Nancy Pelosi and her husband, Paul Pelosi, arrive at the Vanity Fair Oscar party after the 96th Academy Awards ceremony in Beverly Hills on March 10. Danny Moloshok /Reuters.

As a consequence of October 7, Israel is a traumatized but still resilient country. Until the joint American-Israeli anti-missile response to the Iranian assault on April 14, Israel felt isolated, as its primary ally in the world appeared to be turning its back because of its actions in Gaza as it fought an existential battle against Hamas, Hezbollah, and their patron, Iran.

Will the alliance remain strong after Israel responded to the Iranian attack? President Joe Biden told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “take the win” and not counterattack the Islamic Republic of Iran. Or will the relationship return to the strained status before the attack, as Israel may next be forced to confront Hezbollah in Lebanon? Without American support and resupply, can Israel effectively fight Hezbollah, returning its citizens to the North and regaining deterrence against Iran’s principal proxy?

Statements from the Biden administration and its supporters before the Iranian attack have shocked Israelis as never before. Former House speaker Nancy Pelosi signed a letter written by antisemitic members of Congress calling to end the transfer of weapons to Israel. Biden called for an immediate ceasefire without an explicit linkage to the release of all the hostages, who are continually sexually abused.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Israel may be “indistinguishable” from Hamas, a US-designated terrorist organization, if it doesn’t change its policy concerning civilians. The false charge alleging that Israel as policy targets civilians is a blood libel. I know, having covered all the Gaza wars since Hamas took over. To add insult to injury, the administration is planning to label Israeli goods produced in the West Bank. The BDS movement is not about two states for two peoples, but as their co-founder Omar Barghouti has said, “Definitely, most definitely, we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”

How will this breach in the alliance play out in the North if the now active but limited war turns into a full-scale regional war? There is a limit to how much Israel can acquiesce to American pressure to restrict its activities in the North to avoid a significant conflagration if Israel feels its existential interests are threatened. Israel cannot risk another surprise attack from a more formidable foe on its Iranian northern border or a permanent presence of Hezbollah on the border threatening Israeli communities yards away.

Lebanon is controlled politically and militarily by Hezbollah, a US-designated terrorist organization that follows the Islamic Republic’s direction. What the Supreme Leader says goes concerning significant decisions. Hezbollah has tactical independence, but strategically it will not initiate a full-scale war without Iran’s blessing. Hezbollah is Iran’s insurance policy against an Israeli preemptive strike on Iranian territory, mainly to prevent an attack on its nuclear program.

When I was in Israel on October 6, Israel had one existential enemy: Iran. Today, in the post-October 7 world, the threat of Iran’s proxy armies – Hamas, Hezbollah, Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units, and the Houthis – has dramatically increased Israel’s vulnerability, changing its strategic decisions, especially on its northern border.

What the Biden administration does not seem to get is that Hezbollah, like its mother Iran, is a revolutionary Shiite jihadist movement. It wants to be the leader of the Muslim world, with its goal, the elimination of the Jewish state, no matter how long it takes. This is a foundational principle of the Twelver Shia movement, and not as many foreign policy experts incorrectly assess it as a tertiary goal. That is, in part, why this is existential for the Jewish state. The Center for Strategic and International Studies says, “Destroying Israel has been a part of its core ideology since its founding, and most of its members are sincerely against the very existence of the Jewish state. Hezbollah shares this goal with Iran, which also rejects Israel ideologically and sees it as a threat to the Islamic Republic.”

America and Israel’s current diplomatic crisis is the worst in the Jewish state’s history. Add to that a hostile mainstream American media predisposed against the Jewish state well before October 7 and a US domestic political environment where not only mainstream Democrats but President Biden and top officials, in their recent statements, are critical of Israel’s prosecution of its justified war. The administration places the blame squarely on Israel for negotiating and operational failures, while decreasing the demands on Hamas.

Israel should be concerned that the US will make it pay the price in the North for its conduct in the South by not fully supporting its efforts against Hezbollah, even if Israel thinks a significant military operation will be needed. The quantity and quality of weapons and personnel under the influence and control of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) in the North far exceeds what Hamas possesses. At the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, Biden sent an American aircraft carrier strike force to the region, not so much to show support for Israel but to deter Israel from a preemptive strike on Hezbollah. At the time, some Israeli decision-makers believed a preemptive strike was needed, believing Hezbollah would join Hamas or viewed the attack in the south as an opportunity to deal with the more significant threat on its northern border.

So, will American isolationists in the Republican party, and Democrats from its mainstream to its far left, call for an arms embargo against Israel in a northern war? This is not far-fetched, as there is already a call to end the transfer of weapons to Israel in the South. The visceral anger against Netanyahu has colored all decisions concerning America’s primary ally in the region, who may need to go it alone in the North. The breach of the alliance could become permanent with a significant war in the North.

America has become hyper-sensitized to civilian casualties in Gaza, knowing full well Hamas’s use of human shields. Hezbollah will also use its citizens to its advantage. Alma, the go-to think on the northern border, has documented the positioning of Hezbollah weapons warehouses next to schools, and missile manufacturing sites next to gas companies in civilian neighborhoods.

There is not a town, village, or city in southern Lebanon or Syria where Iranian-supported or controlled proxies are not in civilian homes, near schools, mosques, UN facilities, or hospitals. It will be just a matter of time before the world, and likely the administration, will claim indiscriminate attacks, if not outright claims of genocide. One thing is for sure: if Israel goes to a full-scale war in the North, it will not have 200+ days to achieve its goals.

Suppose diplomacy fails between Hezbollah and Israel, and Israel, by choice or after some game-changing event like a Hezbollah strike on an Israeli school, finds itself in a regional war. Israel must anticipate these possibilities and decide now, not later, what it will need to do to achieve its strategic goals in Lebanon as rapidly as possible.

A tactical victory where Israel conquers the area south of the Litani River will need to be transformed into a strategic victory. Now is the time to decide if it is willing to have a long-term presence of Israeli forces in southern Lebanon or if it plans to withdraw in short order. There is no entity, whether the Lebanese Armed Forces or the UN, to transfer the territory back after a war that will not lead to the return of Hezbollah to southern Lebanon.

Don’t waste the lives of your soldiers unless you know what outcome you want. Selling it to an angry American administration will be even more challenging, knowing that the wrath of Biden will fall on Israel with the death of civilians put in harm’s way.

So, will Israel, to avoid these decisions, accept a token Hezbollah withdrawal 10 kilometers from the border as the Biden administration wants? Will Israel’s 100,000 citizens who have moved from their homes return, knowing they will remain in harm’s way for the long term? Even if Hezbollah moved north of the Litani River, in some places near the tip of Israel’s upper Galilee, near Metulla, the distance from the Litani River to the Israeli border communities is already under 10 kilometers – six miles.

A senior Israeli Middle East intelligence expert told me that Netanyahu is willing to accept the 10-kilometer withdrawal of Hezbollah. He said northern citizens will have to become like the original pioneers of pre-1948 Israel on the northern border, on the front lines against the enemy.

This brings us back to the US-Israel relationship, which is now, at best, challenged or, worse, permanently altered because the Israeli government is now seen as the primary obstacle to American policy in the region. Biden says it’s Bibi, but Israel’s actions in both the South and North would be the same with a new leader – the same song, different singer: Benny Gantz or Yair Lapid.

Israel must learn from its mistakes in the South and think out of the box if the North gets even hotter. It must keep America in the loop, whether it is helpful or not. In retrospect, innovative thinking in the South should have considered starting with Rafah instead of leaving it for the end. Creative thinking will be needed in the North.

Israel waited too long before deciding on a plan to evacuate civilians in Rafah, a self-inflicted wound. It cannot think on the fly in the North for major strategic and tactical decisions. It must prepare now for as many contingencies as possible, both militarily and diplomatically, and act quickly before ammunition runs out and is not resupplied.

No matter what Israel chooses on its Iranian northern border, it must now begin to repair relations with the United States. It is a near-impossible task with Bibi as Prime Minister and Ben-Gvir seeming to be wagging the dog. Fighting Iranian proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq is a much more challenging military theater. If America slows supplies, Israel may be forced to use its stockpiles of non-precision weapons, which will kill more civilians and further breach the relationship.

Most Israelis would prefer elections now and have Netanyahu be the sacrificial lamb if that is what is needed to restore the American alliance and win both wars. However, America should not get involved in Israeli politics during a war or at any time. Israel would first and foremost like Hezbollah to move north of the Litani River as demanded by UNSC Res. 1701. But does anyone believe that Biden’s envoy Amos Hochstein’s diplomacy will be effective, knowing the Biden administration has distanced itself from Israel? If Biden wants to decrease the chance of a northern war, it must convince Iran that it is willing to fully back and restock Israel. Diplomacy will only work if your adversary believes you are willing to use force.

As former Jerusalem Post editor-in-chief Yaakov Katz wrote, “Can Israel extricate itself from this quagmire? Not easily, and probably not under the current government. An early election is part of the answer, but that alone will not solve Israel’s challenges, and anyone who thinks so is fooling themselves. Hamas will see an early election as a victory, and it will not be wrong.” And so will Iran and Hezbollah.

This article appears in the May 13, 2024 edition of The Jerusalem Report.

Dr. Mandel is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network) and Mandel Strategies, a consulting firm for business and government officials in the Middle East, and regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides.

By mepin