Israeli Security and the Search for Peace: Why Biden is better for Israel’s security.
by Martin J. Raffel
I believe Trump is bad for Israeli Security. Here is why:
- The United States has been Israel’s reliable friend in the world’s most dangerous and volatile region. It is important always to remember that control of the White House and Congress swings back and forth between the two parties. Therefore, it is vital for American support for Israel to remain bipartisan. Trump has engaged in persistent efforts to make Israel a wedge partisan issue, at times calling the Democratic Party anti-Israel and even antisemitic because of honest differences of opinion about tactics and policy that are routinely debated even by Israelis. This behavior profoundly undermines the resilience of this pillar of American support and hampers the work of AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups.
- Will support for Israel under Trump remain reliable? Not if you ask the Kurds, the courageous people who fought and died alongside American forces in the struggle against ISIS. After one phone call with the Turkish president, without so much as a conversation with his own military experts, Trump precipitously pulled our troops out of the Syrian-Turkey border — a move sharply criticized on both sides of the aisle. Turkish forces promptly invaded the area, killing Kurdish civilians and forcing tens of thousands from their homes.
- The maintenance of Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME) has been a cardinal principle of American administrations for decades. Yet, Trump allowed a $8.1 billion sale of highly sophisticated military equipment to Saudi Arabia — which could adversely affect Israel’s security — without any congressional oversight.
- There were credible arguments both for and against the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA) negotiated during the Obama administration. While Israeli political leaders generally opposed the deal, there were many Israeli military and security experts who favored it. No matter where you stood, there was broad agreement that the deal removed the threat of a nuclear armed Iran for the foreseeable future.
- Trump’s decision to pull out of the JCPOA has shattered the international consensus that the Obama administration had meticulously built over time to confront Iran with economic and diplomatic sanctions. The U.S. is now isolated on this issue in the international community.
- Until Trump pulled out of the JCPOA, the International Atomic Energy Commission had concluded Iran was in full compliance. Since then, Iran has resumed uranium enrichment, which, according to estimates in the June IAEA report, has brought Iran to within 3 to 6 months of “breakout,” the amount of time it would take to produce enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb.
- In addition, since Trump’s action on the JCPOA, Iran’s support for Hezbollah and other terrorist groups has escalated along with other of its malign activities in the region.
- Even some groups that had originally opposed the deal, like the American Jewish Committee, disagreed with the decision to pull out because of its negative effect on the U.S.-European alliance on the issue. Trump’s failure to maintain the international alliance resulted in U.S. inability to get the United Nations to continue the arms embargo against Iran and to implement snapback sanctions against it for violating the JCPOA.
Peace with the Palestinians and Israel’s Other Arab Neighbors
- Israel’s peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan are great achievements. But its long-term security depends on the ability to expand the circle of peace to include the Palestinians and Israel’s other Arab neighbors. Regarding the Palestinians, there is an international consensus that the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that would live peacefully alongside Israel is the best and perhaps only practical formula for maintaining Israel’s dual identity as a Jewish and democratic state. That is why negotiations toward that end have been conducted multiple times during the last two decades. The Trump administration not only has failed to move the parties toward this objective. It has caused serious damage to it.
- The one-sided Trump peace plan, unveiled in the last year of the administration’s four-year term, was developed almost exclusively to align with the positions of Israel’s current Netanyahu-led government. Every Republican and Democratic administration until now has understood the need for the US to maintain credibility with both Israelis and Palestinians and that peace will only be obtained if talks take place between the two parties to the conflict. The plan was criticized not only by the Palestinians but also by much of the international community, largely because it sanctioned Israeli annexation of some thirty percent of the West Bank. Most Middle East observers declared the plan DOA.
- Trump has irreparably damaged our relationship with the Palestinians, including by cutting off assistance and effectively ending all diplomatic relations. Therefore, the leverage we might have had to build on the Israel-UAE agreement to advance the peace process is lost.
- The peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which the Trump administration deserves credit for encouraging, is a welcome development. It is hoped that such agreements will be reached with other Arab states in the months and years ahead. The strategic Israel-UAE relationship, which had been evolving over many years under the radar, is driven primarily by a shared interest with Israel to confront a hegemonic and threatening Shiite Iranian regime.
- The Israel-UAE agreement, apparently, has come with a commitment by the U.S. to sell the UAE America’s F-35 stealth fighter jets, aircraft with powerful offensive weapons capability, something that could seriously erode Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge, a bedrock of U.S. foreign policy with Israel. Security experts believe this could set a precedent making it difficult not to sell these planes to Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. These arms deals have the potential to erode Israel’s deterrent strength. The UAE may be an ally of the U.S. and Israel today. But that does not mean this is necessarily permanent. At one time, Iran was a great ally of the U.S. and Israel.
I believe Biden is good for Israeli Security. Here is why:
- Biden is deeply committed to bipartisan American support for Israel and rejects all attempts to turn Israel into a political football. Described even by his political adversaries as a “mensch,” Biden has a proven decades long track record of bringing Democrats and Republicans together.
- Biden has been in the forefront of reinforcing Israel’s long-term security needs. In his role as Vice President, he was instrumental in securing support for the Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow-3 anti-rocket and missile defense systems that have saved countless Israeli lives. In addition, he helped shape the unprecedented $38 billion ten-year memorandum of understanding for defense assistance to Israel signed in 2016, the largest military aid package in American history. He adamantly opposes conditioning Israel’s military assistance package to changes in Israeli policy.
- The Democratic Party platform, adopted on July 27, is strongly supportive of Israel, reflecting Biden’s moderate centrist approach. The platform language states Democrats believe in a “strong, secure and democratic Israel,” as “vital” to the interests of the U.S. In addition, it expresses an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s qualitative military edge and to the 2016 memorandum of understanding.
- “We oppose any effort,” the [Democratic Party] platform asserts, “to unfairly single out and delegitimize Israel, including at the United Nations or through the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement, while protecting the Constitutional right of our citizens to free speech.”
- The Trump campaign has wrongly argued that a small group of party members who have been vocal critics of Israel represent the “face” of the Democratic Party. Centrist Democrats such as Biden, his running mate Senator Kamala Harris, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and hundreds of other Democrats in Congress have voiced strong support for Israel and do so as perennial speakers at all mainstream Jewish organizations, including AIPAC.
- The Trump campaign also has attacked Biden because the administration under President Obama abstained on a UN Security Council Resolution (2334) that declared Israeli settlements to be contrary to international law. This resolution, which contained no sanctions, was intended to convey to Israel how harmful its settlement activity was to the goal of two states and further
bolstered U.S. credibility as a mediator to both Israelis and Palestinians. The abstention on 2334 did not change the administration’s fundamental policy that permanent borders and the status of settlements need to be resolved through direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
- The strong negative reaction to the resolution is surprising given that many similar resolutions condemning Israeli settlement activity were adopted by the Security Council. After 2334’s adoption, the respected Jewish journalist J.J. Goldberg wrote that since 1981 there had been 29 “blatantly one-sided [Security Council resolutions] criticizing, deploring or condemning Israel and its actions.” Some of those resolutions also characterized Israeli settlements as illegal. In terms of one-sided resolutions critical of Israel endorsed by the U.S. or allowed to pass without veto, 16 took place during Reagan’s administration, seven during Bush the father’s administration, three during Bush the son’s administration, two during Clinton’s administration, and only one during Obama’s administration.
- Biden has made it clear that Iran will not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon on his watch. He is committed to working with our allies to strengthen the JCPOA and mitigate Iran’s other malign activities in the Middle East, including its support for terrorism.
- On Iran, according to the platform, “Democrats support a comprehensive diplomatic effort to extend constraints on Iran’s nuclear program and address Iran’s other threatening activities, including its regional aggression, ballistic missile program, and domestic repression.”
Peace with Palestinians and Israel’s Other Arab Neighbors
- A Biden administration will approach Israel and the Palestinians not as a zero-sum proposition, as Trump has done during his time in office, but rather as win-win. The parties have demonstrated the benefit of a win-win approach through their security cooperation in the West Bank.
- It is likely, given their shared concern about Iran, that Israel and the Arab states will continue to normalize relations in the months and years to come.
- A President Biden, with his deep expertise and decade’s long experience in foreign policy, will be better positioned to build on that trend to advance a parallel peace process with the Palestinians and resolve a conflict that has caused much hardship and bloodshed on both sides.
Kamala Harris is a great choice for VP
- Like Biden, Harris is a centrist on Israel-related matters. She has made several trips to Israel, the first in 2004 under the auspices of the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council. Harris has consistently expressed support for the U.S.-Israel alliance and for Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge.
Martin J. Raffel grew up in Harrisburg, PA, and earned a BA at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. He received his law degree from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and became a member of the Israel Bar Association. Following his return to the U.S. in 1978, he joined the Pennsylvania Bar Association before beginning a career in Jewish public affairs in 1979 at the American Jewish Committee in Philadelphia serving as assistant director to Dr. Murray Friedman. Martin later served as director of the American Jewish Congress in Philadelphia and vice president at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. From 1987–2014, he was senior vice president at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and principal professional on Israel, world Jewry and international human rights. He was instrumental in creating the Israel Action Network, a joint strategic initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America and the JCPA to combat the assault on Israel’s legitimacy.
This is the third part of a four-part series comparing Trump’s presidency to the Biden/Harris candidacy prepared by Democratic Jewish Outreach Pennsylvania (DJOP) board member Martin J. Raffel. Part I dealt with ‘Who is “good” to the United States.’ Part II addressed Jewish Security and Antisemitism. We encourage you to read this material as you contemplate the most crucial election in the history of American democracy. But, please, do not just read it. We need to you to actively use this material in your advocacy efforts with colleagues, friends, and relatives. We encourage and value any feedback you care to share. Thank you.
Stay tuned for…
Part IV — U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and other Shiny Objects
For a comprehensive Trump Versus Biden primer for the Jewish community go to: https://djop.org/2020/08/13/trump-vs-biden-a-jewish-primer/
For detailed information about how Vice President Biden plans to address our country’s challenges, go to: https://joebiden.com/joes-vision/
[My relationship with Israel was first forged in 1967–73 when the Jewish state’s existential vulnerability was evident — first in the Six Day War and subsequently in the Yom Kippur War. Israel was the classic scrappy little David to the Arab world’s Goliath. Over the years, with the growth of Israel’s prodigious military might, the Palestinians became widely viewed as the region’s David and Israel the Goliath. Yet, perhaps because of my earlier experiences, I continue to assess the Middle East through the lens of how American policy will contribute to or detract from a secure Israel, the democratic nation state of the Jewish people, free from the threat of a nuclear armed Iran and at peace with its neighbors. I take this sensibility with me into each election. MR]