The disaffection of the Biden administration for the new Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is public. State Department briefings are routinely taken over by people hostile to Israel who are allowed to make speeches as much as ask questions; the pushback is minimal.
And the reporting on the first telephone call between Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen was said to have stressed the American goal of a “two state solution” with the Palestinians along with a not-very-veiled warning to Israel about jeopardizing the U.S. plan.
The idea of the Israeli government having an opening phone call with Russia in the middle of the Ukraine war vastly irritated Sen. Lindsay Graham, a strong supporter of Ukraine, who had unpleasant words for Jerusalem. American foreign policy requirements, however, include, but go beyond Ukraine.
Israel has become a pivotal player for the United States in recent months as regards threats posed to the Middle East and Persian Gulf by Iran. And more so since the discovery of Iranian drones with American parts in the Russian arsenal. Following a months-long series of joint exercises and meetings, the U.S. sent six fighter jets to an Israeli military base to conduct joint drills simulating strikes deep in “enemy territory.” That might be Iranian territory.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan held a teleconference with his Israeli counterparts asking for help in exposing Iran’s technology acquisition network. Israel has been very effective in collecting information inside Iran and has carried out a number of successful operations targeting the regime.
This week, State Department spokesperson Ned Price sang a different tune.
“We have absolutely had discussions with our Israeli partners regarding the threat presented by Iranian UAV technology and the proliferation of Iranian UAV technology to countries around the world, including Russia … We’re looking to harmonize our approach with countries, allies and partners, around the world to see to it that we are taking a coordinated approach to disrupt this pipeline of technology from Iran to Russia and other malign actors.”
In sum, you have American priorities — Iran, Russia, technology, boosted by a coordinated approach with Israel. (China’s acquisition of American technology fits in here as well, but, for the moment, stick with the theme.)
How does this affect American support for Ukraine?
The U.S. is, in some respects, a side player in the Russia-Ukraine war — the biggest financier, biggest arms provider, and biggest cheerleader, but with no actual skin in the game. Literally: no troops, no skin.
And despite the hero’s welcome Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy received at the Capitol, there has been no public administration acceptance of his position that Russia has to leave all of Ukrainian territory including Crimea, which was occupied in 2014 with no objection from the U.S., plus reparations plus war crimes trials.
If, on the other hand, the U.S. seeks a negotiated settlement that includes some of Ukraine’s demands plus assurances against the use of nuclear weapons in Europe plus an end to the burgeoning Russia-Iranian military alliance, talking to Russia, distasteful as that might seem, is necessary.
But Washington cannot call Moscow… can it?
The 2005 book “Every War Must End,” by the late Fred Ikle, is making a comeback. Called a “classic” by Amazon, the slender volume posits that every war will, indeed, end — if not with a military victory, then by grinding along until one side or the other is ready to stop fighting and find a “political settlement.” Former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s demand to Dwight Eisenhower for the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany vs Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.
U.S. policy is muddled here — seeming to give Zelenskyy support for his maximalist objectives, i.e., victory, while simultaneously looking for a political settlement that would have as much to do with Iran as with Russia. It is more than possible that the message Eli Cohen passed to Sergei Lavrov was a set of terms, a mechanism and a threat of escalation, all designed to end the war.
As every war must end.