The desire to mess around in Israel’s affairs says conspiracy, experience says clumsiness. The Americans are much less sophisticated than they appear in Hollywood movies and often step into unnecessary pitfalls.
There is no reason to continue educating the Americans. After Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz explained it to them, and after former Ambassador Michael Oren said, and rightly so, that what the U.S. recently said is simply gall and insolence, there is no reason to pour more water on a fire that has already gone out. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides is on a path that will turn him into one of the least liked ambassadors by the Israeli public of all time. The Biden administration is on the way to becoming as popular in Israel as the Barack Obama administration (i.e., absolutely not). Either Nides received bad instructions to join the chorus from Washington or he gave bad advice and did not block that chorus. Either way, he apparently does not really understand Israel. Neither Nides nor the higher-ups in the administration understand in targeting the apple of Israel’s eye, the Israel Defense Forces.
Why did they do this? Shortly we will look at two possibilities, but first a few words about the apple of Israel’s eye. A short time ago, the findings of a survey by the Jewish People Policy Institute were published, which dealt with, among other things, the moral image of the IDF. The findings were unequivocal: 7 out of 10 Jews in Israel (the Arabs, of course, are another story) agree that the IDF is “the most moral army in the world,” i.e., not just “moral,” not just an army like all the rest, but rather “the most moral army in the world.” A survey by the Israel Democracy Institute from 2021 found that a large majority (77%) of the Jewish population (and also 35% of the Arab population) gave the IDF high marks for ethical behavior in fighting. In the same survey, almost three-fourths of Jewish respondents (72%) said that strict adherence to the law limits the IDF and makes it difficult for it to conduct military missions. In other words, the IDF is too scrupulous, not less, and the Israeli public does not want the IDF to lose this rigor. It wants strict adherence to the law but also victory. It understands that sometimes rigor for the law makes victory difficult but in general knows which of these two is more important.
Two-thirds of all respondents to the survey said that the IDF should “fight to win while trying not to harm innocents.” In other words, there is no compromise when it comes to victory (a minority of about 20% are willing to risk winning to avoid harming innocent people) but there is no ignoring the desire to protect those caught up in the battle. (A small minority of 14% believe it is better for the IDF to lose than endanger innocent people.) Of course, there is a connection between the specific response of each respondent and their political ideology: Two groups at the end of the political spectrum are anomalous compared to the rest of Israelis. Among those who identify as “leftists,” a small group of about 5% of the total Jewish community, one can see that two-thirds are ready to compromise the extent of victory to avoid harming innocents. Among the much larger group of those who identify as “rightists,” almost one-third of them do not attach much importance to preserving the well-being of innocents.
Now to the Americans. What came on them so suddenly that they decided to propose that Israel examine the IDF’s live fire policy? In general you can choose between two possible answers, and then distinguish between them.
One possible answer is clumsiness, stupidity and lack of attention. Someone took this moldy piece of advice out of the drawer, advice that appears to them appropriate for the circumstances, given that an American citizen was apparently killed by IDF fire, and offered it without thinking much about utility and damage
The second possible answer is the stuff of conspiracy. This was something that was planned over time and intended to achieve a clever goal that is difficult to comprehend. Perhaps something connected to Iran? It is difficult to imagine something like this. So, perhaps, the elections? Let’s consider an example of this. Assuming that the Americans decided to support Lapid or Gantz in the elections and understood that they need to provide Lapid and Gantz an opportunity to prove to voters that they are not, God forbid, leftists, they wouldn’t want Lapid and Gantz to argue with them over Iran because Iran is important to them.
Therefore, with a cautious maneuver, they reprimanded Israel, knowing from the start that they would receive a negative response from Lapid and Gantz in this context. In fact, if one believes this conspiracy theory, the Americans are simply working on behalf of the center-left bloc. This bloc has a problem: It needs two to three more seats to break the tie (and ensure that under no circumstance would Benjamin Netanyahu achieve his own coalition). How to win two to three more seats? Gantz’ people know that the voters they need are uneasy about Netanyahu, but they are not convinced that Gantz is sufficiently security-oriented, right-wing or nationalist. His goal is to convince them that he is. What better way to do this than to clash with the Americans over the morality of the IDF and Israel’s determination to judge for itself when to implement a live fire policy for its soldiers?
Which possible explanation do you choose, clumsiness or conspiracy? The desire to mess around in Israel’s affairs says conspiracy. Experience says clumsiness. The Americans are much less sophisticated than they appear in Hollywood movies and often step into unnecssary pitfalls.
Consider this: Perhaps the U.S. really wants Israel to examine the live fire policy? Consider this: Why not take what they say seriously and assume they are simply thinking as such? In response, we say that if this is what they want, the clumsiness is even greater than it appears, because from the moment they said publicly this is what Israel must do, in their opinion, they more or less guaranteed that Israel would not acquiesce. The public statement is like calling on Israel to climb a tree to the highest branch from which it cannot be brought down. Lapid and Gantz have already climbed up. There is no chance of bringing them down from the tree of “we will not change,” certainly not during election season, and certainly not on an issue where Israel is in the right and not the Americans.
Therefore, it is difficult to believe this is what the U.S. wanted. They are clumsy, but not that much. What they wanted was to “say something.” What they wanted was to “say the right thing.” What was said was not the right thing. Was it damaging to Israel? Of course – this statement serves Israel’s enemies who are seeking to delegitimize it and to use military force against it. But is it damaging to the Americans? Not really. Not enough to trouble it. This is the advantage of a superpower. Only on rare occasions will it pay a real price for its clumsiness.