An effective strategic plan combines military strength, political leadership, and diplomacy. Having written much about Israel’s security, intelligence, and defensive challenges, I wanted to highlight the diplomatic perspective concerning the US-Israel relationship, Israel’s situation today with wars in its North and South, and ask: What is Israel’s future So I reached out to my friend and colleague Danny Ayalon. He was Israel’s ambassador to the US in the early 2000s, when the relations between the countries were rock solid. In those years, Israel was in terrible economic straits due to the Second Intifada. The highlight of the alliance during his time in office was the exchange of letters between US President George Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which memorialized the reality that Israel was not expected to return to the indefensible Armistice line of 1949 (1967 borders). That lasted until 2016, when president Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry orchestrated a betrayal of Israel at the UN Security Council, labeling all Israeli communities over the line, in effect, illegal – including the old Jewish quarter of Jerusalem.

How concerned are you about the diplomatic breach between the US and Israel?

In recent times, it has had its ups and downs, but in general, I am not concerned because there is a natural alliance between the US and Israel. This alliance is more significant than who is in the White House or the Prime Minister’s Office at any given time — the importance of the US to have a strong Israel, regardless of who is sitting in Jerusalem. We have to remember that having a strong Israel is in the interests of the US. Israel is the main element for stability in the region, which was unfortunately shaken up by [the events of] October 7. To reestablish it, we need the unshakable support of the US militarily and diplomatically, with the US ability to use its veto in the UN, an essential diplomatic umbrella. Do too many Americans see the relationship as a one-way street? It depends on their experience. If they are seasoned enough, they understand and appreciate Israel, especially when it comes to the military brass in the Pentagon. Not all of the State Department understand, but when they drill down and get hands-on experience, they will appreciate it as well. On the other hand, Congress understands it very well; from the Foreign Affairs Committee to the Defense Committee, Congress sees the benefits of the US-Israel relationship.

After witnessing the pro-Hamas protesters on college campuses and the rise of the anti-Israel wing of the Democratic Party, are you worried about the next generation of American leaders?

Absolutely. The generational shift is very challenging. When the young hearts and minds are exposed to an onslaught of incitement and brainwashing by Islamists and progressives, who are not only anti-Israel but anti-American, I see them as anarchists – manifested with violence on campuses, not just burning Israeli flags but US flags as well. So yes, there is a concern about the younger generation. But I do believe a lot can be done, starting with the Jewish community in the US.

What should Israel do better?

We in Israel should not have a battle of narratives. There is one truth, and the Israeli government has been remiss by not having a very concise and pointed message; which means the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, as the Jewish people belong to the Land of Israel. That does not mean we are not willing to share it. We are the indigenous people, and this is our home. People do not understand, and they try alternative narratives. I think we have a structural disadvantage because the Palestinians have one message, and they have no problems lying and repeating the lie. And anyone who speaks against the PA or Hamas will find themselves in jail or dead. In Israel, which is a vibrant democracy, you have an opposition and a press that is attacking the government, and even within the government, which is a coalition government, there are a lot of different messages. So, instead of the Europeans appreciating our democracy, they use it against us. And so we have a structural disadvantage, which can only be improved with a concise and laser focused message repeated over and over again. And, of course, to build a network of support because we see the Palestinians have their network, evidenced bythe protests on campuses, which were not spontaneous. You saw the same messages in the US and Europe, so they were very well prepared and well funded, and we should have our own network. We cannot fight the Palestinian network without having our own network of support. And, of course, we have Jews in the US, and evangelicals. In the US, there is a lack of Israel offering information in context, and the Prime Minister’s Office has failed to create an effective network.

Should Israel’s plan over time be to develop more independence of the US, phasing out the MOU (memorandum of understanding) and finding other supply lines so that the relationship is more even-handed?

Absolutely. Israel moved production lines to the US, as it was easier and financially advantageous for munitions because the defense aid made moving production to the US cheaper. Moving production back to Israel and weaning ourselves from dependence would be very important. The Israeli economy is strong enough that we do not need to rely on the defense aid we have relied on for the last two decades. We can do that. It would command so much more respect from the American people and Congress. It reminds me of when Prime Minister Netanyahu, in 1996, in his first term, spoke to a joint session of Congress, and he said Israel should do away with civilian aid. We received $1.2 billion in civilian assistance and $1.8 billion in military aid. Israel gave up all the civilian aid. Twenty years later, we should initiate by ourselves that we do not need military financial help now and that we should buy it outright with our own money from our American allies. We should preempt the situation before a future US president initiates it himself. It should be remembered that the US has also had the defense cooperation because Israel’s effective use of US equipment has, in essence, promoted the sale of US military equipment to other nations, seeing how effective it is. We also aid in upgrading the US equipment, which benefits the US.

Polls show that the majority of Palestinians support October 7. How can Israel trust any Palestinian entity in the near future? Is the US demand for a Palestinian state a reward to Hamas?

The American pressure for a Palestinian state has been counterproductive. Any daylight between the allies makes the price of negotiations much higher. We know from the past that the most effective thing to bring Palestinians to the negotiating table is that there is a strong alliance between the US and Israel and that they know they cannot get any advantage or concessions in advance. It is so preposterous that three EU countries that recognized a Palestinian state –Spain, Norway, and Ireland – don’t realize that recognition is what comes at the end of the negotiating process, not what you give at the beginning of the process. They are putting Palestinians up a tree that they cannot climb down from and pushing the Israelis into a corner. Israel will not be willing to compromise, and this is the end of any future dialogue before it even starts. The US understands it, and it is not recognizing Palestine and has bipartisan support via its veto of UNSC resolutions. The Americans are the only ones with hands-on experience in negotiating the conflict. The Europeans are doing something irresponsible with the recognition.

Some say Bibi Netanyahu is choosing himself over the nation’s best interests. Should Netanyahu go?

Bibi was the best person to explain Israel’s case for a long time. Just as Lord Acton said, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. What I am saying here is that the vitality and vision that Netanyahu had in the past are now lacking. It is also true that his coalition and far-Right partners are not helpful in his relationship with the US, and they keep making mistakes. [Itamar] Ben-Gvir and [Bezalel] Smotrich have no experience and lack an understanding of the complexity of the international dialogue. Bibi cannot control them because they know they are the only reason he remains in power.

With a front-row seat in the UN, why is the world hostile to Israel? Most protests were against Israel worldwide, even before Israel’s ground operation began.

The most convincing answer is that anti-Zionism is the same as antisemitism. They want to believe the lies of the Palestinians, no matter how outrageous. We see this in Gaza, Judea, and Samaria. A salient example is when PIJ shot a rocket into its hospital, and the world was happy to accuse Israel of the crime before the facts were known; and when the truth came out, the world didn’t care. We cannot even win for losing. Too many in the world are waiting for our failure.

Are anti-Zionism and antisemitism the same?

Absolutely. What is Zionism? It is the return to Zion, the state of the Jews. If you are against the right of Jewish self-determination, the right of self-defense, and the right to live in your own land, you are not an anti-Zionist, you are anti-Jew – and that is the same as antisemitism.

Are you optimistic about Israel’s next 76 years?

Very optimistic. We have a lot going for us. There are no people in the annals of history who rose in just three generations from the ashes of the crematorium to the heights of space exploration with sophisticated satellites, our advanced scientific achievements, diverse culture, and strategic capabilities, which everyone should recognize. We have a very strong society. Our achievements are because of our people, not because of our government. The achievements are sometimes despite our governments. We have a seasoned and robust defense establishment who know what to do, a vibrant economy, and state-of-the-art hi-tech. The civil society is based on volunteerism. After October 7, when the government was in disarray, the Israeli people took charge. I am no worried now about external threats but about internal threats, which I fear. [But] If we unify, no power can bring us down.

In January 2024, four months into the war, Israelis were still the fifth-happiest people in the world, with their young people the second-happiest. How can you explain this?

We are happy because, as a nation, after 2,000 years in exile, we are back at home. Therefore, we are secure, with the ability to defend ourselves by ourselves. This is the basis for our optimism. When you look at Israel from any angle, tourism, culture, and solidarity contribute to our peace of mind, as well as the Jewish culture of family and community. When this exists, we are happy. ■

This article originally appeared in the June 24, 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 briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides.

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