Sherwin Pomerantz

The 222nd day of war in Israel

A report in today’s New York Times indicated that the Biden administration has told Congress that it intends to move forward with a plan for the United States to sell more than $1 billion in new weapons to Israel, according to three congressional aides familiar with the deal. The notification of the sale, which would include new tactical vehicles and ammunition, comes as President Biden has withheld a shipment of bombs to Israel, hoping to prevent US made weapons from being used in a potential invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah. Last week, Mr. Biden said he would block the delivery of weapons such as bombs and missiles that could be fired into the densely populated area where more than a million Palestinians are sheltering.

Regarding the seeming flip/flop in how the US has approached Israel since October 7th, Dr. David Wurmser, an American foreign policy specialist whom I had the honor of meeting in Washington some years ago, is a Fellow at the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy. He served as Middle East adviser to former Vice President Dick Cheney.  In an article online at JNS (Jewish News Service) he wrote that it is well known that the State Department is more “Arabist” than pro-Israel. But over the last several decades, State Department officials’ real motivation has been to exercise control. Proud, powerful nations like Japan and India often complain about this, as do many other countries.

The State Department’s desire for control is not very ideological. It is largely based on two factors. First, the US foreign service has looked up to the British Foreign Office, which traditionally put a premium on maintaining control over the British Empire, for over a century. Second, the Cold War and the US’s global policy of containment demanded alliance discipline.

Thus, all State Department polices offer a “grand bargain” to US allies, including Israel: Surrender some or most of your defense sovereignty and freedom of maneuver in exchange for US protection. The promise of superpower backing is difficult for any nation to dismiss. So, the “grand bargain” became the hegemonic modus operandi for the State Department’s relationships with US allies. How does this explain the US shift from overwhelmingly friendly to Israel in the aftermath of Oct. 7 to overtly hostile?

To a State Department official, losing control over US foreign policy and the policies of foreign governments is the most unnerving prospect imaginable. A State Department officer will often seek to maintain or reassert control by championing a policy or nation he himself does not like so that control, usually through drafting the resulting policy, falls to him.

Wurmser claims to have seen this in action first hand. Whenever the NSC’s Principals Committee – composed of the relevant cabinet-level officials minus the president – displayed a strong policy preference, State Department officials would rapidly adopt policies they abhorred in order to be tasked with drafting the policy. They could then slowly manipulate the policy back to their preferred position.

For example, in a 2003 Rose Garden speech, then President George W. Bush clearly stated that the United States could not deal with any Palestinian leadership tainted by terror or corruption. By 2004 to 2005, this had become the “Roadmap for Peace,” a plan to build a Palestinian state around the corrupt PLO and Mahmoud Abbas.

Bruce Reidel, the NSC’s senior director for the Middle East at the time, had given the task of drafting this policy to none other than Bill Burns, who was then the assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, and his team. Wurmser saw this same phenomenon take place on Iran policy in 2003 to 2004, though he cannot write about this in detail because it remains classified. So, what happened regarding Israel?

Basically, the consensus in Israel that the US government was emotionally, materially and, most importantly, conceptually on Israel’s side after Oct. 7 is wrong, according to Wurmser. In fact, he believes that the Biden administration never abandoned any of its Oct. 6 delusions. Quite the opposite: It saw the possibility that Israel would demolish the paradigms on which US policy’s house of cards is built as a major threat. The administration was terrified that Israel would take actions that demolish the “two-state solution” paradigm that involves a PLO-run Palestinian state. It also feared that potential Israeli escalation against Hezbollah and then the Houthis would threaten the paradigm that holds that the United States must reach a regional strategic condominium with Iran.

At the same time, the Biden administration understood that Israel had been deeply wounded and thus was likely to lash out, preempt and act decisively and uncontrollably. As a result, the administration’s immediate policy imperative became how to re-establish control over Israel’s actions. True to State Department tradition, it decided to co-opt Israel – to act more pro-Israel than Israel. Wurmser says this was intended to win confidence and establish influence over Israeli actions, and then, over time, slowly bend Israel back into the paradigm.

Wurmser concludes by saying that a reasonable argument can be made that President Joe Biden himself acted out of friendship. In fact, he probably did. But, he says, those living in Washington have seen for years that conclusions cannot be drawn from any presidential statement under this administration until one sees how the State Department and NSC spokesmen clarify it as real policy. Often, they do so in direct contradiction to what the president said.

Indeed, former White House Spokesperson Jen Psaki once famously said that one should wait for the administration’s spokesperson to tell you what official policy is rather than rely on what the president says. In other words, Biden is not the prime shaper of operational policy.

Unfortunately, in Wurmser’s view, we here in Israel – both left and right – never appreciated that the administration’s initial embrace was never genuine. It was designed to place a warm blanket over Israel so we would calm down, pause and return to controllable strategic dependency.  Could be that this is the most logical explanation to what has confused so many of us about the US position in this war.

On the northern front, one person was killed and five more injured in northern Israel Tuesday after Hezbollah terrorists operating out of southern Lebanon fired an anti-tank missile across the border, hitting Kibbutz Adamit in the Western Galilee. A civilian was fatally injured in the attack. Initially listed as being critically injured, the civilian victim later succumbed to his injuries. Five IDF soldiers were injured in the missile attack as well, with one listed in moderate condition and the remaining four in light condition. Hezbollah claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack, saying that an IDF “spy balloon” and the control center used to operate it in Adamit were targeted. The terror group later released photographs and video purportedly showing the downed IDF observation balloon, which Hezbollah said had crashed on the Lebanese side of the border after being shot down.

Regarding the Rafah Crossing from Gaza to Egypt, a recent article in UK publication The Guardian states that “A network of brokers, based in Cairo, helping Palestinians leave Gaza has operated around the Rafah border for years. But prices have surged since the start of the war, from the original $500 for each person.” The Guardian interviewed a number of Palestinians who have been told they would have to pay between $5,000 and $10,000 each to leave the Gaza Strip, with some launching crowdfunding campaigns to raise the money. A Palestinian living in the UK was quoted as saying: “People are making money off the misery of others. They’re desperate to get out to save their lives and instead of helping they’re trying to make money. If there’s a way to get people out, then why not just help?”

A company owned by an influential Egyptian businessman and ally of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was making about $2 million a day from Palestinians fleeing the Gaza Strip, according to the Middle East Eye (MEE), a UK-based news website, in an article published on May 1, 2024.  “Hala Consulting and Tourism Services, a firm owned by Sinai tribal leader and business tycoon Ibrahim al-Organi, has been charging Palestinians crossing from Gaza’s Rafah to Egypt at least $5,000 per adult and $2,500 for children under 16. It has a monopoly on providing transfer services at the Rafah crossing, the only Gaza exit not bordered with Israel and the single route out of the coastal enclave for Palestinians.” In the past three months alone, the company is estimated to have made a minimum of $118 million from desperate Palestinians trying to leave the Gaza Strip, according to MEE. So much for the Arab world’s concern for the Palestinians.

So the war continues amid the hope that we will be able to achieve our objectives and see the remaining hostages released as well. May it be soon.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.