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U.S. Finally Realizes Bibi Broke an Unbreakable Alliance?

Biden may well be unhappy but he's yet to stop funding Israel's mess or stop arms shipments. We are knee-deep in this mess and arguably equally culpable.

Whether Trump will show some moxy and stand up to Israel's right-wing has yet to be seen. It's pretty clear that Israel's populace is drinking Bibi's Kool-Aid. And I thought Jews were supposed to be "smart".

Analysis | The U.S. Finally Realized: Netanyahu Broke an Unbreakable Alliance

Over 15 years, through hubris and rudeness, Benjamin Netanyahu has managed to turn Israel from an ally into a high-maintenance, ongoing crisis whose actions are inconsistent with U.S. interests in the Middle East

Alon Pinkas, Haaretz Media

Mar 5, 2024

Israel has been a trustworthy, dependable U.S. ally for over 50 years. Benjamin Netanyahu is not. His record, his policies, his behavior and his style over the years indicate that he does not see himself as an ally and does not conduct himself as one – and now the United States has finally realized this.

It is in the context of this belated realization, and criticism of President Joe Biden's Mideast policy, that this week's Washington visit by war cabinet minister Benny Gantz should be viewed.

A new Gallup poll published Monday shows how much Israel's image has declined: 58 percent of Americans have a "very" or "mostly favorable" view of Israel, which is down from 68 percent last year. This is the lowest favorable rating for Israel in over two decades.

Young American adults, the poll highlights, "show the biggest decline in ratings of Israel, dropping from 64 percent favorable among 18- to 34-year-olds in 2023 to 38 percent. Middle-aged adults (those aged 35 to 54) show a smaller but still significant drop, from 66 percent to 55 percent."

Gantz's meetings with Vice President Kamala Harris, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and lawmakers in Congress are not ordinary meetings. They are meetings reserved for a prime minister, or someone they think will or should be premier.

Benny Gantz talking to the media after a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at the U.S. Capitol on Monday.Credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/AFP

More than anything, they are meant to rile Netanyahu – the self-ordained ultimate maven on U.S. affairs whom the Americans have concluded is a liability, not an ally.

Over 150 days into the war, five full months, Netanyahu's detached, indifferent and arrogant demeanor raises very unpleasant questions: How exactly is Israel a U.S. ally? How does this manifest itself? In what ways is it still a "strategic asset"?

Biden begins backing the resistance to Netanyahu and his war

Can Biden depend on these two Israeli politicians to be his allies?

Netanyahu's 'day after' plan for Gaza is not feasible, and is not a plan

The answers to this conjure a bigger, more perplexing question: How did one man, Benjamin Netanyahu, manage through hubris and rudeness over 15 years to turn Israel from an ally to a high-maintenance, ongoing crisis whose actions are inconsistent with U.S. interests?

What began in the 1950s and '60s as a tentative and very limited defense cooperation became by the '90s and into the 21st century something far bigger and more robust: an alliance. Phrases such as "staunch ally," "unbreakable alliance," "special relationship" and "strategic asset" entered the political lexicon and became the baseline characterization of relations. Formally and declaratively, the alliance remains intact. Substantively, the answer is mixed thanks to Mr. Netanyahu.

Israel has viewed itself as a U.S. ally since the late '60s. This was not ordained on Mount Sinai by God, nor in 1948 when Israel declared independence. It was a slow, tentative and gradual process, not a natural evolution of relations or strategic calculations. The informal alliance developed and was augmented during and in the context of the Cold War and Soviet patronage of Egypt and Syria.

What began with the supply of Skyhawk A-4 and Phantom F-4 fighter aircraft – two major force multipliers promised by the Johnson administration before and delivered after the 1967 Six-Day War – continued with the massive U.S. airlift of weapons and ammunition in October 1973, in the midst of the Yom Kippur War. Then-President Richard Nixon decided at that time to institutionalize an annual military grant of $1.8 billion, together with an additional $1.2 billion in civilian aid.

By the '80s, Israel had been designated a Major Non-NATO Ally and is the leading global recipient of Title 22 U.S. security assistance under the Foreign Military Financing program. Overall, since 1948, the United States has provided Israel with in excess of $150 billion, making it the single largest recipient by a wide margin. In the last 20-30 years, that has been defined as QME, or qualitative military edge, ensuring Israel has guaranteed access to state-of-the-art U.S. weapons platforms and defense technologies.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union, energy independence attained by the Americans some 15 years ago, hemorrhaging in "forever wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq, disillusionment with the Arab world and, particularly, the shift in priorities and resource allocation toward China and the Indo-Pacific – all of this should have alerted Israel that the alliance's relevance and durability was about to be tested.

Rather than redefine and repackage it, Netanyahu did the exact opposite: He broadened the cracks, meddled incessantly in American politics, flirted aimlessly and recklessly with Vladimir Putin's Russia and China, persuaded then-President Donald Trump to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, and was busy making sure Hamas was strong so the Palestinian Authority was too weak to be negotiated with.

The United States interpreted October 7 as a possible turning point requiring attention and a new policy drafting as the Middle East splits into two axes. Israel, meanwhile, seemed to think it could bomb its way back to October 6.

As a result, a new strain of thinking emerged. Perhaps there is a divergence in interests, not commonality. Israel's actions are tangentially touching U.S. interests – for example, with regard to Iran – in a way that is inconsistent. This disparity became evident in the aftermath of Black Saturday. The United States interpreted October 7 as a possible turning point requiring attention and a new policy drafting as the Middle East splits into two axes. Israel, meanwhile, seemed to think it could bomb its way back to October 6.

Just look at the points of contention since October 7. The U.S. asked Israel to define the political goals of the war, from which military operations would be derived. Israel never bothered; it just said "eradicate, annihilate and topple Hamas." The U.S. said, "Fine, absolutely, but explain the how and the deliverables."

The U.S. asked for proportionality and restraint in northern Gaza. Israel did the opposite. The U.S. implored Israel to rethink a full invasion into northern Gaza and to use the threat of doing so to extract a hostage release agreement. Israel ignored that. The U.S. asked repeatedly for humanitarian pauses; Israel stalled. The U.S. presented ideas, then a framework for postwar Gaza. Israel never bothered to engage in talks and exchange ideas.

President Biden then published, in increments, a comprehensive and coherent plan for Gaza, the Palestinian issue and a new security architecture for the region. Israel replied, a month later, with a one-page non-plan list of statements that amounted to an open-ended status quo and reoccupation of Gaza.

Once the United States became convinced that Netanyahu was not being cooperative, not being a considerate ally, behaving like a crude ingrate and has been focused only on his political survival after the October 7 debacle, the time was ripe to try a new political course.

Enter Gantz. The Americans aren't sure whether they have unleashed a dynamic that might lead to an election in Israel or whether this will produce a whimper. Even so, one thing is clear: the pattern since October 7 had to be broken.

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