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Swords of Iron

Only Biden Can Give Israelis the Fresh Hope They Want

Ami Ayalon & Avi Gil. Israeli propaganda, with a number of Jewish organizations echoing its messages, has invested tremendous effort in presenting the special relationship between the U.S. and Israel as equal. In their view, while the U.S. provides vital aid to Israel, Israel repays it with a solid list of strategic, technological, and intelligence rewards.

The skill of these eloquent speakers, combined with propagandists’ tendency to be the first to be convinced by the logic of their own empty slogans, all but created a narrative in which Washington is dependent on Israel as its “permanent aircraft carrier” in the Middle East protecting its regional interests.

The war that began on October 7 brought many Israelis back to reality, including with respect to our relationship with the U.S. Israel’s need for its assistance – in supplying military equipment, deterring Hezbollah and Iran, and garnering international support – leaves no doubt as to how much Israel depends on the world’s most powerful nation.

The U.S. has remained silent on the relationship’s asymmetry for many years. Jerusalem learned it was free to deride Washington’s positions and took pride in its ability to act inside the U.S. to prevent American interests from being translated into a reality contrary to its wishes.

Israel’s attitude toward the continued occupation and moribund peace talks has been similar. Israel continued cultivating the settlement enterprise over the U.S. government’s protests, contrary to the U.S. strategic interest of moving toward a two-state solution. Benjamin Netanyahu’s provocative speech about Iran to Congress during then-President Barack Obama’s term was symbolic of Israel’s impudence toward its superpower benefactor.

The judicial overhaul awoke the American colossus from its slumber. President Joe Biden refused to extend Netanyahu an invitation to the White House. Senior ministers were shunned. Top U.S. officials strongly criticized the substance of the overhaul, saying it cast doubt on Israel’s commitment to the values of freedom, equality, and democracy.

A careful reading of Biden’s moving speech after the Hamas attacks reveals his love for Israel, but also the boundaries he’s setting for it and the message that its military doesn’t have limitless time and a totally free hand. Biden repeatedly distinguished between the atrocities of a terror organization and the conduct of a democratic nation that must adhere to the laws of war.

The trauma-stricken Israeli public isn’t buying its leaders’ arrogant, self-aggrandizing posturing anymore. Netanyahu has delivered no speech about the war that evoked the trust and emotion that Biden’s did. The more the Israeli public feels its dependence on the U.S., and the more the U.S. demonstrates its devotion to Israel at such a grave time, so grows the U.S. ability to influence Israel and lead the steps that will have to be taken after the war.

Israel’s leaders can name the war’s military goal: destroying Hamas as the governing entity in Gaza, killing its leaders, and destroying its armed forces. But they’re too stunned and divided to set a diplomatic goal.

We can already anticipate the arguments of the proponents of the post-war occupation and annexation of Gaza. They’ll claim all Palestinians are part of Hamas, that “the Palestinian culture” is committed to the murder of Jews, and that Jews won’t be safe unless the military gets full control over the Gaza Strip – and the West Bank, too, of course.

They will doubtlessly claim later that restarting the settlements enterprise in the Gaza Strip will bolster Israel’s security. The political parties to the left of Likud are still stuck in the myth of “managing the conflict” and seem unlikely to demonstrate political courage anytime soon.

The U.S. is the only remaining entity that can elucidate a diplomatic goal for the fighting. Shattering Hamas, if accomplished, would create a historic opportunity to revive the Palestinian peace camp and reignite work toward the two-state solution and sustainable normalization between Israel and the Arab world. This goal requires a credible outline of the diplomatic solution awaiting Palestinians who choose compromise and negotiations.

The U.S. can spearhead an effort to outline this vision with the participation of Arab and European nations and other international entities. For the sake of credibility, the goal needs to be stated from the start: establishing a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel in borders drawn at the beginning. The road to that goal would be long and slow, and it would require the Palestinian side to meet tough performance tests.

Until then, the Israel Defense Forces would hand over control of the Gaza Strip to an international force under U.S. supervision in stages. This force would ensure the security of Gaza and manage the enormous mission of reconstruction, all in close coordination with Israel.

Most Israelis don’t want to reoccupy Gaza long-term and support an agreement that would transfer control over it to the Palestinian Authority. The simultaneous collapse of the “conflict management” strategy and an overwhelming sense of tragedy have created a willingness among the Israeli public to give a dramatic diplomatic initiative a chance. Israelis ache for fresh hope, and President Biden is the one who can outline it and chart the road to its manifestation.

Killing Hamas’ leaders and vanquishing its fighters will not kill the Hamas ideology of hatred. That will require an alternative ideology that advocates reconciliation and compromise with Israel and whose messages to the Palestinian public are viewed as credible.

The U.S. alone has the ability to launch a diplomatic initiative that could positively impact the entire region; in fact, the tragic events have ripened conditions for its feasibility. Biden is holding out his hand in friendship to Israel during wartime. Soon, he will also have to extend a guiding and deliberate hand so that Israel can know peace.

Only thus can an answer be provided to the 19-year-old girl from Be’eri who survived the horror and, in her heartbreak, demanded of us all: “Don’t tell me ‘Iron Dome.’ That’s a Band-Aid. Tell me ‘diplomatic solution.’ You owe that to me.”

Ami Ayalon is a general in the reserves and former head of the Shin Bet security service. Avi Gil was director-general of the Foreign Ministry and is a member of the Jewish People Policy Institute.

Published on HAARETZ