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Biden must strengthen US-Israel relationship to decrease chance of war with Iran

With Israel on the brink of a possible multi-front war with Iran, led by its regional proxies Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), any perceived deterioration in relations between America and Israel will be interpreted as a weakness and an opportunity. The recent Iranian-directed missile attacks from Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, as well as terrorist acts in Tel Aviv and the Jordan River Valley, which killed a European tourist and two British women, are connected to Iran’s support of these organizations.

As Jacob Nadel, at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote, “There is no doubt that Iran is standing behind the recent attacks. … Iran is pushing for confrontation in four theaters: Lebanon and Syria, Gaza, Judea and Samaria, and Jerusalem. The time has come to implement the change in Israel’s National Security Strategy from 2018 and aggressively punish the attackers, but also the country [Iran] from which the attacks originated and the country that sent them.” 

Yet, the Biden administration is not assigning responsibility to the primary instigator: Iran. A State Department spokesman gave a perfunctory condemnation of the terrorism in Israel, without mentioning Iran. Former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett called Iran the “head of the octopus,” with its proxies as its tentacles. This week, Hezbollah and Hamas leaders are meeting to coordinate what Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah calls “the Palestinian resistance,” an Iranian strategy to destroy the Jewish state. Since 2021’s Guardian of the Walls war, PIJ, Hezbollah and Hamas have had a war room in Lebanon to coordinate this axis of resistance. 

As for Hamas and PIJ radicals orchestrating violence on the Temple Mount, there have been American calls for restraint, instead of condemning the extremists who have barricaded themselves in al Aqsa Mosque. The State Department urged “all sides to exercise restraint, avoid provocative actions and rhetoric.” This is akin to moral equivalence, since the motivations are transparent. The goal is to create an Israeli counter-response designed to make Israel appear to be the aggressor, desecrating the third holiest mosque in Islam. The Biden administration evidently can’t bring itself to choose sides. 

Why is the administration distancing itself from Israel now? It has been reported that behind-the-scenes talks are offering Iran a “less for less” nuclear deal, in which Iran would pause its uranium enrichment and not have to give up that which is already enriched — but still would receive significant sanctions relief. This, despite Iran’s violating the 2015 nuclear agreement by enriching uranium to near weapons-grade levels. Iran would be rewarded and remain just weeks away from 90 percent enrichment for nuclear weapons, and already has the ballistic missiles to easily target any city in Israel.  

With Democrats more sympathetic to Palestinians than to Israelis, President Biden may have calculated an Israeli coalition government that is unpopular with his Democratic base is vulnerable to pressure — and he will not pay the price or suffer any repercussions for his potential re-election.  

That is the wrong lesson if your goal is stabilizing the region and avoiding a regional war. A strong Israel is in America’s interest, and mixed signals only encourage Iran and its proxies to take risks. We rely on Israeli intelligence, a safe base for our Sixth Fleet, and know from experience that Israel is the Middle East’s only reliable ally.  

To fully understand the current state of the Middle East, it is necessary to take a step back.

America’s involvement in the region has evolved significantly since 2009, when President Obama attempted to level the playing field between Iran and America’s allies, Saudi Arabia and Israel. President Trump’s attempts to withdraw troops from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, while not responding to the 2019 Iranian attack on Saudi oil facilities, sent a message to the region that America was on its way out. Yet, Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, acknowledgment of Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, and help forging the Abraham Accords, which deprioritized the Palestinians, told the region that despite the U.S. pivot to the Indo-Pacific, its relationship with Israel remained solid.

Biden has made two fateful decisions that profoundly affected the Middle East. First, he said he wanted to turn the Saudis into pariahs. Then he oversaw a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, making America appear to be an unreliable ally to friends near and far. For the Middle East, this was an invitation for America’s adversaries to take risks and for old authoritarian allies, such as Saudi Arabia, to make new relationships with China, America’s 21st century nemesis.  

As for the American-Israeli relationship, Biden, a self-proclaimed lifelong supporter of Israel, tried hard to get Israel’s existential enemy, Iran, to take hundreds of billions of dollars in sanctions relief by resurrecting Obama’s nuclear agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). With the help of China and Russia, Iran created a resistance economy and turned down the U.S. offer. But it was Biden’s choice to inject America into Israeli domestic politics with unusually harsh public criticism of the Israeli prime minister, which was seen as a window of opportunity for Iran to ignite its regional proxies. 

Biden and Democratic leaders have claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform threatened Israel’s democracy, and seemed to condition future American support for Israel. This, too, added fuel to the fire of regional instability — any weakening of the U.S.-Israel relationship is a gift to Iran and its allies in Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.

So, now we need cooler heads to prevail. With Israel entering the time of the year when many previous wars have been fought, it is incumbent on Biden to unambiguously come out in full support of Israel and to work behind the scenes with Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority to quiet the situation. It’s also time for Netanyahu to prioritize Israel’s security, which means delaying any provocative actions on judicial reform as long as the security situation remains on high alert. 

The best way to decrease the chance of war is for the world to see America’s relationship with Israel as unbreakable — not just in words but actions. In addition, we should not offer Iran any sanctions relief in return for a weak nuclear agreement; that will directly enrich Hezbollah, Hamas and the PIJ, and potentially set the region on fire.  

Eric R. Mandel is the director of MEPIN, the Middle East Political Information Network. He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report. Follow him on Twitter @gmelillopinOrg.

Tags Hamas Hezbollah Iran Israel-Iran conflict Joe Biden US-Israel relations

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