Could Israel manage without US support?

Prof. Benjamin Miller credit: Gil Gibli
Prof. Benjamin Miller credit: Gil Gibli

University of Haifa's Prof. Benjamin Miller, an expert in international relations, explains why US support is vital for Israel.

Asked whether Israel could get by without US economic and diplomatic support, Benjamin Miller, Professor of International Relations, and the Director of the National Security Center at the University of Haifa, gives a one word answer - "No." Miller is an expert in world order, war and peace.

Why not?

"Israel cannot work alone. It needs financial aid as well as backing in the international arena from some major power. China and Russia are certainly not partners and Europe is very critical of Israel these days, and sensitive in the humanitarian field. Australia and Canada are also not a real option, because their tendency towards us is similar to that of Europe.

What about India?

"India under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi sympathizes with Israel, because his party, the BJP (right-wing nationalist), is very anti-Muslim. But India has its own problems. It faces challenges in the areas of poverty and infrastructure, and faces conflicts on the borders of Pakistan and China. That's why the thought that India will give us foreign aid is divorced from reality."

India belongs to the bloc of countries called "The Global South" and is somewhere between the democratic-liberal camp and the authoritarian camp in which China, Russia, Iran and North Korea are members. The position of many of these countries, which also includes South Africa, and the Latin American countries, towards the Israel-Hamas war is varied and depends on the orientation of the government.

"One way or the other, Argentina is mired in huge economic problems and Brazil has a new government headed by Luiz Inacio da Silva (Lula), which is left-wing and extremely critical of Israel," Miller says. "And anyway we are not talking about a power in the league of the big powers."

"Saudi Arabia," he continues, "is between the countries in the global south but a very big struggle is going on. What happened in 2023? China mediated between rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia, which seemingly distances Saudi Arabia from the US and brings it closer to the anti-US camp. At the same time, Iran became a major arms supplier to Russia, which strengthened the position of both countries, within the camp.

"The Western response was the normalization talks between the US and Israel and Saudi Arabia. It looked as though it was going to happen, which could have completely changed Israel's position in the Middle East, but then the war broke out on October 7.

What would it be very difficult for us to manage without?

What does the US provide Israel in terms of foreign aid as well as in the diplomatic arena, which we would have a very difficult time doing without? Firstly, there is the defense aid, which in normal times amounts to $3.8 billion annually, about NIS 14 billion (Israel's defense budget, without US aid, is NIS 65 billion annually in normal times.) Also on the agenda today is aid totaling $14 billion to support the war, which has not yet been approved by Congress.

Apart from the two aircraft carriers that the US sent here at the start of the war, to deter Iran and Hezbollah, it has also been frequently supplying Israel with artillery and tank shells and as well as bombs for aircraft. "If the US stops aid in the field of armaments," says Miller, "That's a huge problem for Israel, because it also needs to stockpile weapons in preparation for a possible war against Hezbollah. In such a case, we will need a huge amount of weapons."

No less important than the aid that the US gives to Israel, Miller stresses, is in the use it makes for our benefit of the veto it has in the UN Security Council. Thanks to the US, several resolutions regarding a ceasefire in Gaza were thwarted in the last few months alone. "Since October 7, the US has used the veto three times in our favor," says Miller.

Prior to October 7, it looked like Israel has additional partners in the international arena in China and Russia. Only last June Netanyahu was proud about being invited to visit China by President Xi Jinping.

"That was also another conception that Netanyahu had before October 7 that has been shattered. The conception was that Israel could maneuver between the three great powers - the US, China and Russia - and supposedly benefit from all worlds.

"But after October 7, it became clear to Israel that there is no such maneuverability. China and Russia quickly entrenched themselves in the 'other camp', especially Russia, which even cultivates ties with Hamas. China has a lower profile, because it has extensive economic relations with the US and Europe as well. It also cultivated relations with Israel, because it saw us as a tech powerhouse."

Desire to see readiness for talks with the Palestinians

The harsh statements made by US President Joe Biden in an interview with MSNBC at the end of last week, that "Netanyahu is hurting Israel more than helping Israel,", and that "attacking Rafah is a red line", according to Miller, mark "a significant deterioration in Israel-US relations They signal the US government has lost faith in Netanyahu."

The current situation is a trap for Netanyahu, because as mentioned, without support from the US, Israel is isolated in the international arena, and lacks critical resources for the war. On the other hand, the US's expectations from Israel are to make sure that a humanitarian disaster does not occur in Gaza and to reduce the loss of life from among Gaza civilians.

These, along with the expectation that Israel will plan the "day after" in Gaza together with the Palestinian Authority, will likely have difficulty materializing given Netanyahu's extremist partners in the government. Assuming that Netanyahu is counting on the next US president being Donald Trump, even if he is elected in November, it will be another ten months until he enters the White House.

"If an 'atomic-level explosion' occurs for the US," says Miller, "For example, Israel will enter Rafah despite the ban from the US, and we will see a mass killing of civilians, and the US will therefore stop assisting us with armaments, this would be a huge problem for Israel."

Miller adds, "The entire international community, including China, Russia, the 'Global South' as well as the pragmatic Arab world, are united around the two-state solution within the 1967 borders. In other words, they are united around the desire to see a signal from Israel that it is ready for significant diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

"This serves the US, also in the sense of the American hope that they will be able to disengage from the region. All administrations since Obama have striven to reduce US involvement in the Middle East, because that's what the US public wants to see. It has experienced disappointment with US involvement in past wars in the Gulf and the Middle East."

"Trump doesn't like to give Israel free aid"

Netanyahu expects the return of Trump to the White House but it is not at all certain that the policy that Trump will lead will benefit Israel. In fact, Trump's second term in the White House may be influenced by two opposing forces. On the one hand, the Christian-evangelical audience that is loyal to Trump and numbers tens of millions of potential voters. This public sympathizes with Israel and expresses support for its war against Hamas. On the other hand, Trump supports an isolationist policy, which strives for minimal US involvement in conflicts abroad.

"Already during his first term, Trump showed growing reservations about the NATO alliance and especially about Article 5 in it, according to which members are obliged to mobilize for an ally that is under threat. Trump does not like the idea that the US give, for example, $3.8 billion a year to an ally like Israel, 'for free'.

"It should also be taken into account that if and when Trump enters a second term in the White House, he will replace all the officials with people loyal to him. As a rule, Trump is unpredictable. Everything is personal with him, and is measured according to the way he was treated, or the way he thinks he was treated."

So the bottom line, according to Miller, is that as long as the war continues, and Israel needs the continuation of close relations with the US as an ally, it needs to find a way to "Demonstrate generosity or readiness for a political process with the Palestinians, and this in order to somehow connect with the heart of the moderate Arab world. The combination of the continuation of the war and Trump's election to a second term in the White House could lead to extremely challenging consequences for Israel."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on March 17, 2024.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2024.

Prof. Benjamin Miller credit: Gil Gibli
Prof. Benjamin Miller credit: Gil Gibli
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