Is the United States abandoning Israel? | WORLD
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Is the United States abandoning Israel?

The White House—driven more by politics than policy—has lost the plot

Women visit the site where Hamas militants killed Israelis near the kibbutz Reim. Associated Press/Photo by Leo Correa

Is the United States abandoning Israel?
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Yesterday marked the six-month anniversary of Hamas’s surprise attack on Israel. Oct. 7 will long be remembered in historical ignominy as the worst mass killing of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust. Israelis already call the day “Black Sabbath.”

Israel’s war effort has now reached a crucible. Following the successes of the first months in dealing blows to Hamas in northern Gaza, Israel’s anticipated offensive into Rafah to eradicate Hamas from its final southern stronghold has stalled amid resistance from the United States and an impasse with Hamas over hostage negotiations. President Biden last week backed away from his previous support for Israel and blindsided Jerusalem by demanding a unilateral and “immediate cease-fire.”

This marks the lowest point in U.S.-Israel relations since Hamas launched the war a half year ago. Columnist Matt Continetti distilled the implications of Biden’s comments:

This is a demand that Israel appease Hamas at the negotiating table. This is a threat to condition military assistance to Israel based on absolutely no evidence and grounded in a ridiculous and unachievable standard of conduct. The move is cynical, opportunistic, and counterproductive. Biden has lost the plot.

Biden’s demand was not just a stray comment from an erratic president, but culminates growing American pressure on Israel such as recently allowing the passage of a UN Security Council resolution that similarly urged a cease-fire.

The event that most immediately precipitated Biden’s comments was the tragic bombing of a World Central Kitchen aid vehicle by Israeli forces, killing seven civilian aid workers in the midst of delivering food to Gaza civilians. It was a terrible case of mistaken targeting for which Israel quickly apologized, and disciplined the officers responsible.

Such accidents are heartbreaking; they are also unavoidable in the tragic fog of war. As I have written previously, Hamas boasts a callous disregard for Palestinian lives and bears the most responsibility for the suffering of Palestinian civilians, whom it cynically exploits as human shields.

Israel has become perhaps the most contentious issue dividing the Democratic Party.

On a deeper level, Biden’s insistence on a cease-fire seems driven more by politics than policy. As the presidential election cycle kicks into higher gear, the progressives in his political base have become more feverish in their denunciations of Israel and calls for the Biden White House to abandon the Jewish state. Biden and his political advisors fear that diminished enthusiasm from their activist base will hurt his re-election efforts against Donald Trump. Israel has become perhaps the most contentious issue dividing the Democratic Party.

Israel still fights on. The Washington Post foreign policy columnist David Ignatius, one of the most well-sourced and perceptive observers of the Middle East, highlighted another operation last week that shows Israeli capabilities at their most potent and lethal. Israeli forces located and liquidated several senior Iranian Quds force leaders meeting secretly in Damascus. The Quds Force, Iran’s most dangerous terrorist militia, has authored the deaths of many Israelis and Americans over the years. The operation showed Israel’s willingness to defend itself and pre-empt further Iranian aggression. As Israel maintains its focus on defeating Hamas, it needs to deter other adversaries like Iran and its proxies such as Hezbollah from trying to exploit Israel’s vulnerabilities.

Meanwhile, some 129 Israeli hostages remain held captive in Gaza, though the Israeli government estimates that up to 50 of them may already be dead. Israel is desperate to bring all of those hostages home, with those alive to reunite with their families and those dead to be given proper burials. The Hamas negotiators based in Doha, Qatar, have reportedly become intransigent in stalling further discussions. This is likely because, as shrewd observers of international opinion, Hamas senses Israel’s isolation and diminished leverage, and feels little pressure to make further concessions on the hostages.

On a strategic level, Israel continues to stand alone. The pre-Oct. 7 strategic momentum towards continued normalization of its ties with regional Arab powers such as Saudi Arabia has stalled or even reversed. Russia and China, both of whom used to maintain cordial relations with Israel, have now turned against it. Israel’s European partners, always rather fickle, have become increasingly critical. Its enemies, led by Iran, feel emboldened. Its most important supporter, the United States, is governed by a president whose political base is now openly hostile to Israel.

Yet rather than feeling demoralized, most Israelis remain resolute. Persecution and isolation are sadly familiar themes in Jewish history. The United States should be mindful of this and stand with Israel.

William Inboden

William Inboden is professor and director of the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida. He previously served as executive director and William Powers Jr. chair at the William P. Clements Jr. Center for National Security at the University of Texas at Austin. He has also served as senior director for strategic planning on the National Security Council at the White House, and at the Department of State as a member of the Policy Planning Staff and a special adviser in the Office of International Religious Freedom.

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