The Russian-Ukrainian war has caused alarm bells to ring in Israel’s decision-making circles because of what are seen as growing doubts about the US as a reliable ally. Ukraine was basically left alone to deal with Putin; Iran is doing what it wishes; and the humiliation of the withdrawal from Afghanistan hangs heavy in the international air. Together, this is pushing Israelis to ask if they can trust the US in wartime; or is it changing too much and is now too weak?
The Israelis are also asking what role can be played by the US in the event of their country being embroiled in a major war. Such a conflict would inevitably see urban centres targeted, strategic facilities and infrastructure damaged and destroyed, and a very high number of casualties. Domestic chaos would be exacerbated by a probable uprising of Palestinian Israeli citizens. The events of May 2021 will seem like child’s play in comparison. Can the US be trusted if such a scenario plays out for real?
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began when Barack Obama was in the White House; continued under his successor Donald Trump; and has intensified under President Joe Biden. The three presidents quite probably agree that America cannot continue as the world’s policeman, and does not want to in any case.
The US is changing and there is less commitment to Israel, even among Jewish Americans. And the commitment of evangelical Christians to the occupation state is not what it used to be.
Furthermore, the US has exposed its weaknesses over several decades. As US president, Trump was against NATO and the EU; a few days ago he called Vladimir Putin a genius. During his time in office, Washington allowed Turkey to station troops in northern Syria while the US abandoned its Kurdish friends.
Israel does not need US troops, but it does need their weapons. It has an insatiable appetite for US military aid. Nevertheless, the US is reluctant to provide it with the technology for refueling aircraft in flight in case Israel goes ahead and bombs Iran. Nor is Washington providing the Israelis with so-called “bunker-busting bombs”, despite requests from Tel Aviv.
Given such reliance on the US, it is odd that Israel’s military experts think that they are fortunate not to have a defence alliance with the US or NATO. Such an alliance, they say, will give Israel commitments that it can do without, and may restrict its forces to the Golan Heights, for example, or Gaza. US permission may be needed prior to any military operation in the region.
Analysts in Israel view the US as a wall that is about to collapse. Many also remember that it 1948 America did not help the Zionist terror gangs to occupy Palestine, and in 1956 it forced Israel to withdraw from Egyptian territory, which led eventually to the 1967 war. Although the US intervened in the 1973 war, Israel could have achieved more on its own, the analysts believe. When Benjamin Netanyahu was Israeli prime minister, they say, Washington tried to force him to withdraw from most of the West Bank and put Western forces in the Jordan Valley. And now, today, the US has left its ally Israel on its own in the face of the Iranian military presence in Syria.
Such Israeli analysis is difficult to agree with, because Washington is Israel’s lifeline, without which it would be exposed. We should not underestimate the US position in the Middle East, as it is still the most powerful country in the world and sends Israel $3 billion every year. No other country matches its influence in the region.
There may not be a defence alliance between the US and Israel, but they cooperate in intelligence issues and break borders. And the US shares research, technology and military know-how with nobody like it does with Israel, which even has access to US ammunition stockpiles. Despite this, the general feeling in Israel is that the US is getting less and less likely to use its power in defence of the occupation state.
Israel maintains special relationships and gets privileges from them across Europe and NATO member states, but its main relationship remains the one with the US. The work of the pro-Israel lobby is to ensure that Israel’s interests take precedence in Washington and other Western capitals whenever possible.
The Israelis know that the US signed an understanding with Ukraine in Budapest in 1994, under which Washington pledged to come to its defense if attacked, having first seen Kyiv give up its Soviet era nuclear weapons. When the chips were down, though, Ukraine was left to face Russia on its own; US troops are still nowhere to be seen.
In the past, there was an unwritten understanding between the US and Israel that the latter would deal with short-term threats from neighboring countries, while the US would neutralist major threats. The Americans do not seem to be playing by the rules, though, as the perceived threats facing Israel, including the Iranian presence in Syria, Lebanon Iraq and, to some extent, Gaza, make the distinction between short-term and major issues very complex. This is a cause of concern for Israel.
Even at a time when differences between Tel Aviv and Washington were fewer, the latter did not always take it upon itself to deal with the “major” threats facing Israel. The Israelis rushed to destroy an unfinished nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981, and another in Syria in 2007, because the Americans did not care about them. Today, Israel sees Iran as the most important long-term threat, which may require it to take some kind of military action. However, despite everything, the Americans still seem to hold a veto over any Israeli move against Iran. No wonder Israeli doubts are growing about relying on the US.