President Biden’s first moves in office create impression of US-Israel discord; this could encourage Israel’s enemies to become more aggressive.
Since entering the White House, President Joe Biden is signaling that the Israel-US relationship is not a top priority. On a series of issues, the new Administration’s moves clearly contradict Jerusalem’s position. Israel’s regional rivals are watching this closely.
So far, the president decided to remove Iran’s proxies in Yemen from the US terror blacklist, review the sale of F-35 jets to the UAE, and reopen the Palestinian mission in Washington. The US is also returning to the UN human rights panel, a maliciously anti-Israel body.
The above is only a partial list of steps that seem to please Israel’s rivals while snubbing traditional US allies. Biden has also been slow to make his first phone call to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Some observers view the US maneuvers as a blunt message to Israel and a sign of things to come. Others have downplayed the president’s conduct and argued that he is still a close friend of the Jewish State.
But regardless of Biden’s intentions, he’s sending a dangerous message to Israel’s enemies. Regional players are interpreting the US behavior as a “strategic statement,” Arab affairs commentator Shimrit Meir wrote in Yediot Aharonot daily.
Even if Biden remains committed to Israel’s security, the cumulative effect of his moves creates the impression that Jerusalem can no longer count on strong US support. In the Middle East, where multiple actors are quick to pounce on any sign of weakness, perceptions can quickly turn into belligerent actions.
Lessons from 2006 war
Initial signs indicate that the Iran axis already feels more confident to test Israel. The bombing in New Delhi and Hezbollah’s attempt to down an unmanned IDF aircraft in Lebanon will likely be followed by more provocations and hostile acts, in the region and beyond.
The 2006 Lebanon War is a useful lesson on how things work in the Middle East. Back then, an Israeli prime minister known as a hardliner and tough former general (Ariel Sharon) was replaced by a leader perceived to be softer on defense affairs (Ehud Olmert).
As it turned out, Olmert was an aggressive PM who ordered the IDF to bomb Beirut and destroy Syria’s nuclear reactor. But that realization came in retrospect. In real-time, an emboldened Hezbollah and Hamas were quick to challenge Israel on the battlefield.
Meanwhile, the IDF released its annual intelligence estimate this week, warning that a Hezbollah attack is likely in 2021. This is the first time since the Lebanon war that the group is willing to take the risk of a military clash. If Israel-US ties remain strained, other regional players could follow suit soon.