David K. Rees

Biden doesn’t get it: ‘Iron-clad’ must work both ways

US President Joe Biden meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP); TOI, May 24, 2023.

President Biden, who as a liberal Democrat I have long supported, has stated over and over that the United States’ support for Israel is “iron clad.”  However Biden’s support for Israel is not nearly as “iron clad” as he would have you believe. Shortly after the October 7th massacre, Israel announced its policy on the war in Gaza: Hamas in Gaza must be destroyed completely. That objective has been stated over and over by Israel so many times that it is now the standard by which “success” in Gaza is measured.

Biden has a different measure of success. According to Biden, “iron clad” means defending Israel. That was made clear in April when the United States, together with France and Jordan, supported Israel in defending itself from an attack by Iran, in which Iran fired at least 300 missiles and drones at Israel. Subsequently, Biden has threatened to withdraw American OFFENSIVE support, unless Israel does NOT fully invade the Rafah section of Gaza.

Biden’s attempt  to muscle its ally reached a new low this week when the United States refused to give Israel intelligence on the location of Hamas Gaza leader Yahah Sinwar, unless Israel agreed NOT to conduct a full-scale attack on  Rafah. The United States did so despite that fact that Israel and the United States have been sharing intelligence for years. What kind of ally withholds intelligence in order to leverage its ally into doing what it wants?

The invasion of Gaza is critical to Israel achieving its goal with respect to Gaza. Hamas still has four battalions of fighters is Rafah. If Israel leaves Rafah without destroying those four battalions, Hamas will justifiably claim a huge victory over Israel. Moreover, Hamas will claim, as it has been doing for months, that  the October 7th massacre was a terrific idea, one which should be repeated three or four more times.

Biden’s differentiation between defensive and offensive support makes no sense. The reality is that some wars need to be won, a goal which cannot be achieved without a significant, offensive, military capability.

The allies would never have won World War I but for the fact that they had the offensive ability to bring Germany to its knees.

World War II could not have been won unless the allied forces had offensively driven Germany out of north Africa and Italy. Nor could it have been won without Great Britain and the  United States  invading Normandy on D-day and the Soviet Union’s offensive ability to attack Germany from the East.

The same is true with respect to Japan.. The United States could never have driven Japan back to Japan unless it had the offensive capability to do so.

Israel’s experience is the same. In the early days of the war of independence, the Hagenah was desperate to get the necessary weapons with which to fight the Arabs. Because the United States, Great Britain, and France had agreed NOT  to supply the the parties to the war with weapons, Israel turned to Czechoslovakia, by then an “Iron Curtain” country, for them. Once the Czech weapons arrived, the Hagenah, which became the IDF, was able to go on the offensive, drive Egypt back across the Egyptian border, and Jordan’s Arab Legion back towards the Jordan River.

In 1967, the same Arab countries again attacked Israel. In only six days, Israel drove Egypt back across the Suez Canal and Jordan back across the Jordan River. Israel could never have done so without having greatly superior offensive capabilities.

In 1973, the same countries again attacked Israel, this time on Yom Kippur. Initially, Israel attempted to defend itself and was losing the war. It was only after the United States began supporting it with tons of weapons, that it was able to turn a defensive war into an offensive one, a war in which it retained almost all of the Sinai and  many of its its tanks crossed the Suez Canal into Egypt. To Nixon and Kissinger “iron clad” meant supporting Israel both offensively and defensively.

The war in Gaza is a war that has to be won.  It must be won not only because of the threat that Hamas poses to Israel, but because  the war in Gaza is a war against the terrorism, whose leader is Iran. While Hamas is NOT  an Iranian proxy, Iran supplies Hamas with millions of dollars a year and sophisticated missile technology. In order to accomplish its objective if defeating Hamas in Gaza, Israel must invade Rafah yet Biden’s view of  “iron clad’ is interfering with that.

There are two situations in which an allegedly “iron clad’ relationship can be called into question. Biden understands the first one, but seems to be clueless about the second. An “iron clad” relationship can be based upon a common set of values. From the day of Israel’s inception until the present Israeli government was formed in 2022, Israel and the United States shared a common set of values. Those values included a nonracist country in which all citizens regardless of their religion or ethnicity had full, democratic rights and the freedom to practice their  religion. Those shared values included an independent judiciary. Today, the  racist, ultrareligious, ultrarightwing  led by Smotrich and Ben Gvir  threaten those values. If they succeed in changing Israel’s values, I can only question whether the United States should continue to protect it.

Before the war began, many of us did all we could to prevent the racist, ultrareligious, ultrarightwing from taking control of Israel. It looked as though we were being successful, at least for now. Even before the war began, Likud (Netanyahu)’s popularity was dropping significantly in all the polls. Recent polls indicate that Likud’s popularity continues to drop. If elections were held now, the new Prime Minister of Israel would be Benny Gantz (Unity Party), presently a member of the Opposition, but also a member of the war cabinet and supporter of Israel’s military policy in Gaza.

The second basis for terminating a supposedly “iron clad” relationship, the one that Biden does NOT understand, is that “iron clad” must be reciprocal. If it is not, the weaker country will either find a new source of support or, as is more likely in Israel’s case, fight  back with every weapon that it has. Israel is far weaker than the much larger, more powerful United States. Still, for over 50 years, Israel  has been a valuable American ally. In 1973  the United States and the Soviet Union were competing for control of the Middle East. (Those were Soviet Sam missiles which were shooting down Israeli planes near the Suez Canal in the 1973.)  To Nixon and Kissinger, the war in Sinai was as much a war between the Soviet Union and the United States, as it was between Egypt and Israel.

For many years, Israel has shared intelligence with United State Israel has also provided American defense contractors with substantial assistance as they design new American weapons.

Biden’s definition of “iron clad”, does not work. Until he understands that “iron clad” must be reciprocal, his approach to the present conflict between Israel and the United States will be fatally flawed

About the Author
Before making Aliyah from the United States, I spent over three decades as a lawyer in the United States. My practice involved handling many civil rights cases, including women's- rights cases, in State and Federal courts. I handled numerous constitutional cases for the ACLU and argued one civil rights case in the United States Supreme Court. I chaired the Colorado Supreme Court's Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure and served on the Colorado Supreme Court's Civil Rules and Rules of Evidence Committees. Since much of my practice involved the public interest, I became interested in environmental law and worked closely with environmental organizations, including the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). I was on the Rocky Mountain Board of EDF. I received an award from the Nebraska Sierra Club as a result of winning a huge environmental case that was referred to me by EDF. I also developed significant knowledge of hazardous and radioactive waste disposal. I was involved in a number of law suits concerning waste disposal, including a highly-political one in the United States Supreme Court which involved the disposal of nuclear waste. As I child I was told by my mother, a German, Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany, that Israel was a place for her and her child. When I first visited Israel many years later, I understood what she meant. My feeling of belonging in Israel caused me to make Aliyah and Israel my home. Though I am retired now, I have continued my interest in activism and the world in which I find myself.
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