Jonathan Tobin
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Jonathan S. Tobinis editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

(JNS) The Biden administration wants us to believe two contradictory things at the same time. Depending on the circumstances or the audience to which President Joe Biden and senior members of his foreign-policy team are addressing, they’re either committed to supporting Israel and in favor of eliminating Hamas.

Except when they’re not.

In just the last week, Biden pledged at a Holocaust memorial ceremony that he would always stand with Israel and never forget what the Hamas terrorists had done on Oct. 7. A day later, he flipped the script.

In an interview with CNN, as he’s done repeatedly in recent months, he adopted some of Hamas’s talking points about Israel indiscriminately killing civilians. He said that if it invaded Rafah—Hamas’s last stronghold in Gaza—“I’m not supplying the weapons.” The alleged motive for this stand was to prevent PalestinianArab civilians from being killed, even though the United Nations has accepted that the casualty figures Washington has been citing are not credible. This would essentially mean that Hamas’s use of human shields would give it impunity for being held accountable for its crimes.

Biden flip-flops

That raised the possibility of a complete arms cutoff to an ally at war against a genocidal foe that—previous statements notwithstanding—the administration doesn’t want to see wiped out. Making good on this threat, a shipment of bombs was not sent to Israel as part of an effort to intimidate Jerusalem into backing off and letting Hamas survive. And when Republicans proposed a bill in the House of Representatives that would essentially force Biden to send the weapons to Israel that the United States had already promised, the president threatened to veto it.

But this week, in a gesture that may well have been intended to stop the bleeding of centrist support for Biden’s re-election campaign, the administration told Congress that it intends to sell more than $1 billion in new weapons to Israel. This sale won’t include the precision bombs and missiles Israel needs to take out the final strongholds of Hamas in Rafah, without which the battle there would likely be bloodier for both sides. But the tactical vehicles and ammunition in this new batch will still be of great use to the Israel Defense Forces.

Much like the U.S. assistance that Israel received when Iran launched missiles against it last month, Biden would appear not to want to leave the Jewish state completely defenseless but also doesn’t want to give it the ability to win wars against its foes or be able to ensure its security.

All of this raises some important questions. Is Biden merely pursuing a vision for Israel’s security that doesn’t include a decisive victory over Hamas in order to pave the way for a theoretical and entirely fantastical hope for peace in the future? Or is what we are observing a slow-motion betrayal of the Jewish state in which America undermines the alliance in stages, rather than all at once, placing it and U.S. interests in the region in grave danger? And how much of what the administration is doing is mere political virtue-signaling intended to aid the president’s faltering re-election campaign?

A toxic yet irreplaceable ally

Administration apologists and their critics can make arguments about how to characterize the situation. But no matter what the conclusion, the mere fact that these questions have to be asked makes it clear that Israel is, at best, locked into a relationship with a superpower ally that cannot be relied upon at present. Even if one is prepared to believe Biden’s protestations about caring about Israel, his political situation has compromised his administration’s willingness to be a faithful ally. Much of his party’s leftist base is ideologically opposed to the existence of the Jewish state and increasingly indifferent to antisemitism. That means the political juggling act the president is attempting to pull off is a gift that keeps giving to Hamas and its Iranian backers, as well as being deeply harmful to Israelis.

As a New York Times article published last weekend stated, the Jewish state may be defiant and prepared to—in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s phrase—“stand alone to defeat Hamas and ensure the security of its citizens. But there’s no denying that it is isolated on the international stage.

Israel has little choice but to go into Rafah. Allowing Hamas to survive—and thereby win the war that it started with an orgy of murder, rape, torture and wanton destruction—would strike a potentially fatal blow to the country’s ability to deter attacks. Indeed, it would almost make certain that Hamas would be able to make good on its pledges to repeat its Oct. 7 crimes over and over again.

But no one, including those who believe that the Biden administration’s damaging stands should impel Israel from seeking more self-sufficiency in terms of arms production, should take the question of Israel’s isolation lightly. While it might be tempting to contemplate seeking help elsewhere, there is no substitute or alternative to the U.S. alliance.

Biden’s betrayal

While Biden was initially supportive of Israel’s efforts, the surge in anti-Zionist and antisemitic agitation on the political left since the Hamas massacres has convinced the White House that a pro-Israel policy could cost the president the votes of many in the Democratic Party come November. That encouraged a Biden foreign-policy team of Obama administration alumni that was already hostile to Israel and still eager to appease its Iranian backers to oppose an outcome in Gaza that would eliminate the terrorists. The result has been a gradual escalation in threats of an arms cutoff that would hamstring the IDF campaign. It would also make a future effort to push Hezbollah terrorists back from Israel’s northern border, which has been rendered uninhabitable by the firing of rockets and missiles from Lebanon, difficult if not impossible to carry out.

Biden’s turn against Israel is about more than just arms and ammunition, or even the pressure he’s exerting to force Netanyahu to accept a prolonged ceasefire with Hamas without even getting all the hostages (including five Americans) back. The threat that Washington won’t veto Palestinian statehood or sanctions against Israel at the United Nations also puts Jerusalem in the position of a vassal state with no control over its own fate.

This ongoing campaign has understandably made many Israelis question the future and value of an American alliance that right now seems predicated on Washington holding the Jewish state’s security prisoner.

Is there another choice?

That dilemma leads to two questions that Israel’s government has to ask itself. Can Jerusalem do anything to lessen its dependence on Washington? And is there an alternative to the alliance with the United States that would give Israel at least some of the benefits that it derives from the current arrangement?

The answers to those queries are a qualified “yes” and an emphatic “no.”

It’s true that Israel can and should increase its manufacturing capacity with respect to arms and ammunition. The last seven months of combat against Hamas have again proved that waging war is an expensive business. The prolonged conflict has strained Israel’s ammunition reserves, as well as its ability to maintain its anti-missile defenses like the Iron Dome. That has given the Biden administration the leverage to second-guess and attempt to micromanage Israel’s post-Oct. 7 offensive to eradicate Hamas.

But Israel is not currently in a position to manufacture major weapons systems like warplanes or anti-missile defenses on its own. That is mostly the result of a consistent U.S. policy of seeking to discourage or prevent Israel from doing so. This is partly motivated by a desire to protect American arms manufacturers; almost all of the assistance is spent in the United States, so it’s as much an aid program for the U.S. arms industry as it is to Israel. It’s also partly done out to keep Israel dependent on its ally. That started with the Reagan administration’s successful effort to shut down production of Israel’s Lavi fighter bomber in 1987 and has continued to the present day, in which the Obama administration’s 10-year commitment to military aid ensured that Israel couldn’t kick the habit so easily.

Friends with benefits

Still, these problems shouldn’t obscure the fact that both Israel and America have benefited enormously from their alliance.

Having the Americans behind them gives the Israelis the backing of a superpower with the world’s most powerful military, access to the most advanced weapons in the world and the diplomatic cover that comes with having a friend with veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

In return, the Americans get access to Israeli intelligence (though not necessarily always reciprocating) and the vaunted Israeli expertise in high-tech and weapons development that improves their defense systems. And no price can be put upon the benefit of having a reliable and democratic ally who shares their values in a region as strategic as the Middle East.

Many in the Biden administration seem to no longer value having Israel or even moderate Arab regimes as allies. Their foolish pursuit of a rapprochement with Iran has done nothing but weaken U.S. influence and sacrifice its interests as well as those of its partners.

Yet as unreliable and even toxic as the relationship with Washington has become, the notion that there is any viable alternative to the United States for Israel is absurd. No other nation—not even a Communist Chinese government that is trying to buy influence across the globe—could give Israel the sort of help that Washington provides. And for all of the problems that come with this relationship, for Israel to seek closer ties with Beijing or Moscow would be to engage in deals with undemocratic and hostile nations that would be far more unreliable and eager to exert undue influence than the Americans. Getting closer to China—America’s chief geostrategic foe in the 21st century—would also raise the danger of alienating Republicans and Democrats alike in the United States.

Israel isn’t alone

That said, Netanyahu need not bend the knee to Biden or obey all of his diktats. He or anyone who replaced him will always want to stay close to the Americans but not at the cost of Israel’s security. As Netanyahu demonstrated when he repeatedly defied former President Barack Obama on issues like Israel’s borders and Jerusalem, Israel can say “no” if it has to.

The reason is that even when relations are at a low ebb, as they are now with Biden, and contrary to that New York Times headline, Israel isn’t really alone or completely isolated. It retains the support of the majority of the American people. And since Biden’s Republican opponents are overwhelmingly pro-Israel, a betrayal of the Jewish state will—left-wing rage about Gaza notwithstanding—cost Biden dearly at the ballot box when he faces former President Donald Trump, who can boast of being the most pro-Israel president in history.

A bipartisan consensus in favor of Israel would be better than the current situation in which the Democrats are deeply divided about the issue. But as long as one of the two major parties remains devoted to preserving the alliance (and most Americans still identify with Israel and rightly regard the Palestinian Arab cause as one inextricably tied to Islamist terror), then there is no need for Israel to desperately seek another ally. Instead, it and its American friends must fight to repair and preserve the relationship.

And as Biden’s most recent gesture towards Israel showed, he knows that a complete betrayal may come at a price he doesn’t wish to pay.