Will the Arabists in the State Department finally succeed in killing the U.S.-Israel relationship?

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters at Ben-Gurion Airport before departing Tel Aviv, March, 22, 2024. Credit: Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

by Mitchell Bard

(JNS) — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his merry band of Arabists must feel like they’re on the cusp of Nirvana as they prod President Joe Biden to ignore his instinct to protect Israel and destroy the special relationship nurtured over the last 75 years. In the tradition of the Arab world, they have played the long game, never giving up the hope that, Inshallah, the partition could be reversed.

Loy Henderson failed. George Marshall failed. John Foster Dulles failed. Wouldn’t you know that it would be Blinken, a Jew, who could be responsible for the unraveling of an alliance rooted in shared values and interests? The Arabists (who also inhabit other departments and include National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan) are trotting out all the shopworn arguments that proved erroneous in the past but are now finding acceptance in the lynch-mob atmosphere. They insist that our relationship with Israel is undermining our national interest, damaging relations with the Arabs, allowing the Soviets (I mean, Russians) to gain strength, impeding peace, provoking terrorist attacks on our troops, and only they know what is best for Israel.

Their case is as spurious today as it ever was. As President Dwight Eisenhower learned after listening too long to Dulles, forcing Israel to withdraw from the Sinai and pinning his hopes on Saudi Arabia for defending American interests in the region, only Israel shares our interests (though they are not always perfectly aligned) and will act on them.

Just as the Arabists wrongly predicted relations with the Arabs would deteriorate as ties with Israel grew more robust, the opposite occurred. Even now, the Abraham Accords are holding firm. Putting their interests ahead of the national interest, the Arabists are trying to sabotage normalization with the Saudis by linking it to a two-state solution that the Israelis, Palestinians, and certainly, the Saudis (and the Jordanians) don’t want. They will never admit that their vision of a Palestinian state is not only unwanted but untenable.

Outside of Syria, where it has a naval base, Russia has made no inroads with the Arab states. What it has done is strengthen ties to Iran thanks to the U.S. State Department’s appeasement of the mullahs. The Arabists want to blame Israel for attacks on U.S. forces by Iran-backed militias because they will never accept that radical Islamists don’t care about Israel; they want to destroy the West to build a global caliphate. Iranians were chanting “Death to America” long before Oct. 7. ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the other jihadis would attack us if Israel disappeared.

Biden is holding the relationship together by his fingernails, as evidenced by his moving from vetoing egregious U.N. resolutions to abstaining from them. Supporting the next one will be one sign that the Arabists have won. Others will be cutting or conditioning aid to Israel while funding the terrorists of the Palestinian Authority and making more concessions to Iran.

Rather than seek regime change in our most implacable enemy, which they have allowed to become a nuclear power — a development with far more severe implications for U.S. national interests than the war in Gaza — they want to destabilize the only democracy in the region. They must be high-fiving after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s recent speech.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is playing into their hands. No, Israel isn’t a banana republic, and he must stand up for his nation and insist on doing what’s necessary to defeat Hamas and Hezbollah, but Israel isn’t a superpower either. Sticking your finger in the eye of the only friend on the planet who matters is not courage but folly. He can’t accept all of the Biden administration’s demands, but he should do everything possible to keep the president’s trust. Pulling stunts like recalling a delegation he told Biden he would send to Washington, which was a step in the right direction, is the act of a 2-year-old having a tantrum, not a wise leader.

Not to say I told you so, but I wrote at the outset that Biden would determine when the war ends, as have his Republican and Democratic predecessors. For those who missed my original column and are unfamiliar with U.S.-Israel history, let me remind you that Biden is not the first president running in a close campaign for re-election during an Israeli war. Harry Truman acceded to Arabist wishes and imposed an arms embargo on Israel. He was more concerned with the Jewish vote than the then-non-existent Arab vote. Still, he wanted the war over and supported ceasefires at, you guessed it, the United Nations.

Eisenhower ended the Suez War and forced Israel to withdraw from the territory it captured by threatening draconian sanctions that included a threat to discontinue all U.S. assistance, U.N. sanctions and expulsion from the world body (the model the Arabists hope to use today). By not requiring anything of Egypt, it also set a precedent of ill-conceived U.S. policy, which, in that case, led to the 1967 Six-Day War.

Lyndon Johnson tried to prevent Israel from going to war in 1967 by imposing another arms embargo and warning, “Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go alone” (Biden gave Israel a similar warning about preemptively attacking Lebanon). Do you think the war lasted just six days because of Israel’s success on the battlefield? Secretary of State Dean Rusk advised the Israelis “in the strongest possible terms” to accept a ceasefire. The next day, they did.

Richard Nixon provided $2.2 billion in emergency assistance when it appeared that Israel might lose the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but this was done more to prevent Soviet weapons from defeating U.S. arms than to defend Israel. After Israel refused to accept a ceasefire and provoked a Soviet threat that put the United States on nuclear alert, Nixon pressured Israel to obey the ceasefire.

Ronald Reagan is generally regarded as one of the most pro-Israel presidents. He also got into fights with the Israeli prime minister. It was Menachem Begin who first used the “banana republic” retort after Reagan suspended strategic cooperation over the annexation of the Golan Heights. The day after Israel destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, the U.S. condemned the attack and suspended the delivery of aircraft to Israel. During the Lebanon War the next year, bogus casualty reports of 10,000 civilian casualties — courtesy of PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s brother — were, like those of Hamas today, also accepted by the media. Reagan was even more upset with Israel over one casualty, a baby that appeared in a photo to have lost both its arms in an Israeli airstrike during the Lebanon War. Too late, it was learned the baby didn’t lose its arms and had been hurt in a PLO attack. Reagan was disgusted, but he didn’t demand that Israel stop fighting until its forces killed more than 300 people in a strike in Beirut.

In the Second Lebanon War in 2006, it was George W. Bush who pressured Israel to accept a ceasefire with the promise that Hezbollah would be disarmed, and a U.N. peacekeeping force would prevent a resumption of war. It was another State Department debacle as the U.N. resolution was ignored and allowed Hezbollah to become the threat it is today, and all but guaranteed a third Lebanon war.

Evidence that Biden is holding the line against the Arabists is that he has continued to provide military aid to Israel, going so far as to circumvent Congress, and remains committed to a record $14.3 billion aid package that is held up by partisan fights unrelated to Israel.

The Arabists tried to prevent partition, hoped to undo it after it was approved, and did everything they could to drive a wedge between the United States and Israel. They see an opening today. Their views have unprecedented support from the Democratic Party. They’ve nearly convinced the president that his re-election hangs in the balance if he doesn’t change policy. The civilian casualties are an excuse for them to try to cut off military aid (they must be apoplectic over the Department finding that Israel is not violating the law in its use of U.S. weapons). They see the United Nations as the place to turn Israel into a pariah, with the world ready to go along and only Biden standing in their way. They believe the two-state solution is their best chance to correct the partition mistake by further diminishing the Jewish national home promised in the Balfour Declaration.

A Washington Post headline and subhead was revealing about Biden: “On foreign policy, Biden’s gut is his guide — The president often rejects the views of aides and experts in favor of his long-honed instincts.” At the gut level, Biden feels empathy for Israel and the Jewish people, and that is preventing the Arabists from winning the policy debate — so far — but the U.N. vote shows he’s wavering. The Post article also said Biden places “singular importance” on his relationship with foreign leaders. Netanyahu might want to keep this in mind.

Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews and After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.