The U.S. administration is exposing Israel to existential peril.
(JNS) For four months, no one could explain the Biden administration’s seeming obsession with forcing Israel to accept responsibility for the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11. Abu Akleh was killed in Jenin during a gun battle between Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorists, with whom she was embedded, and IDF forces. The battle occurred in the aftermath of a spate of murderous terror attacks in Israeli cities that took the lives of 17 Israelis. Nearly all of the attacks were carried out by PIJ terrorists deployed from Jenin.
The U.S. demand that Israel accept the blame for Abu Akleh’s death was strange for several reasons. First, since the Palestinians seized her body and refused to permit Israeli pathologists to examine it or the bullet that killed her, Israel couldn’t conduct a comprehensive investigation.
Second, the U.S. never raised such an outcry about any previous incident in which a journalist was killed during a battle. Why was Abu Akleh’s death worse than the deaths of U.S. journalists in Ukraine? Yet the administration raised Abu Akleh’s death and its demand that Israel accept responsibility at every meeting with Israeli officials since May 11.
The third reason the Biden administration’s behavior was bizarre is that Abu Akleh was with terrorists when she was killed. The PIJ is a wholly owned and operated franchise of Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. As IDF Major General (res.) Gershon Hacohen explained on the Mideast News Hour this week, over the past year, the PIJ has transformed the Jenin area into a Gaza-like terror enclave in northern Samaria. It exerts control over Jenin and all areas of the region. Recently, Iran has funded the formation of joint PIJ, Fatah, PFLP and Hamas terror cells throughout Judea and Samaria.
By condemning Israel for Abu Akleh’s death, the U.S. was casting aspersions on the legitimacy of the IDF’s operations against an Iranian-controlled terror group whose power and reach are growing precipitously.
Finally, the U.S. obsession with blaming Israel for Abu Akleh’s death made no sense in light of her network’s identity. Abu Akleh reported for Al Jazeera. Since its founding in 1996, Al Jazeera has served as the propaganda arm for Islamic terror groups. Its reporting in Israel and the Palestinian-controlled areas is one long record of promotion of Palestinian terrorism and terrorists and the demonization of Israel, Jews and the IDF.
The mystery of the Biden administration’s obsession with forcing Israel to accept the blame for Abu Akleh’s death was solved on Tuesday. The day after the IDF released the findings of its investigation and said that Abu Akleh was most likely killed by IDF fire, the Biden administration reportedly began demanding Israel change the IDF’s rules of engagement in Judea and Samaria.
So, the U.S. pressure in response to Abu Akleh’s death was not about finding the truth. Abu Akleh was seized on by the administration as a means to force Israel to effectively cede control over Judea and Samaria to Iran’s terror proxies.
The American hostility towards Israel’s operations against Iran’s proxies in Judea and Samaria is of a piece with the Biden administration’s overall realignment of U.S. policy in the Middle East away from Israel (and the Sunni Arabs) and towards Iran. This realignment has moved into high gear as the administration works overtime to entice Iran to agree to a new nuclear deal. Take Lebanon, which is controlled by Iran through Hezbollah. The U.S. is pressuring Israel to accept a gas deal with Lebanon that augers strategic disaster for Israel and promises a strategic triumph for Iran.
Since May 2021, the Biden administration has been mediating negotiations between Israel and Lebanon to reach an agreement on the division of their economic maritime zones. Such an agreement will facilitate Lebanon’s plan to conduct natural gas exploration and hopefully production from the Qana gas field, part of which is located in Israel’s economic waters.
The dispute, and the ostensible need to mediate it, emerged because Lebanon rejected the U.N.’s demarcation of Israel’s economic waters and demanded a large portion of those waters for Lebanon. Unfortunately, by agreeing to mediate the dispute, the U.S. legitimized Lebanon’s positions, which are dictated by Hezbollah.
From the outset of the negotiations, while sending its front men in the Lebanese “government” to negotiate with U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein, Hezbollah repeatedly threatened to attack Israel’s gas platform on the Karish gas field if Israel doesn’t bow to its demands. In July, Hezbollah deployed UAVs against Karish multiple times. As negotiations progressed in the summer, Hezbollah repeatedly threatened to blow up Israel’s gas rigs and start an all-out war on the Jewish state.
Rather than walk away from the talks in response to Hezbollah’s threats, the U.S. has used them as a means of forcing Israel to make more concessions to Hezbollah. The administration is so keen to reach a deal—at all costs—that the White House concluded its readout of Biden’s phone call with caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid last week by underlining the importance Biden attributes to reaching a deal. “The president … emphasized the importance of concluding the maritime boundary negotiations between Israel and Lebanon in the coming weeks,” the announcement read.
The strategic implications of both the emerging deal and the fact that it is being negotiated under Hezbollah’s gun are devastating for Israel, and arguably for its partners in the East Mediterranean Gas Partnership—Greece, Cyprus and Egypt. As Tony Badran from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies explained on the News Hour, the administration’s declared goal in the talks is to get money to Lebanon. But since Hezbollah/Iran controls Lebanon, all funds to Lebanon will be controlled by Hezbollah. The administration knows this.
Beyond that, by working to facilitate Iran-controlled Lebanon’s entry into gas exploration and production, the U.S. is paving Iran’s way to becoming an actor in the eastern Mediterranean. This development threatens not only Israel and its regional partners, but U.S. naval operations and U.S. firms engaged in gas exploration and extraction in the region.
Finally, if the negotiations lead to a deal, they create a dangerous precedent of Israel surrendering its sovereign territory under Hezbollah’s gun.
Opposition MKs Yariv Levin (Likud) and Orit Struck (Religious Zionism) have explained that before Israel can accede to the deal now being negotiated, under Israel’s Basic Law-Referendums, it must be passed either by a 75% majority in the Knesset or an absolute majority of 61 lawmakers and a majority of Israeli citizens in a referendum. If the deal is not brought before the Knesset in accordance with the Basic Law, it will have no legal standing in Israel.
The White House’s announcement regarding Biden’s call with Lapid was notable because the ostensible purpose of the call was to discuss Israel’s deep-seated opposition to the nuclear deal Biden and his advisors desperately hope to conclude with Iran. However, the White House’s statement failed to mention the negotiations.
Unfortunately, Lapid’s behavior in the days following his phone call with Biden indicate that the conversation did not impact Biden’s behavior in the manner Lapid had hoped. The Aug. 31 conversation was the leaders’ first since Biden ended his visit to Israel six weeks earlier. In the intervening weeks, news hit of the devastating nature of U.S. concessions to Iran. Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata and Defense Minister Benny Gantz travelled to Washington to try to persuade the administration to change course in its negotiations, only to be denied audiences with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Lapid was finally granted a call with Biden after Mossad Director David Barnea condemned the deal in an on-record press briefing and called it catastrophic for Israel. Israeli officials told reporters the U.S. had misled Israel on its positions.
Barnea was scheduled to brief the full Senate Intelligence Committee this week in Washington on the disastrous implications of the deal for Israel. But on Sept. 5 it was reported that, bowing to administration pressure, Lapid cancelled Barnea’s hearing. Although Lapid denied the report, it is clear that, at a minimum, Barnea’s appearance before the committee was indefinitely delayed. During his meetings this week in Washington, Barnea is not expected to meet with lawmakers.
The current state of play with the administration vis-à-vis the nuclear deal is a disaster because the deal itself poses an existential threat to Israel in three ways: First, it enables Iran to become a nuclear-armed state. Second, it provides Iran with a massive financial windfall—$275 billion in the first year of the deal alone and $1 trillion by 2030—which will give Iran the resources to fund a war between Israel and Iran’s Palestinian and Lebanese proxies that Israel will be hard-pressed to contend with.
Finally, the deal endangers Israel’s survival because it is a testament to the Biden administration’s betrayal of the U.S.-Israel alliance on behalf of Iran.
On Tuesday, Lapid went to an F-35 squadron to deliver a message to Iran. Lapid said, “It is still too early to know if we have indeed succeeded in stopping the nuclear agreement, but Israel is prepared for every threat and every scenario. If Iran continues to test us, it will discover Israel’s long arm and capabilities. We will continue to act on all fronts against terrorism and against those who seek to harm us. As President Biden and I agree, Israel has full freedom to act as we see fit to prevent the possibility of Iran becoming a nuclear threat.”
Lapid obviously inserted Biden into his statement in the hopes of persuading Iran that the Biden administration has Israel’s back. Unfortunately, since administration policies across all fronts communicate the opposite message, rather than projecting strength, Lapid projected weakness.
At this point, for Israel to restore its deterrence against Iran, it must stop bowing to the Biden administration’s pressure. It must reinforce its refusal to accept culpability for Abu Akleh’s death and reject U.S. pressure to change its rules of engagement. Indeed, it should refuse to discuss the issue with administration officials.
Likewise, Israel should walk away from the maritime economic zone talks with Lebanon/Hezbollah. And it should dramatically scale back its intelligence sharing in light of the Biden administration’s pro-Iran policies.
The majority of Americans do not support these policies. Israel’s best move given this state of affairs is to stop enabling the administration to claim that it has Israel’s back when Biden’s actual policy is to stab Israel in the back, exposing it to existential peril.