forces’ joint exercises with the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines. An Israeli naval attaché sits in the Fifth Fleet’s HQ. Intelligence sharing and cyber defense cooperation are extensive, perhaps even unprecedented.
This joint statement released on June 1, 2022, expressed the strategic bonds between the two countries:
On May 31, 2022, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Israeli National Security Advisor Dr. Eyal Hulata convened a meeting at the White House of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Consultative Group (SCG). They were joined by senior representatives from their respective foreign policy, defense, and intelligence agencies. The officials committed to coordinate on efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and toward deterring Iran’s aggressive regional activities. They also discussed economic and diplomatic steps to achieve these goals and reviewed ongoing cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli militaries. The U.S. and Israeli officials committed that, working toward the same goal, they will remain in close coordination on the full range of issues of mutual interest and to remain united against all threats to their national security.
The relationship could not be more robust, ideal, or intimate, say the National Security Advisors. But why are many foreign policy professionals – on both sides – skeptical or even disbelieving?
Alarmingly, the current Biden policy bears little resemblance to the assurances. Look at the administration’s tolerant Iran policy dealing with sanctions, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the 2015 nuclear deal), the move to delist Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps from the terrorist list, Tehran’s failure to allow nuclear inspections, the gross overproduction of enriched uranium, and the inability to call out the ayatollah’s human rights violations loudly. In recent months, Iran’s oil exports ballooned to 870,000 barrels a day from an average of 668,000 b/d in 2021, with the bulk going to China. With oil selling at $120 per barrel, you do the math [$104 million per day] and understand how Iran can afford its weapons and foreign adventures.
Examine the Biden administration’s policy on issues of the West Bank and the Palestinians. Other than a few reprimands to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas about the massive grants to terrorists and their families for killing Israelis, little has been done to enforce the Taylor Force Act to end the “pay to slay” practice.
Today, Washington is probably the most prominent advocate of the “two-state solution” to implant an unstable sovereign Palestinian entity inside of Israel’s guts. The Biden White House is a more vigorous advocate than the Palestinians themselves, whose craving is less for their own independence than it is for Israel’s degradation and dissolution.
Even Palestinians acknowledge that “there is no there there” to form a state. There is no centralized government; today, rebel chieftains and militias rule fiefdoms in population and refugee centers in Nablus, Hebron, and Jenin. There is nothing resembling a democratic form of government; the Palestinian legislative body has not convened since 2006, and President Abbas is in the 17th year of his four-year term.
Middle East analyst (and no fan of Israel) Omar H. Rahman blasted Mahmoud Abbas and his “crackdown on opposition and dissent” last year in Foreign Policy: “Mahmoud Abbas’s unelected and illegitimate government is becoming increasingly violent, but Washington’s largesse is keeping it in power.”
Nevertheless, seeking its long-desired chimera of an independent Palestinian state, Washington wants to provide the Palestinians the trappings of a proto-state entity.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, “Ultimately, it is the only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and of course, the only way to give the Palestinians the state to which they’re entitled [emphasis added]. It’s vitally important,” Blinken continued, “that Palestinians feel hope and have opportunity, and can live in security just as it is for Israelis, and there should be equal measures. Ultimately, I think that that hope, that security, that dignity will be found in a Palestinian state.”
To reinforce the Biden White House’s dream for a two-state solution, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told Americans for Peace Now, “We can’t do stupid things that impede a two-state solution.” Nides clarified: “We can’t have the Israelis doing settlement growth in east Jerusalem or the West Bank. I’m a bit of a nag on this, including the idea of settlement growth – which infuriates me, when they do things – just infuriates the situation, both in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.”
In August 2021, the New York Times reported that American HUMINT [human intelligence] operations in Iran collapsed after Iranian counterintelligence exposed a network of informers. The Times revealed, “Israel has helped fill the breach, officials say. Its robust operations in Iran are providing the United States with streams of reliable intelligence on Iran’s nuclear activities, missile programs, and its support for militias around the region.”
The cooperation and intelligence sharing has not always been smooth. The Obama-Biden administration kept Israel in the dark about U.S. negotiations for the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, and Israeli intelligence services discovered it. After the Biden administration entered office and announced its intention to restart negotiations for the Iran deal, Israel reduced the flow of information to the United States about its covert operations. A week after the Vienna talks were resumed, in April 2021, a catastrophic act of sabotage knocked out power to the heavily-fortified Iranian uranium enrichment plant in Natanz. According to the Times report, the Israeli Mossad gave the United States less than two hours’ notice, “far too short a time for the United States to assess the operation or ask Israel to call it off.”
On May 22, 2022, Col. Sayad Khodayee, a senior member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps was assassinated in his car in Tehran. Khodayee was the commander of the covert Unit 840 assigned to attack or abduct foreigners around the world, including Israelis. The Iranians blamed Israel, but Israel refused to comment, maintaining its standard denial of involvement. Just days later, however a New York Times headline revealed, “Israel Tells U.S. It Killed Iranian Officer, Official Says,” thus confirming the Iranian accusation.
Why would the United States leak such a secret? Con Coughlin, the British Telegraph’s veteran defense and foreign affairs editor, charged, “Whether or not this [Times] report is true is almost academic. The real crime, one that represents a serious breach of the long-standing intelligence-sharing arrangements between the U.S. and Israel, is that one of President Joe Biden’s senior officials has been willing to betray the trust of such a close ally.”
What is the Biden administration’s interest in giving Iran an excuse to attack Israel? An obvious answer is that with the Iran deal negotiations on life-support, Washington is signaling to the ayatollahs that it had no hand in Khodayee’s assassination: “Don’t blame me; Israel did it.” With many Obama administration veterans serving in Biden’s White House, State and Defense departments today, it needs to be pointed out that former White House advisors Tommy Vietor and Ben Rhodes, two Democratic Washington elders and influencers—the latter even called “Obama’s foreign policy guru”—strongly criticized the assassinations of mega-terrorist Gen. Qasem Soleimani and the head of Iran’s nuclear program Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. It is a script Vietor knows well. After a bomb killed Natanz enrichment plant supervisor Ahmadi Roshan in 2012, Vietor, then spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, declared, “I want to categorically deny any United States involvement in any kind of act of violence inside Iran. The United States had absolutely nothing to do with this.”
One former foreign policy advisor in the Obama-Biden administration is Colin H. Kahl, who serves today as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. Having worked as Vice President Biden’s National Security advisor, Kahl had been deeply involved in the Iran negotiations. In 2017, he told the Center for Strategic and International Studies that he opposed efforts to impose sanctions on the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps, explaining they “could have the inadvertent effect of triggering a response by the IRGC.”
The Abraham Accords between Israel and Arab states including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco have served as a catalyst to encourage Muslim countries to board the peace train. Saudi and Israeli negotiators have been working on the kingdom’s formal joining, but business deals, visits by Israelis to Saudi Arabia and aviation agreements are already taking place. The Trump administration’s diplomatic breakthrough is surpassing all projections, and therein lies the rub. For Biden and his aides, Trump achievements are to be ignored, negated, or cancelled.
At the start of the Biden administration, support for the Accords was described as “tepid” and “missing a key opportunity.” Enthusiasm was not forthcoming, some believed, because of Iranian and Palestinian opposition to Israel finding its place in the Middle East constellation.
One Washington Post columnist warned, “The Biden Administration Could Derail the Abraham Accords,” after Washington announced that it would reconsider the sale of F-35s to the United Arab Emirates, the accords’ matchmaker. Negotiations with Iran, the raison d’être for the Israeli-Arab realignment, were renewed by the United States. The new bosses in Washington canceled the Trump administration’s listing of the Houthi militia, Iran’s proxy in Yemen, as a terror organization, and “in gratitude,” the Houthis unleashed heavy missile, drone, and rocket bombardments against Saudi airports, oil facilities, and cities.
In 2019, the United States deployed Patriot missiles to help protect the Saudis. However, in 2019, candidate Biden promised Saudi Arabia would “pay a price” for the murder of regime critic and Washington Post sometimes-contributor Jamal Khashoggi. Riyadh would be treated as a “pariah” if Biden won the presidency, and the candidate declared there would be an end to arms sales to the Saudis. In 2021, the United States removed the advanced THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) and Patriot missile defense systems from the kingdom. In March 2022, the Patriot missiles were deployed again in Saudi Arabia, as if they were never gone. But they were gone while Iran and the Houthis showered Saudi targetes with rockets, missiles, and drones. The Saudis remember the U.S. behavior, pique, and threats.
A Last Word from Israel
Israel wants the United States to succeed economically and strategically as the beacon of democracy. Israel, the so-called “light unto the nations,” expects the American beacon to shine bright. And that is why watching American fecklessness, disunion, and aimlessness leaves Israel chagrined and perplexed. Even fearful.
American aircraft abandoning desperate Afghans, the riot at the Capitol, inner-city self-conflagration are not what Israelis expect. Nor is kowtowing to radical Shiite clerics who threaten genocide against the Jewish State, blow up diplomats and Jewish community centers as in Argentina, or plot to kill an Arab diplomat in Washington—all of which Iranian leaders have done.
Why does the Biden administration fail to support widespread demonstrations in Iran, or protest the hostage-taking of foreign visitors, or attack Iran’s human rights record, or denounce the killing of journalists (other than Khashoggi)? Obviously, it is trying to keep its renewed nuclear negotiations afloat—talks that Iran insists be conducted via third parties.
Seen from Israel, such behavior that fits a cowardly and cruel pattern going back to the Obama-Biden administration, as disclosed in Barack Obama’s autobiography. He wrote of the June 2009 “Green Movement” that brought millions of protesters in Iran to the streets to challenge election results confirming the mullahs’ choices: “The ensuing crackdown was merciless and swift… and a significant number were killed. I saw video of a young woman shot in the streets, a web of blood spreading across her face as she began to die, her eyes gazing upward in reproach.”
Her name was Neda Sultan. But Obama admitted that he was constrained from expressing support for the demonstrators by his NSC “Iran experts [who] advised against such a move. According to them, any statement from me would likely backfire… I felt obliged to heed these warning and signed off on a series of bland bureaucratic statements [such as] ‘the universal rights to assembly and free speech must be respected.’”
Israel’s bottom line has always been the necessity of being able to defend itself by itself. For all the cooperation between the two countries, the United States never had troops stationed in or near Israel to come to Israelis’ defense—and that’s the way it should be. The course of events from the Obama administration to and through the Biden administration reconfirms the worth of that maxim. As this article was being written, the Jerusalem Post reported that Israel has modified its American-built F-35 stealth fighter jets to fly to Iran and back without requiring refueling. After years of American refusal to sell Israel the long-range capability it had requested, Israel has gone and done it by itself.
The perfect metaphor.
Lenny Ben-David served as Israel’s Deputy Chief of Mission in the embassy in Washington, D.C. He is the author of American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs.