Whoever wins the US elections, Israel must always rely only on itself

Written by on November 2, 2020

Trump or Biden? In the end, it doesn’t matter, Washington has Israel’s back.

US President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in their first 2020 presidential campaign debate held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, US (photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS)

US President Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden participate in their first 2020 presidential campaign debate held on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, US

(photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS)

Four years ago, when President Donald Trump was elected 45th president of The United States, it was unclear how his foreign policy might affect Israel’s security.

Now, as he runs against Democratic candidate Joe Biden, it’s clear that Trump’s policy is a mix of impulse and calculation. Where the two meet is always the hard part.

Donald Trump came at a time when the Middle East was being ravaged by conflict, with the Syrian Civil War having killed hundreds of thousands already.

ISIS was turning the region upside down and a wave of stabbing attacks was taking place in Israel and the West Bank.

The Middle East was on fire, and analysts were concerned that a reactionary US president would add more fuel.

Trump likes to announce his decision, big or small, over his favorite medium: Twitter. With or without prior consultation with senior officials and experts in his administration. Many of those decisions have had a significant impact on security in the region, including in Israel.

The day he was elected I asked the question “So what can the Middle East and Israel, specifically, expect from President Trump?”

In Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Trump’s administration was a radical departure from the traditional role that Washington used to play between the two sides.

He kept several campaign promises including recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the American embassy there.

The president also recognized the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory and legitimized West Bank settlements considered illegal under international law.

Trump also announced a  new “peace plan” between Israel and the Palestinians – which ostensibly ignored Palestinian requests dealt a blow to their dreams of statehood that would see Israel withdraw to its pre-1967 borders.

Lastly, with help from his administration, Israel has normalized ties with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan. Others are on the way, Trump promised.

Trump’s supporters, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, say he’s been the best friend Israel has ever had.

But is that really true? Or is it just another partisan gesture towards the Republicans from Netanyahu?

Four years later, the Syrian civil war continues to rage on-aided in large part by Russia and Iran, ISlS has crumbled into small Islamist cells intent on continuing the bloodshed in Syria and Iraq.

More relevant to Israel, Iran has broken free of the JCPOA after Trump withdrew from the deal allowing it to continue to work on its ballistic missile arsenal and embolden Iranian proxies like Hezbollah to strengthen their foothold in the Syrian Golan.  

Since the US withdrawal from the deal, Iran has been carrying out its own war-between-wars campaign, using proxies such as the Houthis, and Hezbollah, to carry out attacks, as well as their own forces, taking out US military assets such as a Global Hawk drone in 2019.

Washington’s targeted killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Commander Qasem Soleimani at the beginning of the year led to fears of a regional war.

Closer to Israel’s borders, Trump’s “peace plan”,  along with the shuttering of the US consulate in East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Liberation Organization mission in Washington, has pushed frustrated Palestinians to the sidelines and increased their despair about achieving independence.

Trump’s cutting of American funding to the U.N.’s organization for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) even led senior IDF officers to warn that the aid being stopped “is a big blow to Palestinians” and that the military was “concerned that if the schools aren’t funded the youth will go out and carry out attacks.”

And attacks there were, in the West Bank where Palestinian youths threw stones, stabbed and opened fire on IDF soldiers and civilians. There were also thousands of rockets from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. There were also 40 Israelis killed between January 2017 until now.

The normalization deals with the Gulf states, though praised across the board, has also left Israel’s defense establishment concerned that the deals were made without taking Israel’s security into consideration.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has accused Netanyahu of knowing about the sale of F-35 stealth fighters to the UAE during negotiations but kept it hidden from the defense establishment.

Gantz has rushed to Washington twice and hosted his American counterpart Mark Esper in Israel since the inking of the deal and signed an agreement that ensures Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the region.

Though it is unclear what exactly was agreed to between the two allies, the fact that the Israeli PM and US president did not involve the one government body that should have been involved from the start is worrisome, to say the least.

But what about the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden? How will he do for Israel’s security?

First off, Israel will not top Biden’s list of important issues, choosing instead to focus on matters concerning the US public: healthcare and the economy – two issues that have been made number one priorities by the coronavirus pandemic, that has so far taken the lives of over 231,000 Americans.

Nevertheless, Israel will not be ignored by the former vice president, who was involved in the 2016 negotiations between the two allies that cemented a $38 billion, ten-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) for defense aid-the largest military aid package in US history.

Biden’s campaign has vowed to “guarantee” Israel’s QME and America’s “unbreakable commitment to Israel’s security.”

Unlike Trump’s unilateralism, Biden is expected to bring back the “old” American brokership to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The 2020 Democratic Party Platform calls for the creation of a “viable” Palestinian state where Palestinians “should be free to govern themselves,” and opposes “unilateral action” from either side.

Would that reduce the number of attacks against Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers? Unlikely. But, Biden has made it clear that he will “fully support the Taylor Force Act, which withholds aid to the PA based on payments it makes to terrorists in Israeli jails.”

Biden has also said that “Palestinians need to end incitement in the West Bank and rocket attacks in Gaza” and that the leadership “must begin to level with their people about the legitimacy and permanence of Israel as a Jewish state in the historic homeland of the Jewish people.”

What about Iran?

Israel considers Iran’s nuclear program its number one concern. According to intelligence assessments, if the Islamic Republic does decide to fully renege on the agreement, it wouldn’t take long to produce enough fissure material to make a nuclear bomb.

Biden has signaled that he will try to bring Iran back into the nuclear deal and that the economic sanctions placed on the country could eventually be eased. Nevertheless, he has acknowledged that there’s no guarantee Iran would return to compliance with the agreement.

Netanyahu has been one of the loudest critics of the deal. Although IDF officers and defense experts were concerned about some elements of the JCPOA, many believed that Israel was better off when the deal was alive and Iran was adhering to it.

Should Biden win, he may only have a short time to bring Iran back to the agreement before hardliners, including members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, who oppose any engagement with the West, are expected to win Iran’s upcoming presidential elections.

And should that happen, Israel will not be any better off.

Nevertheless, no matter who wins the upcoming US elections, Trump or Biden, Israel has to remember one thing: When it comes to its security, Israel has to be able to defend itself, by itself, at any given time. At the very least, Washington will continue to reinforce that. 

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