12 February 2024

Netanyahu cannot risk losing America's affection - opinion


The war in Gaza marks a turning point in US policy toward the Middle East. The heavy toll exacted by the long, failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has dampened the American appetite for involvement in the region.

Over the past decade, Washington seemed to acquiesce to the efforts of Russia and China to fill the strategic vacuum left by the United States. However, amid fierce great power competition and the myriad actors involved in the current war – Hezbollah, the Houthis, Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Syria, and of course, Iran – the US has been forced to reassess its Middle East policy. The recent attack that claimed the lives of three American soldiers stationed in Jordan underscores the repercussions of regional instability for the US itself.

After a prolonged period of passivity, in which numerous attacks were carried out against US forces in the region, President Joe Biden was compelled to respond militarily. Even before that, CIA director William Burns, in a comprehensive article in Foreign Affairs, stated that in his four decades of familiarity with the Middle East, he had “rarely seen it more tangled or explosive” than in the wake of October 7.

Burns asserts, “The United States is not exclusively responsible for resolving any of the Middle East’s vexing problems. But none of them can be managed, let alone solved, without active US leadership.”

The strategic diagnosis outlined by Burns forms the basis of the operational plan being woven within the administration, as presented in Thomas Friedman’s latest New York Times column. Friedman, the journalist closest to Biden, describes the “Biden Doctrine” as designed to simultaneously address three intertwined challenges: resolute confrontation against the threats posed by Iran and its proxies, promotion of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the two-state formula, and a significant deepening of the alliance between Washington and Riyadh (including the normalization of Saudi relations with Israel).
Will Biden put his reputation - or re-election - on the line?

THE COMING weeks will reveal whether Biden will bet in an election year on such a complex move with such an obvious risk of failure. If he decides to implement the “Biden Doctrine,” he can only lay its foundations before November, hoping they will be built upon if he secures another term. How will we know if Biden transitions from rhetorical to operational steps?

Such a transition would see Biden place the parties to the conflict at the entrance of a one-way corridor, from which, even if it is long and full of hurdles, there is no way back: a credible guarantee of a political horizon. This may include a Security Council resolution that lays out the fundamental parameters of a two-state solution, official American recognition of a Palestinian state, insistence on the involvement of the Palestinian Authority in the rehabilitation and governance of the Gaza Strip, the convening of a peace conference with the participation of Saudi Arabia and at which the Arab world commits to signing peace accords with Israel in exchange for Israeli endorsement of the two-state formula.Advertisement

It is also may include reopening the PLO embassy in Washington and implementing a plan to restore the functional capabilities and credibility of the Palestinian Authority. An uncompromising demand will possibly made of Israel to dismantle illegal West Bank outposts and freeze expansion beyond the settlement blocks adjacent to the 1967 lines.

A declaration of American willingness to discuss a defense treaty with Israel may be in the offing. Of course, a high-ranking presidential envoy would be appointed to oversee what can only be described as a strategic sea change.

The growing realization that progress in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict serves a substantial security interest of the United States will add a different tone to White House dealings with the Israeli government. An administration convinced that the continuation of the conflict could embroil the US in a regional war, and perhaps even in a perilous clash of the super powers, will toughen its claims. Israel’s need for US assistance was acutely demonstrated during the war, and one should not be surprised if this dependence is exploited by American policy makers for their own purposes.

IN WASHINGTON, it is well understood that the current Israeli government is not a suitable partner for executing the “Biden Doctrine.” Will they wait for the Israeli political process to ripen on its own accord and a new, more cooperative government emerges, or will they act to accelerate it?

Friedman doesn’t mince words. He conflates Netanyahu with Iran – as those who are hindering the US from advancing its plans to stabilize the Middle East. We should assume that this sentiment resonates with many decision-makers in Washington.

It will soon be seen if they use their power to force Netanyahu’s cooperation with the “Biden Doctrine.” Or will they let him drag his feet and portray himself as standing up to a hostile American president as he clings to his throne in the hope that his savior, Donald Trump, will be victorious come November?

In the past, when asked about his relationship with Netanyahu, Biden has responded that the two had been friends for decades, saying, “I told him: I don’t agree with one thing you say – but I love you.” Even if the end of that beautiful friendship is approaching, and Netanyahu blows up his personal relationship with Biden for good, Israel must not follow suit and risk losing America’s affection. After all, the US is the only great power we can count on – in every aspect of our national security.

The writer is a former director-general of the Foreign Ministry, a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), and recently authored a children’s book titled Guy and the Game of Chess.

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