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The Israelisation of US foreign policy is hard to reverse

An Israeli delegation led by National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, and US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and US President Trump's senior adviser Jared Kushner (L) board the Israeli flag carrier El Al's airline on August 31, 2020 [Israel Airports / Sivan Farag/Anadolu Agency]
An Israeli delegation led by National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, and US National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien and US President Trump's senior adviser Jared Kushner (L) board the Israeli flag carrier El Al's airline on August 31, 2020 [Israel Airports / Sivan Farag/Anadolu Agency]

One of the US foreign policy standards is supporting Israel at all levels, even if that means violating international laws and norms.

Every new US president, before they are elected, is likely to have already made certain pledges favouring Israel during their election campaign. As soon as that president is inaugurated, such pledges become priority actions, usually implemented in their first year.

Furthermore, it is very difficult for any new president to reverse any steps taken by the outgoing president, unless they are unfavourable to Israel – a rarity in US foreign policy.

Joe Biden is no exception. The Democrat, who was inaugurated on Wednesday, has already pledged not to reverse many of his predecessor's policies towards Israel, even though they are illegal and openly contravene international law. For example, Biden has already pledged not to relocate the US embassy back to Tel Aviv after it was moved to Jerusalem in May 2018. That also meant recognising the Holy city as the capital of Israel. Biden knows this is illegal and against United Nations (UN) resolutions, but will not do anything about it.

Moving the embassy to Jerusalem and accepting the city as Israel's capital are not only controversial, but violate several UN resolutions, including Resolution 242 of 1967, which considered Jerusalem as an occupied city.

Biden will also not withdraw US recognition of the Golan Heights as part of Israel, despite the fact that his top nominee for Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in his confirmation hearings, appeared to commit the US to the two-state solution by stating: "The only way to ensure Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution." Defining Israel as a Jewish state became US policy a long time ago, despite it being an apartheid policy towards the Palestinians.

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This kind of foreign policy-making, when carefully analysed, reveals a pattern in which US foreign policy usually follows that of Israel, particularly in the Middle East.

The first real test of such practice may come up once the Biden administration turns its attention to Iran. Biden pledged to take the US back to the Iranian nuclear deal which former President Trump abandoned in 2018. Israel is strongly opposing the potential move. The deal is secured by UN Security Council Resolution 2231 adopted in 2015.

During the Ronald Reagan administration (1981-1989), US foreign policy became so aligned to that of Israel. It could be said that the Reagan era was the beginning of the far-reaching influence of Israel supporters in almost all subsequent administrations, all the way to Trump's.

Mostly conservative Zionists themselves, such as former Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger and Central Intelligence Director William Casey, they completely redrew US foreign policy, making it an image of that of Israel, even if it served no US interest or upset its allies.

During the Reagan era, for example, Israel widened its policy of "targeted killings", a softer term for blunt assassinations, particularly targeting top Palestinian leaders such as Khalil Al-Wazir, known as Abu Jihad, who was assassinated by Israeli agents in his home in Tunis in 1988.

As years passed on, that policy became a normal Israeli practice, without the US doing anything about it. In fact, during the Reagan administration, the US itself adopted the Israeli illegal practice.

The most famous example of the assassination policy was the attempt to kill the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on the night of 15 April, 1986. President Reagan ordered Operation El-Dorado Canyon, which included air raids on various locations in Tripoli, Libya, including Gaddafi's family home. Some 50 civilians were killed and dozens injured in the night raids.

The most recent use of "targeted killings" as a foreign policy tool by the US, was the assassination of Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani on 3 January of last year, while visiting Iraq. That operation violated international law twice – firstly, by the killing itself, and secondly, by violating the sovereignty of Iraq where the murder took place.When it comes to violating international law, Israel sets the example and the US almost always follows suit, as long as such violations served its interests. During the Trump years, this became the norm. He withdrew the US from major international agreements such as the Paris Climate Accord of 2016. Within his policy theme "America First", Trump also turned his back on the United Nations Scientific and Education Organisation (UNESCO) which the US left in 2017, a year after departing from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Its departure from the World Health Organisation is still pending. However, it will not be effected after Biden takes office.

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Retreating from bilateral and regional agreements became another fixture of former President Trump's foreign policy. His administration closed the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO)'s Washington office, despite recognising it as the representative of the Palestinian people who signed the infamous Oslo Accords of 1993 between the PLO and Israel, under the auspices of the US. Trump is also credited with leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a regional trade group of some dozen countries. He also famously threatened Canada and Mexico with annulling the North America Free Trade Agreement, unless they agreed to renegotiate its terms – which they did in 2017.

The new US president's foreign policy is likely to differ drastically from that of his predecessor, but the damage is already done. The US has already lost its international credibility, and self-proclaimed status as "guardian of civil liberates and leader of the free world".

However, when it comes to Israel, the pattern is likely to continue – international law can be violated as long as it serves Israel first, and the US second. The US will continue to accommodate every Israeli policy, be it home demolitions or blockading Gaza. We will witness more Israelisation of US foreign policy to come.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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