Israel and Ukraine – America’s Incoherent Responses

Zelensky highlights the obvious: What was done for Israel, could be done to protect Ukraine, which like Israel, is not a NATO member

By Anil Madan

Iran’s barrage of cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and drones failed to inflict any appreciable damage on Israel other than an unfortunate injury to a ten-year-old girl who was struck by bits of an Iranian missile shot down by a defensive missile (or perhaps by a piece of the defensive missile). IDF spokesman, Daniel Hagari, said that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched 170 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), more than 120 ballistic missiles and more than 30 cruise missiles in the attack. He also said: “99% of the threats launched towards Israeli territory were intercepted — a very significant strategic achievement.”

Does the West have a double standard for Ukraine and Gaza? Pic – WSJ

President Biden has urged Israel to “take the win” and not retaliate against Iran. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, echoed Biden’s call and urged Israel to be “smart” and not escalate tensions by retaliating.

Both Hagari’s and Biden’s statements are misleading. Whereas it is understandable that Israel wishes to engage in some chest-thumping after Iran’s attack was repulsed, the truth of the matter based on most media reports, is that none of the cruise missiles or drones ever entered Israeli airspace. Hagari seemed to confirm these reports when he said that some 25 cruise missiles were intercepted by Israeli Air Force fighter jets outside the country’s borders, most likely over Jordanian territory. Even one successful missile strike can do immense damage, so whereas Israel’s success in intercepting 25 cruise missiles should not be minimized, it is fair to recognize that this was not just a “win” by Israel, but a joint effort.

Also, there are reports that half of the missiles Iran fired at Israel over the weekend failed on launch or malfunctioned and crashed, according to reports. Other reports have referred to failures of drones, not missiles, so it remains unclear where exactly Iran’s failures occurred. Most of the rest of the missiles and drones were shot down by the US and Britain, and a few by Jordan.

Biden administration’s wishful thinking

Despite its failures, it is reasonable to assume that Iran has accumulated valuable data to adjust and calibrate its capabilities for future attacks. In what sounds like an attempt to de-escalate, Iran stated that barring a retaliatory attack from Israel which will provoke a massive response, it considers this episode with Israel “closed.” This should give no solace to Israel. After the October 7 Hamas attack, Israelis know that complacency is out of the question. It is not clear, however, that the Biden administration shares the concern about becoming complacent, and instead is engaged in wishful thinking about keeping the Israel-Iran-Hamas-Hezbollah conflict in check.

Given the information so far available, what we also do not know is whether Israel would have successfully defended itself against such a massive Iranian assault, without the combination of Iranian technical failures, and US, British, and regional support. More importantly, in the event of a future Iranian attack, we do not know if Israel will be able to defend itself without American and British support. Can we assume that such support will be provided without question? Ukraine’s experience with Biden’s response to Russia’s attack may well give the Israelis pause.

We also do not know the state of Israel’s inventory of defensive missiles. Reports suggest that worldwide stockpiles of defensive missiles are perilously low and that there are long lead times to get orders fulfilled.

Then there is the problem of emboldening Iran’s ayatollahs. Perhaps for this reason, Israel does not seem to be paying heed to either Biden or Cameron, with Israeli PM Netanyahu saying that Israel will make its own decision on whether, when, and how to retaliate. Reports suggest that the war cabinet has decided that Israel must retaliate.

President Biden said, while the US commitment to Israel is unwavering, his administration would not support a retaliatory strike by Israel against Iran. It is not clear what Biden hopes to achieve by this declaration. Surely, it cannot be that he expects Iran to treat this as a gesture of goodwill from the US and, therefore, grounds for restraint against Israel whose responses cannot be mistaken for holding out an olive branch to the ayatollahs.

On this point, before Iran launched its attack on Israel, Biden was asked about Iran’s plans and his response was: “Don’t.” But Iran attacked anyway.

Now, the US response is a threat to impose even more severe sanctions against Iran. We have seen that sanctions lasting decades have not deterred Iranian aggression. There seems to be no reason to think anything has changed in that regard. And the next Iranian missile attack may not be limited to conventional payloads. If Israel thinks it is imperative that Hamas be defanged and neutralized as an existential threat to the Jewish state, it does not seem a stretch to treat Iran in the same way. After all, Iran’s leaders continue to promise that Israel will be destroyed and thus defeated. Last week’s missile attack teaches that Israel should not take these threats lightly.

One can easily justify Biden’s statements—and Cameron’s, which I take to be the squawking of a compliant parrot—as being aimed at the broader goal of preventing a regional war in the Middle East. But that is too easy a cop out.

Putin’s attack against Ukraine

These latest events are eerily similar to Biden’s handling of the prelude to Putin’s attack against Ukraine. Back in December 2021, Biden and Putin had a telephone chat during which Biden reiterated his support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and called for de-escalation and a return to diplomacy. He declared that the US and our Allies would respond with strong economic and other measures in the event of military escalation. At the same time, he made it clear that the US would not send troops or weapons systems to engage Americans directly with Russia.

Back then, Biden did not commit US defensive capabilities to aiding Ukraine in repelling Russia’s missile attacks. As I wrote back in 2022, the Biden administration seemed directed by a palpable fear that Putin would be provoked into using nuclear weapons if the US and Europe crossed some imaginary red line in terms of the level of support to Ukraine that he deemed unacceptable. And statements from Putin and Kremlin spokespersons repeatedly called on the US and Europe to desist from aiding Ukraine because Russia would consider such assistance to be direct engagement by the US and Europe against the Russian state.

Now, just as Biden seemed anxious to telegraph to Russia that US forces would not participate in defending Ukraine, he seems ever as anxious to disavow any participation with Israel in offensive responses to Iran. To what end, is not clear.

The fact that Ukraine was left to handle Russian missile attacks on its own should not be lost on us. Indeed, back in 2022, the US and its allies seemed initially reluctant to even provide missile defense systems to Ukraine. In contrast, the US, Britain, and even Jordan came to Israel’s aid in shooting down Iranian drones and missiles.

Neither Biden, nor any White House spokesperson has explained the difference in approach to Russia and Iran. Is it just that Iran does not, at least as far as we know, have nuclear weapons?

The irony of the discordant approaches taken by the US and its allies, is not lost on Ukrainian President Zelensky who even today continues to beg for more Patriot missile batteries, asking for at least five such systems at a minimum.

On April 17, following Russia’s missile attack on Chernihiv, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba echoed Zelensky’s call on partners to provide Ukraine with the means to defend itself against air attacks with the same effectiveness as seen in Israel over the weekend. He is expected to reiterate Ukraine’s pleas for additional Patriot missile batteries during the Group of Seven ministerial meeting in Italy.

On the point of inadequate defensive missile batteries, and depleted inventories, President Zelensky claimed that the Russians were able to destroy the Trypillia Thermal Power Plant because Ukraine had completely run out of missiles to defend it due to insufficient assistance from its allies.

President Zelensky’s frustration

Iran’s attack on Israel is unlike anything we have seen except perhaps for the missile and drone attacks by Russia on Ukraine. True, Russia has not fired off as many missiles and drones in a single day, but Zelensky stated that Russia fired over 3,000 guided aerial bombs, 600 drones and 400 missiles at Ukraine in March alone. As the world has seen, Russian missiles have devastated Ukraine’s cities and infrastructure.

President Zelensky’s frustration that the US and Europeans did not leap to provide Ukraine with the same level of defensive support in repelling Putin’s war of destruction against his country, as Israel received in repelling Iran’s aerial assault from the US, Britain, and even Arab countries, is palpable. “Now the whole world has seen from the actions of Israel’s allies in the sky and neighbouring countries how effective unity can be in the protection from terror,” Zelensky said. “Terror must lose everywhere and completely—not somewhere more and somewhere less.”

Within a week of Putin’s assault on Ukraine, some two years ago, on March 3, 2022, I wrote: “The war of Ukraine has not been lost. It is too early to give up hope that the brave Ukrainians will prevail even as we fear the worst. It is not, however, too early for an autopsy of President Biden’s failed effort to prevent a Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

I received a lot of blowbacks then for using the word “autopsy” in this context. But in retrospect, I think that was not unfair and it remains today, a fair comment.

Zelensky points out the obvious, that what was done for Israel, could be done to protect Ukraine, which like Israel, is not a NATO member.

Perhaps referring back obliquely to Biden’s declaration that the US would not cede one inch of NATO territory, but would not engage directly with Russia, Zelensky pointedly said: “And this does not require the activation of Article 5, but only the political will.”

Article 5 of the NATO charter treats an attack on one member as an attack against them all.

Biden’s approach appears incoherent, filled with bold declarations of support for Ukraine and Israel, but with a certain feckless timidity. It may be too late for Ukraine. Just last week, The Boston Globe carried a reprinted New York Times story about Ukrainian border guards often finding their quarry — men seeking to escape the military draft — swimming in hazardous conditions, trying to cross the Tysa River where it forms the border with Romania.


Mauritius Times ePaper Friday 19 April 2024

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