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Martin Kramer
on Israel and the Middle East
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Israel must never stand alone

A small, isolated country invites aggression; to deter it, forge strong alliances. And then call upon those powerful allies to defeat human evil
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Israeli politicians often assert that Israel can and will “defend itself by itself,” a longstanding formula dating back decades. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeated it often. But he’s added an amplification: Israel will do so “even if we must stand alone.”

From here, from Jerusalem, on the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, I send a message, loud and clear: ‘You will not tie our hands.’ If Israel is forced to stand alone, we will stand alone, and will continue to smite our enemies until we achieve victory. Even if we must stand alone, we will continue fighting human evil.

This is borrowed from Winston Churchill, specifically his “We Shall Fight on the Beaches” speech in the House of Commons after Dunkirk in June 1940. There he said Britain would fight “to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone.”

Netanyahu isn’t the first leader to steal a phrase from the incomparable Sir Winston. But it’s a very partial crib, as Churchill said more in that speech, and it’s the forgotten part that is more relevant.

No sooner had he spoken of fighting “if necessary alone” than he began to name allies: “The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their strength.”

And then this:

We shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas… would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.

When Churchill aimed to raise the morale and stiffen the resolve of the British people, he promised more than blood, toil, tears, and sweat. He also promised the support of allies. When he wanted to warn Hitler against an invasion, he alluded to American intervention. The speech is about the courage to fight—and the value of alliances, especially with America. America had “power and might,” and it would come to “rescue” and “liberate” Britain.

The only friend that counts

In his Holocaust Day speech, Netanyahu said: “We know we are not alone because countless decent people around the world support our just cause.” But this is anemic. Countless people, decent and otherwise, also support the Palestinian cause. And the question isn’t whether your friends can or can’t be counted; it’s whether they are strong enough to help you stand up in a crisis. As with Britain, so with Israel, that friend is the United States.

Since October 7, Israel has not stood alone for a moment. In the direct channel, there has been a U.S. airlift of thousands of tons of war materiel, the largest since 1973. Dozens of U.S. C-17s and 747 cargo planes have shuttled in and out of Israel from U.S. bases around the world: Dover in Delaware, and bases in Germany, Qatar, Spain, Italy, and Greece. More than half of the munitions in this war have come from the United States. Looking ahead, Congress has appropriated $14 billion in special military aid to Israel.

Regionally and internationally, the United States has deployed its premier naval assets to Israel’s shores and the Red Sea approaches to deter both Hezbollah and Iran. It played an indispensable role in coordinating the region-wide blunting of the Iranian barrage on Israel on April 13. Additionally, it has provided a diplomatic firewall for Israel in hostile international forums and wavering capitals.

Has there been a grinding of gears in the U.S.-Israel relationship? Obviously. But as Churchill once put it, “There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them.”

The wrong lesson

Israelis often say that the lesson of the Second World War is that, since no one stepped up to save the Jews during the Holocaust, the Jewish state must be prepared to fight alone. This past Holocaust Day, Netanyahu quoted a Holocaust survivor who told him that “gentiles (goyim) who make promises are not to be trusted.”

These heroic survivors are right. In the terrible Holocaust, there were great leaders in the world who stood by, so the first lesson of the Holocaust is this: If we don’t protect ourselves, no one will protect us.

But Israel is more similar to the states of pre-war Europe—Czechoslovakia and Poland, Belgium and Holland, even France and Britain—than to the stateless Jews who perished. Like Israel, these states had sovereignty, armies, industrial bases, weapons factories, and even fleets. However, they lacked strong, committed allies, so Nazi Germany either overran them or, in Britain’s case, bombed them relentlessly.

Their lesson from that war wasn’t that “we will continue fighting human evil even if we must stand alone.” It was that you must never stand alone. If you want to defeat human evil, you must rely on powerful allies. The combination of smallness and isolation invites aggression; strong alliances deter it. Today, these states are all embedded in an alliance system centered around the United States.

Leave no doubt

Israelis are a proud lot, and with good reason. Israel has the size and population of New Jersey. If you dropped New Jersey on the far shores of the Eastern Mediterranean, it might struggle to survive. Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are right to admire a Jewish state that has held its own and more for seventy-six years.

But it’s time for its leader to stop talking like a Holocaust survivor and act like what he is: the head of a sovereign but small state whose job is to leave Israel’s enemies in no doubt that the Jewish state will never stand alone. To even suggest that “the gentiles” might shun it is an invitation to ceaseless aggression. Any leader who errs there should be left by the Israeli people to fight for his own political survival—alone.

About the Author
Martin Kramer is a historian of the Middle East at Tel Aviv University and the Walter P. Stern fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
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