Abu Akleh and Biden's pro-Iran realignment
September 16, 2022
(JNS) — For four months, no one could explain the Biden administration’s seeming obsession with forcing Israel to accept responsibility for the death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh on May 11. Abu Akleh was killed in Jenin during a gun battle between Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorists, with whom she was embedded, and IDF forces. The battle occurred in the aftermath of a spate of murderous terror attacks in Israeli cities that took the lives of 17 Israelis.
The U.S. demand that Israel accept the blame for Abu Akleh’s death was strange for several reasons. First, since the Palestinians seized her body and refused to permit Israeli pathologists to examine it or the bullet that killed her, Israel couldn’t conduct a comprehensive investigation.
Second, the U.S. never raised such an outcry about any previous incident in which a journalist was killed during a battle.
The third reason the Biden administration’s behavior was bizarre is that Abu Akleh was with terrorists when she was killed. The PIJ is a wholly owned and operated franchise of Iran and its Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. As IDF Major General (res.) Gershon Hacohen explained on the Mideast News Hour this week, over the past year, the PIJ has transformed the Jenin area into a Gaza-like terror enclave in northern Samaria. Recently, Iran has funded the formation of joint PIJ, Fatah, PFLP and Hamas terror cells throughout Judea and Samaria.
By condemning Israel for Abu Akleh’s death, the U.S. was casting aspersions on the legitimacy of the IDF’s operations against an Iranian-controlled terror group whose power and reach are growing precipitously.
The mystery of the Biden administration’s obsession with forcing Israel to accept the blame for Abu Akleh’s death was solved on Tuesday. The day after the IDF released the findings of its investigation and said that Abu Akleh was most likely killed by IDF fire, the Biden administration reportedly began demanding Israel change the IDF’s rules of engagement in Judea and Samaria.
So, the U.S. pressure in response to Abu Akleh’s death was not about finding the truth. Abu Akleh was seized on by the administration as a means to force Israel to effectively cede control over Judea and Samaria to Iran’s terror proxies.
The American hostility towards Israel’s operations against Iran’s proxies in Judea and Samaria is of a piece with the Biden administration’s overall realignment of U.S. policy in the Middle East away from Israel and towards Iran. This realignment has moved into high gear as the administration works overtime to entice Iran to agree to a new nuclear deal. Take Lebanon, which is controlled by Iran through Hezbollah. The U.S. is pressuring Israel to accept a gas deal with Lebanon that augers strategic disaster for Israel and promises a strategic triumph for Iran.
Since May 2021, the Biden administration has been mediating negotiations between Israel and Lebanon to reach an agreement on the division of their economic maritime zones. Such an agreement will facilitate Lebanon’s plan to conduct natural gas exploration and hopefully production from the Qana gas field, part of which is located in Israel’s economic waters.
The dispute, and the ostensible need to mediate it, emerged because Lebanon rejected the U.N.’s demarcation of Israel’s economic waters and demanded a large portion of those waters for Lebanon. Unfortunately, by agreeing to mediate the dispute, the U.S. legitimized Lebanon’s positions, which are dictated by Hezbollah.
Rather than walk away from the talks in response to Hezbollah’s threats, the U.S. has used them as a means of forcing Israel to make more concessions to Hezbollah.
The strategic implications of both the emerging deal and the fact that it is being negotiated under Hezbollah’s gun are devastating for Israel, and arguably for its partners in the East Mediterranean Gas Partnership—Greece, Cyprus and Egypt.
Beyond that, by working to facilitate Iran-controlled Lebanon’s entry into gas exploration and production, the U.S. is paving Iran’s way to becoming an actor in the eastern Mediterranean. This development threatens not only Israel and its regional partners, but U.S. naval operations and U.S. firms engaged in gas exploration and extraction in the region.
Finally, if the negotiations lead to a deal, they create a dangerous precedent of Israel surrendering its sovereign territory under Hezbollah’s gun.
The White House’s announcement regarding Biden’s call with Lapid was notable because the ostensible purpose of the call was to discuss Israel’s deep-seated opposition to the nuclear deal Biden and his advisors desperately hope to conclude with Iran. However, the White House’s statement failed to mention the negotiations.
Unfortunately, Lapid’s behavior in the days following his phone call with Biden indicate that the conversation did not impact Biden’s behavior in the manner Lapid had hoped. The Aug. 31 conversation was the leaders’ first since Biden ended his visit to Israel six weeks earlier. In the intervening weeks, news hit of the devastating nature of U.S. concessions to Iran. Israeli National Security Advisor Eyal Hulata and Defense Minister Benny Gantz travelled to Washington to try to persuade the administration to change course in its negotiations, only to be denied audiences with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Lapid was finally granted a call with Biden after Mossad Director David Barnea condemned the deal in an on-record press briefing and called it catastrophic for Israel. Israeli officials told reporters the U.S. had misled Israel on its positions.
The current state of play with the administration vis-à-vis the nuclear deal is a disaster because the deal itself poses an existential threat to Israel in three ways: First, it enables Iran to become a nuclear-armed state. Second, it provides Iran with a massive financial windfall — $275 billion in the first year of the deal alone and $1 trillion by 2030 — which will give Iran the resources to fund a war between Israel and Iran’s Palestinian and Lebanese proxies that Israel will be hard-pressed to contend with.
Finally, the deal endangers Israel’s survival because it is a testament to the Biden administration’s betrayal of the U.S.-Israel alliance on behalf of Iran.
At this point, for Israel to restore its deterrence against Iran, it must stop bowing to the Biden administration’s pressure. It must reinforce its refusal to accept culpability for Abu Akleh’s death and reject U.S. pressure to change its rules of engagement. Indeed, it should refuse to discuss the issue with administration officials.
The majority of Americans do not support these policies. Israel’s best move is to stop enabling the administration to claim that it has Israel’s back when Biden’s actual policy is to stab Israel in the back, exposing it to existential peril.
Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of “The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.”