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Can the US-Israel relationship still rely on shared values?

Can the US-Israel relationship still rely on shared values?
US-Israel relations: Gaza war pulling allies apart | Ian Bremmer | Quick Take

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here. A Quick Take to kick off your week. We are still very much focused on the war in the Middle East. Now, Israel attacking on the ground and in the air, all of Gaza, including troops in the major city, in the South Khan Younis. Obviously, the numbers of Hamas militants that are getting round-up, that are getting arrested, that are getting killed, going way up. Number of civilians that are getting killed, also going way up. And in the context of all of that, greater tensions on the border with Lebanon, though I still think it's unlikely that Hezbollah is going to enter into the fight. Greater attacks by the Houthis in Yemen on Israeli shipping, as well as on American military vessels in the Red Sea. And that makes it more likely that the Israelis expand their focus on that part of the fight and maybe even strike Iran down the road.

But the big question I suppose is, what does this mean for the long-term relationship with the United States, Israel's relationship with the United States, which has been on display as incredibly strong and unflagging even in the context of major domestic backlash against Biden in his own party for supporting it as well as around the world? And with the United Nations Security Council resolution that the Americans vetoed, 13 countries, including strong American allies, supported, and only the United Kingdom abstained.


I'm brought back to a video interview that Ted Koppel did way back with Richard Nixon, asking why the US had such a strong and abiding relationship with Israel. And Nixon said that the United States doesn't have any particular strategic interest with Israel in the Middle East, but it was a matter of morality. It was a matter of shared values. It's on the back of what happened to the Jews during the Holocaust, the necessity of supporting an independent Israeli homeland and state, and also the fact that Israel was the only functioning democracy that shared fundamental values with the United States. And that has indeed been the basis of this relationship for a very long time.

The question to ask is, is that now changing? There are two ways it could change. One is, it changes because Israel no longer reflects those values. And two, it can change because the Americans no longer care about that nature of a relationship. And I think both of those things are under some pressure right now.

On the former, I think that it has to be said that the United States has a lot of relationships. In fact, in many ways, most of its strategic relationships around the world are not just with countries that are democracies but are also with countries that are really strategically important to the US, like Canada, and Mexico, and Germany, and the UK, and Japan, and South Korea. You could make these arguments economically and from a national security perspective. Israel, you really can't. It's a tiny country, 10 million people in the middle of the Middle East. And economically, the US has far more interest and alignment with just about anybody else, and yet Israel gets $3.8 billion of military support for the US. The US is there for them through thick and thin. But the present Israeli government has been uninterested in rule of law when it comes to the West Bank and expanding settlements illegally, uninterested in rule of law and separation and balance of powers when it comes to an independent, though very strong judiciary and riding roughshod over the laws that regulate proper governance and transparency and checks on the Israeli executive. In this regard, Israel, under Netanyahu and his far-right government, has become less of a democracy, a functional democracy, and certainly less of a country that shares the values that the Americans, at least in principle, stand for and want to uphold.

On the other side, the United States has certainly had its challenges in its values historically. I mean, you look at some of the photographs of all of these militants that are lined up and stripped down and bound, some of whom are Hamas terrorists and some of whom are just innocent bystanders, and what do you remember as an American? Feels like Abu Ghraib, feels like the failed war in Iraq after 9/11. And that's a mirror on the United States that a lot of Americans don't want to be reminded of. A lot of Americans aren't so sure what the United States stands for. Certainly, if Americans don't feel like they're being treated properly by their own government, are going to be a lot less interested in continuing to send money and support and engage with conflicts internationally, especially if they're not a hundred percent convinced that they are standing on the right side.

Now, on the back of October 7th, I think pretty much every American, and there's always an exception, you can always find someone that'll support anything, but the outrage in the United States for what happened to the Israelis, what happened to the Jewish people on that day was very strong and very palpable. A couple of months later, it feels very different given the nature of the war and the comparative indifference in Israel of the plights of the Palestinian civilians that are on the ground in Gaza.

So here I do worry that what President Nixon had to say a few decades ago, and the level of confidence that any Israeli leader would feel very strongly, comforted by the fact that Israel wasn't strategically important but was morally essential, had alignment of values, that the Americans would stand for that no matter what. Well, I'm not so sure that we feel as comforted by that in today's environment, neither an Israeli government nor an American government going forward. It's something to be cognizant of at the very least and something that perhaps we can all come back to.

Certainly, if there is any opportunity here going forward, it is that in the aftermath of this horrible war, that there will be an effort from all sides, but led once again diplomatically by the United States to bring peace to this region, to bring opportunities for the Palestinian people where everyone involved is going to have to compromise in ways that today seem uncomfortable, even for some inconceivable, but a long-term and durable US relationship with its principle ally in the Middle East will need to be based on that essentially.

So that's it for me. I hope everyone's doing well, and I'll talk to y'all real soon.

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