After Biden's Afghanistan fiasco, why should Israel take his advice?

“Great, now we’re taking lessons from the losers.” 

So said Captain Hawkeye Pierce in the TV comedy “M*A*S*H” after a U.S. general invoked a German war practice. Israeli leaders likely had the same thought when asked to listen to Biden officials’ ideas for completing the Gaza war.  

The very day the White House requested Israel send a delegation to Washington to discuss a war plan — a meeting Israel first agreed to, then canceled, and then occurred yesterday virtually  — the House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on one of the leading foreign policy debacles in recent memory: the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. The White House architects of that fiasco have no credibility to dictate military strategy to Israel. 

The immediate issue between the United States and Israel is the planned, impending Israel Defense Forces operation to clear the last remaining major Hamas stronghold — about 4 battalions or 6,000 fighters, presumably including Hamas’s senior leadership and their hostages — holed up in Rafah. Israel must conquer Rafah to destroy Hamas, free Israeli hostages and ensure that Hamas will never again threaten Israel. 

As Israeli war council member and Biden favorite Benny Gantz, told U.S. officials recently, “Ending the war without clearing out Rafah is like sending a firefighter to extinguish 80 percent of the fire.”  

Hamas’ survival in Gaza would mark a victory for it and its Iranian backer, and a serious defeat for Israel and its American ally.  

The Biden administration has taken exception to this plan, nominally on humanitarian grounds. They believe that Israel should not stage a major incursion into Gaza as long as the civilians remain there but also that the civilians have nowhere else to go. Their conclusion, thus, is that no significant operation in Rafah is possible. 

Of course, there’s a strong political motivation here as well. Despite initially admirably supporting Israel, Biden now increasingly worries that could cost him key voters in Michigan and other pivotal states in November. So Biden and other senior officials have increasingly criticized Israel and its prime minister and sought to restrain Israeli military action.  

Never fear, though. The White House has, according to National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, “an alternative approach that would target key Hamas elements in Rafah and secure the Egypt-Gaza border without a major ground invasion.” But why should Israel trust its national security to a plan concocted by an administration that has serially failed to protect its own people, partners and civilians in combat zones, and undermined U.S. national security? 

The administration’s military and strategic judgment in Afghanistan resulted in 13 American troops killed at Abbey Gate, thousands of Americans and Afghan partners abandoned and a Taliban takeover.  

With Ukraine, Biden now demands that Congress fast-track billions in assistance, in December 2021, with the Russian invasion looming, but it was Congress demanding that vital weapons be shipped to Kyiv and Biden holding up their delivery.   

Research by our organization, the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, shows that in the Middle East Biden watched passively as Iranian proxies repeatedly attacked U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. There were almost 100 such attacks in his first two years in office, with Biden only ordering retaliatory strikes five times. Since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, there were 165 Iranian-backed attacks on U.S. forces, and only another 10 U.S. responses, until an Iranian drone in Jordan killed three American troops.  

But while Biden’s foreign policy has proven disastrous, Israel’s war against Hamas has been anything but. Nor have Israeli operations given any indication that Gazan civilians have been put at undue risk by the IDF. 

In five months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel killed some 13,000 “terrorists” and perhaps wounded an equal amount, on a battlefield so complex that a West Point expert has called it “simply without precedent.” If Hamas figures of around 30,000 casualties are to be believed that is a terrorist-to-civilian casualty ratio of 1 to 1.3. 

Meanwhile, it took the U.S.-led coalition roughly twice as long (nine months) to clear Mosul of the Islamic State, killing one-sixth the number of terrorists (some 2,000) but resulting in only slightly fewer civilian deaths (roughly 10,000) for a casualty ratio of 1 to 5. IDF casualties, at over 250, while high per capita, are lower than expected.  

If Israel is to be criticized at all over its military conduct in Gaza, it is for not moving faster and taking Rafah earlier. But unexpected stuff happens in war, and we’re in no position to second-guess Israel’s war direction.  

President Biden should take the same humble tack, and support Israel to the hilt. But if instead he continues to pressure Israel into abandoning its plan to eliminate Hamas in Rafah, the United States will be almost as big a loser as Israel.  

Michael Makovsky, a former Pentagon official, is the president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America. Blaise Misztal is JINSA’s vice president for Policy.

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