Israel Cannot Afford to Be a Nation That Dwells Alone

Benjamin Kerstein

Benjamin Kerstein

Oceans of pixels have already been consumed in examining the recent dustup between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden. The spat was probably inevitable and there will no doubt be another one relatively soon, at which point the denunciations will begin again.

But the controversy has raised a usually unspoken question: What if Israel decides to “go it alone” and begins to move away from its alliance with the United States?

Israel’s enemies in the U.S., of course, would like nothing better than to break up the friendship. With the exception of somehow rescuing Hamas, it is more or less the only thing they want.

Among Israel’s supporters, however, especially on the right, there is also a growing discontent with the alliance. This is based mainly on the belief that the U.S. is stopping Israel from “doing what it needs to do” to win its war with Hamas. Moreover, they think, this is hardly the first time it’s happened. Their watchword is “Let Israel win,” and they believe the U.S. has never allowed Israel to win. Perhaps the key to victory, then, is to end Israel’s dependence on U.S. support. Without this leverage, it is believed, the U.S. can no longer deny Israel its victory.

Even to the neutral observer, moreover, there are disturbing indications as to the health of the alliance. In particular, the U.S. has begun to appear to be an increasingly unreliable ally. This is by no means limited to Israel. In many ways, the U.S., in general, is showing signs of becoming a decadent and decaying empire.

The reasons behind this are largely domestic. It often seems as if the American people no longer want to foot the bill for hegemony.

Hegemony pays many dividends, but it is an expensive proposition. It demands heavy investment in hard and soft power, a willingness to engage in difficult moral compromises, the recognition that military action will at times be necessary and people will die as a result, and — most important for Israel — making long-term and reliable commitments to allies.

The U.S., one regrets to say, has not done a stellar job in this regard, at least under Democratic administrations. Barack Obama, for example, abandoned U.S. commitments to Ukraine’s territorial integrity, essentially making a Russian war of aggression inevitable. He also threw Israel and America’s Arab allies under the proverbial bus by cultivating the genocidal theocracy that rules Iran.

Under Biden, the situation has been somewhat better but nonetheless wildly inconsistent. America’s allies in Afghanistan were abandoned with horrendous global repercussions, but Biden has thus far stood by Ukraine and at least started out the current war very much in Israel’s corner. Still, confidence has been undermined, especially in the Middle East.

This is not a problem confined to the Democrats, however. The Republicans under Donald Trump’s leadership have strong isolationist tendencies, as shown by their obstruction of continuing aid to Ukraine.

It may well be that the U.S. is beating a slow and sporadic retreat from the world stage. If so, there are many who will rejoice. Paleoconservative isolationists have long wanted to retreat from the world. Radical progressives, especially in academia, see American hegemony as the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany.

For America’s allies, however, this seeming retreat raises disturbing but essential questions.
In Israel, the issue is especially pressing, because like it or not, the foundation of Israel’s security is American military aid. It is true that Israel has its own capacities, but we should harbor no illusions that it can suddenly end its relationship with the U.S. and still maintain its military edge in quality or quantity. Israel may or may not want to “go it alone,” but in practical terms, it cannot do so.

Certainly, if the U.S. is indeed on the way out, Israel will have to make difficult long-term decisions. But a full U.S. retreat, even if it became official policy, would not be possible to realize in the short term. As such, Israel and its supporters’ efforts should be directed towards managing the retreat to Israel’s benefit rather than contemplating pipe dreams of bolting the alliance with the U.S. entirely.

This also involves making difficult decisions. Netanyahu, for example, must give up his visions of relying solely on the Republican Party for support. At the same time, liberal Israelis and pro-Israel Democrats should finally admit that while bashing Netanyahu may be pleasurable, it does not change the fact that the Democratic Party now has an active, violent and wholly unscrupulous antisemitic wing that will have to be confronted, neutralized and expelled.

Certainly, Israel should attempt to supply its own military needs as much as possible. It should seek to diversify its alliances. And it should prepare for the day when the U.S. will not be a hegemonic power, not because it is inevitable but because one should prepare for all possible scenarios. For the moment, however, fantasies about being “a people that dwells alone” get us nowhere. We are stuck with our friends, for better or for worse. And perhaps we should be grateful. At least they are not our enemies.

Benjamin Kerstein is a writer and editor living in Tel Aviv.


  1. “In Israel, the issue is especially pressing, because like it or not, the foundation of Israel’s security is American military aid.”

    Then maybe Israel needs to expand its local arms production to remove this liability.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here