Israel has been constrained for months by the golden shackles of American support – a Hobson’s choice of the provision of US weapons in exchange for an agreement, essentially, that Israel does not use those weapons for the purpose of vanquishing its enemy. The pressure is intense, originates in the White House and State Department, and has enlisted Israeli politicians such as Yair Lapid to do America’s bidding.

That pressure has also coopted Jewish Democrats who have been quick to turn on Israel under the guise of contempt for Israel’s Prime Minister. Perhaps they are unaware that Israel’s Prime Minister serves because he reflects the views of most of the Israeli public and has a majority in the Knesset. Their contempt is thus for the Israeli voting public – or for Israel itself.

Thus, President Biden first directed Israel not to launch a ground invasion of Gaza and recently has threatened Israel with a variety of sanctions if Israel invades Rafiah, conquers Gaza, and defeats Hamas. Massive pressure, to which Netanyahu has a pattern of succumbing in every way except rhetorically, has led to an interminable delay and possibly undermined a chance for victory. The pressure always includes carrots and sticks and sounds so plausible that leaders are often enticed to act against their own country’s interests in deference to this pressure.

This week’s tiptoe incursion into Rafiah will likely lead to Hamas demanding a cease fire, dangling the hostages as bait, hoping to save itself and win the release of thousands of murderers so as to better murder and abduct more Jews in the future. A better negotiating tactic for Israel would be hardball: every hostage released in exchange for a temporary cease fire – and nothing else. We should not exchange innocent citizens wrongly held in violation of international for terrorist murderers rightly held because of their enthusiastic murder of Jews. The alternative for Hamas is their immediate destruction.

We should not play their game nor should we negotiate ourselves into a defeat, regardless of American pressure.

History teaches us that succumbing to American pressure is often unwise and occasionally fatal.

In 1946, Chiang Kai-shek, leader of Nationalist China, began a military campaign to defeat the Communist insurgents, led by Mao Zedong and General Lin Biao. The Communists were situated in mineral-rich Manchuria in the Mainland’s northeast. Within a month, the Communists were routed from southern Manchuria, and prepared to abandon the major city of Harbin, the key to the security of northern Manchuria. They were utterly desperate, but with Chiang’s army poised to enter Harbin, he suddenly stopped. His army never again advanced.

“What explains Chiang’s action? In two words: American pressure” (“What If?” edited by Robert Crowley, pages 379-380). General George C. Marshall, then the US Special Envoy to China having finished his service of Chief of Staff during World War II, coerced Chiang into halting his advance and abandoning this battle. Why? One reason, eerily similar to today, is that Marshall and other American leaders detested Chiang, and did not want him to succeed.

It is more reasonable to suggest that Marshall did not want to provoke a conflict with the Soviet Union which was supplying and supporting the Communists, and Marshall naively suggested that Chiang form a unity government with the Communists. That never happened, but Chiang unhappily agreed to stop his assault, later calling his failure to pursue this invasion the worst mistake he ever made in dealing with the Communists.

Eventually, the Communists regrouped, rearmed, and began a guerilla campaign against Chiang’s forces. Nationalist China suffered a major defeat in 1948 – that year should sound familiar to us – and by 1949 Chiang and his forces were completely driven off the mainland and established their political center in what today is called the island of Taiwan. By heeding Marshall, Chiang forfeited the greatest opportunity he had to defeat Mao and end the Communist insurgency.

By that time, of course, Marshall was gone from office, and even his brief tenure as Secretary of State was over, characterized by a fanatic opposition to an independent Israel which to him also seemed like a reasonable policy. Marshall even threatened to vote against President Truman in the 1948 election – and publicize that he would do so – if Truman recognized Israel. Truman did, Marshall didn’t, and so much for idle threats. Marshall may have had a great Plan, but he was often wrong on global strategy.

The ramifications were profound. Counterfactual history is always tantalizing and other factors could have intervened and produced unforeseeable outcomes. But if the Communists had been driven from China with Mao defeated, there would have been no Korean War; Kim Il Sung was energized by the Communist victory to invade South Korea a year later. There would have been no Vietnam War; absent Communist Chinese support, Ho Chi Minh could never have invaded South Vietnam. Without a Communist China, the Cold War would have had a completely different complexion – and without those wars, American society would not have deteriorated into an angry assortment of warring factions distrustful of their government.

And all because of American pressure that thwarted Chiang’s advance into northern Manchuria and the defeat of the Communists.

Where does that leave Israel today? The Americans (the State Department and even for a time Harry Truman) pressured Israel not to declare statehood. Israel did anyway, and Israel still flourishes. The Americans pressured Israel not to launch a preemptive strike in 1967 on the eve of the Six Day War. Israel did anyway and won a great victory. The Americans pressured Israel to withdraw from Sinai (in 1956 and then again in 1979). Israel did and we are paying the price for that today. The Americans pressured Israel not to destroy the Iraqi nuclear reactor. Israel did anyway and in retrospect spared the world a nuclear nightmare. The Americans are now pressuring Israel to acquiesce in the survival of the terrorist entity that committed atrocities against it, and then agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state that would reduce Israel, now roughly the size of New Jersey, to roughly the size of Delaware, Biden’s home state.

The list of American pressure ignored goes on but the point is clear: the United States generally operates according to the perception of its own interests, and that is how it should be. When American and Israel interests converge, it is good for the world. When they don’t, then Israel, like any self-respecting country, should operate in line with its own interests.

Sure, American supply of armaments is important but Israel has enough of its own weapons to wage a quick and decisive war, especially without the restrictions hypocritically applied only to the conduct of Israel’s wars and to that of no other country. Bear in mind that the Iron Dome, for example, is a technological marvel, but essentially a defensive system that accepts the enemy’s launching rockets and missiles against our civilians. That should be unacceptable – and the appropriate defense should be the eradication of those who are firing the rockets and missiles rather than the projectiles themselves.

We have for too long accepted this ridiculous situation because of our technological prowess. We should tolerate it no longer, which then renders impotent the American threat to stop replenishing the Iron Dome.

Note that Israel has stayed its military might to protect the not-so-innocent civilians of Gaza, presumably to avoid international recriminations. As should have been anticipated, Israel’s invasion was thus blunted, less effective than it could have been – and the international recriminations have come anyway, fast and false, furious and spurious. The battles to come should prioritize the lives of our soldiers.

The broader problem is that Israel has long been slow in adjusting to shifting alliances. Our diplomacy refuses to acknowledge that Turkey is today an avowed enemy of Israel, and one of the most vehement in the world, simply because Turkey was once an ally. America’s interests are usually aligned with Israel’s but not always, and such should be remembered as well.

Almost twenty-five years after Marshall’s misguided advice to Chiang Kai-shek, the United States finally abandoned Taiwan and recognized Communist China as “China.” Since then, the Americans have tap-danced around their relations with Taiwan – calling it “strategic ambiguity” – and currently leaving Taiwan exposed to the predations of the Communist China. Would the US intervene to save Taiwan? If there was an invasion, there would likely be passionate threats hurled at China along with demands that Taiwan exercise restraint, de-escalate, and rely on diplomacy to ward off (or accept) its demise.

America’s foreign policy does change because the personalities in charge of it change. South Vietnam was cajoled by the US into accepting a flawed treaty that left North Vietnam on its territory, the Shah of Iran was abandoned which led to the takeover of Iran by radical Islam that imperils the world today, and the surrender of Afghanistan to the viciousness of the Taliban is still fresh in our minds. All were American allies – until they weren’t. All accommodated American pressure and all paid the ultimate price for it.

There are other examples as well. Israel would be wise to act in its own interests and destroy Hamas, which at this point, for whatever reason (perhaps electoral, perhaps because of the continued flirtation with Iran, perhaps anti-Jewish animus in certain circles, or perhaps some combination of all three) is not America’s or at least Biden’s interest.

In President George W. Bush’s letter to then PM Ariel Sharon (April 14, 2004), and grateful for Sharon’s impending expulsion of Jews and withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, Bush wrote: “Israel will retain its right to defend itself against terrorism, including to take actions against terrorist organizations. The United States will lead efforts, working together with Jordan, Egypt, and others in the international community, to build the capacity and will of Palestinian institutions to fight terrorism, dismantle terrorist organizations, and prevent the areas from which Israel has withdrawn from posing a threat that would have to be addressed by any other means.”

With the passage of years, and despite the obvious obtuseness and catastrophic harm of Sharon’s plan, according to the Biden administration, Israel’s “right to defend itself against terrorism” is limited, not retained, and the US is not leading any effort, international or otherwise, to “dismantle terrorist organizations,” especially Hamas which on last October 7, murdered, kidnapped, raped, and wounded thousands of Israelis. The “areas from which Israel” withdrew have posed a threat to Israel since Israel withdrew. It is all words, empty but soothing words.

So much for presidential promises, in fulfillment of the verse in Psalms (146:3): “Do not put your trust in princes,⁠ in a human being, for he has no salvation.” The United States can weather its bad policy choices; it is big country protected by two oceans. It rarely pays any price for its diplomatic follies. That price is paid by its erstwhile allies pressured into acting against their own interests.

We the people, and our leadership, are forewarned.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, Esq. was a pulpit rabbi and attorney in the United States and now lives in Israel where he teaches Torah in Modiin and serves as the Israel Region Vice-President of the Coalition for Jewish Values and the Senior Research Associate for the Jerusalem Center for Applied Policy.