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On its face, there is little that the United States can do to help prevent Israel from destroying itself. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government commands a majority in the Knesset (parliament). But that majority exists only because Netanyahu sought to form a coalition with extremist and ultra-religious parties rather than with centrist parties. Nevertheless, it is not for Washington openly to meddle in internal Israeli politics any more than it was appropriate for Netanyahu to express his clear preference for one American political party over another. Nor is it a matter of desiring that Israel avoid becoming an illiberal democracy, or even a corrupt autocracy, led by a man who would undermine his country’s cohesion in order to avoid criminal conviction.

Instead, it is simply that the United States has a clear security interest in the existence of a strong, stable and democratic Israel. The Jewish State has, until now, been a bastion of stability in the Middle East. It has partnered with Washington in the fight against terror and in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability. It has been a source of investment for American high-tech firms, of advanced equipment for America’s military, and of critical intelligence that America has exploited successfully. America should not passively forego the loss of such assets.

Moreover, Israel’s radical enemies are rejoicing at its current agony. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah boasted that “Israel was once thought of as a regional power that can’t be beaten … its trust, awareness and self-confidence have deteriorated into the crisis it is experiencing today.” Commenting specifically on the Knesset’s passage of a law that would enable it to overrule the country’s Supreme Court, Nasrallah added, “This day in particular is the worst day in the history of the entity … This is what puts it on the path to collapse, fragmentation and disappearance.”

These are hardly words to reassure Washington or the European Union, which a decade ago designated Hezbollah’s armed wing as a terrorist organization. Nasrallah was not speaking for himself alone. He was reflecting the sentiments of his allies, the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas and the mullahs in Tehran. The Biden administration is understandably frustrated as it looks at the Israeli government’s intransigence in the face of massive demonstrations, labour strikes and economic disruption. Biden himself has a well-known soft spot for Israel, yet his warnings to Netanyahu have gone unheeded.

American public support for Israel continues to drop, while the American Jewish community overwhelmingly opposes the government’s plans and has become increasingly vocal in its criticism of Netanyahu’s failure to work in good faith with President Isaac Herzog, a recent White House visitor, to reach a compromise on the future status of the judiciary.

Netanyahu cynically recognizes that his country will receive massive American financial assistance no matter what he does or his government does. Washington will not renege on the 10-year $38 billon military aid program that President Obama signed in 2016. This is the case even though it is clear that in practice, because money is fungible, the American military assistance program lets Israel avoid what otherwise would be additional spending on its own defence and instead divert some of those funds to West Bank expansion.

Despite its seeming lack of leverage over the Israeli government, the White House still has some cards to play, especially with Israel’s military leadership. The Israeli military is the one institution whose mix of personnel most closely mirrors American values. It unabashedly fosters a sense of unity among Israel’s varied and querulous population. The Israel Defence Forces include both the secular and the religious (and, even though few in numbers, the ultra-Orthodox). Its troops are men and women; gay and straight; settlers and those opposed to settlement expansion; Jews, Christians, Druze and even a small number of Arabs. And the refusal of thousands of reservists, including more than 400 Air Force pilots, to serve if the Knesset proceeds with its so-called reforms probably constitutes the greatest threat to their ultimate passage.

Although the first stage of these reforms, the elimination of what has been termed the “reasonableness” criterion, has now become law, its interpretation ironically remains up to the Supreme Court itself; other related legislation has yet to be enacted. American military leaders could informally encourage Israel’s military as well as its intelligence establishment, both of which strongly oppose the evisceration of the Supreme Court, to continue publicly voicing their opposition to the government’s plans.

American defence leaders could also indicate to their counterparts that, while the U.S. might not renege on its military assistance agreements, Washington could take other measures to reduce cooperation between the two military establishments should Netanyahu proceed with his plans. These could include, but not be limited to, fewer joint exercises, a refusal to refill American stocks drawn down from Israeli reserves to support Ukraine’s war effort, and fewer places in American schools for Israelis to receive professional military education.

America owes it to Israel not to stand idle as it wrecks all that the Jewish State has accomplished in the 75 years of its existence. American friendship demands that Washington do whatever it can to prevent Israel’s enemies from realizing their evil ambition to see the state destabilize itself.

Note:  This article was originally published in The Hill on 26 July 2023 and has been reproduced with the permission of the author. Web Link

As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy