When Antony Blinken visits Jerusalem this week for the first time as US secretary of state, Israel must convey that American actions, statements and omissions are having an outsized influence on the stability of this region.
After Palestinian rioting broke out in Jerusalem in early May, a conversation took place between US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat. Hamas’s interpretation of that conversation likely encouraged the terrorist group to pull the trigger on its opening salvo of the war: firing missiles at Jerusalem. They were likely encouraged when even after Hamas shot rockets at Jerusalem, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki meekly commented, “We are continuing to closely monitor the violence in Israel. We have serious concerns about the situation, as the national security advisor condemns the expulsion of Muslims from their homes, and we also condemn the launching of rockets into Israel.”
This comparison between legal proceedings taking place in a court of law and shooting missiles at civilians was outrageous, morally repugnant, and only emboldened Hamas. State Department spokesman Ned Price’s comments that the US “condemns the rocket barrages, supports Israel’s right to defend itself, and calls on all parties to restore calm,” continued the moral relativism as he partially blamed Israel for the violence and wanted Israel to restrain its response irrespective of the assessment of Israel’s own military leaders.
“Both sides-ism” from the Biden administration is a boon to Iranian proxies in Gaza who instigated and prosecuted the war. Iran and Hamas understand that Israel no longer enjoys the same American political support that helped keep the peace in recent years. And they plan to make the most of this perceived distance.
Regardless of what one thinks about the previous presidency, Hamas didn’t have the temerity to act in such a violent and reckless manner from 2017-2020. Israel’s adversaries knew the United States stood with Israel and that the Jewish state would have firm political and diplomatic support if attacked. They certainly don’t think that way now.
And why should they? At the same time that Hamas was firing barrages of deadly rockets at Israeli cities, causing her citizens to sprint toward the nearest bomb shelter, President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he was “done kidding around and Israel needs to finish it.” Biden knows full well that the reason whey Israel hadn’t “finished it” was merely because of Israel’s concern for the Gaza civilian population, which forced Israel to tolerate millions of her citizens scrambling to bomb shelters – hardly a joking manner. If only Biden would be that candid with Iran.
IN ADDITION to reentering the Iranian nuclear deal, or JCPOA, the Biden administration’s other Middle East foreign policy priority is resetting US relations with the Palestinian Authority. And while Hamas and Fatah remain potent rivals, the administration has chosen to return to the rut that criticizing Israel is necessary to placate the Palestinians. This is not only poor diplomatic strategy but it is morally repugnant. There can be no comparison between Israel and Hamas, no shared responsibility for the situation. In the Middle East, an interpretation of non-support or indecisiveness leads to instability. The new administration is not to blame for the situation, but it must be aware of the consequences of its positions and how they are perceived in the neighborhood.
It is hard to imagine a simpler conflict with which to unambiguously support Israel than the current one. Hamas resorted to a playbook that they have employed multiple times in the recent past, using Palestinians as human shields from which to shoot missiles at Israeli civilians and then – with the help of the Western media – blamed Israel when civilians were killed. Hamas’s desire for casualties with which they gain international sympathy is bolstered by the report that one in four Hamas rockets actually landed in Gaza, allowing them to blame Israel for self-inflicted wounds.
President Biden has spent four decades in public office, during which he regularly demonstrated a high degree of sensitivity toward Israel’s needs. Yet he has also retained much of the Obama foreign policy team that was widely viewed – correctly – as hypercritical of Israel.
What will Biden’s overall approach to Israel be? If it is anything like his administration’s ineffective response to Hamas’s war on Israel, we are in for four years of instability and violence. President Biden should learn an important and simple lesson from the past few weeks: When the United States puts “daylight” (as President Obama said) between itself and Israel, the result is not an opening of diplomatic possibilities, but a perception from bad actors in the region that the time is ripe to attack. For the sake of Israelis and Palestinians alike, we hope President Biden learns this lesson, and soon.
Oded Revivi is the mayor of Efrat and served as a lieutenant-colonel in the IDF.