The first joint US-Israel war

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US responsibility for the massacre of the Palestinian people includes providing Israel with much of the means to commit it

The war by Israeli military forces in Gaza, following the Hamas attack on October 7, is the first Israeli war in which Washington has participated. The US openly supports the proclaimed objective of the war and is blocking calls for a ceasefire at the United Nations, while also supplying arms and ammunition to Israel and acting to dissuade other regional actors from intervening in the conflict to aid Hamas.

The US did not provide military support to Israel at its creation: at first, it presented itself as an impartial arbiter between Israel and its Arab neighbors, ordering an embargo on arms packages for both that remained in force until the end of Dwight Eisenhower's presidency ( 1953-61). At first, Israel had to rely on West Germany and France for its financing and weaponry. The situation changed when John F. Kennedy, faced with radicalized Arab nationalism led by Nasser's Egypt and setbacks in US influence in the Middle East, decided to trust Israel and began sending it weapons.

This was the beginning of a “special relationship” that would prove to be very special indeed: between its creation in 1948 and the beginning of 2023, Israel has received more than $158 billion in aid from the U.S., including more than $124 billion in aid military, making it the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. funding since World War II[I]. Every year, the US provides military aid to Israel worth almost 4 billion dollars.

However, Washington did not openly support Israel's war against its Arab neighbors in 1967 (it could not endorse the invasion of the West Bank at the expense of Jordan, another ally). During the October 1973 war, the “special relationship” resulted in an airlift of weapons to Israel – the objective, however, was to help them contain the offensive launched by Egypt and Syria. When Israel managed to turn the situation in its favor, Washington exerted strong pressure on the country to end hostilities. The US did not openly support the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and intervened as mediator in the evacuation of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters in Beirut. They also did not support the war launched by Israel against Lebanon in 2006, nor its successive offensives against Gaza.

This time, however, US support for Israel has been explicit and massive. As October 7 ended, Washington decided to send two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups to the eastern Mediterranean, led by the aircraft carriers USS Eisenhower and USS Ford, a maritime intervention unit, as well as an amphibious assault group. led by the USS Bataan in the Black Sea and the nuclear submarine USS Florida, which carries cruise missiles. At the same time, Washington alerted its air bases in the region and urgently delivered military equipment to Israel, including missiles for the Iron Dome air defense system.

In this way, Washington provided regional cover for Israel so that it could dedicate most of its forces to a war against Gaza whose stated objective, from the beginning, has been the eradication of Hamas. The US and other Western countries openly supported this goal. However, the fact is that the eradication of a mass organization that has ruled a small, densely populated territory since 2007 cannot occur without a massacre of genocidal proportions. This is especially true because the Israeli army had the clear intention of minimizing losses within its own ranks during the invasion, which required the intensive use of remote attacks, the razing of urban areas to avoid a guerrilla war, and therefore the maximizing civilian deaths.

US responsibility for this massacre includes providing Israel with much of the means to commit it. By the end of November, Washington had sent its ally 57.000 artillery shells and 15.000 bombs, including more than 5.400 BLU-117s and 100 BLU-109 (“bunker buster”) bombs, which weigh nearly a ton each.[ii]. O New York Times reported the astonishment of military experts at Israel's “free” use of these nearly one-ton bombs, each of which can level a multi-story building, and which contributed to making Israel's war against Gaza a massacre of civilians “in a historical rhythm”[iii]. As of December 25, the US had provided Israel with 244 arms shipments via cargo planes, in addition to 20 shipments via ships.[iv]. In addition, the Guardian revealed that Israel had managed to utilize the vast stockpile of US weapons already “pre-positioned” in the country[v].

To finance all of this, on October 20, the Biden administration made an extra-budget request for $105 billion to Congress, including $61,4 billion for Ukraine ($46,3 billion in military aid), 14,1 billion dollars for Israel ($13,9 billion in military aid) and 13,6 billion for the fight against illegal immigration at the border. The US president believed he could get a green light from the Republican right for Ukraine by tying this aid (the bone of contention) to causes close to their heart – however, by the end of 2023, Biden had still failed to approve his request . The Republican right used Biden's strategy against him, demanding even more drastic measures at the border, putting him in an uncomfortable position with his own party.

To provide Israeli Merkava tanks with 45.000 artillery shells for $500 million, the Biden administration circumvented Congress by approving on December 9, in an emergency measure, a package of 14.000 shells for $106,5 million. He repeated this maneuver on December 30 for $147,5 million, drawing the ire of Democrats who call for more control over arms packages to Israel. For all of this, Biden bears a direct share of responsibility for the massacre perpetrated by Israeli forces in Gaza. His exhortations for Israel to be more “humane” ring hollow and are easily dismissed by critics as hypocrisy. His disagreement with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu over the plan for the day after the war does not alter the two governments' joint responsibility for the war itself[vi].

Ultimately, Biden – who, during his 2020 presidential campaign, promised to reverse course on his predecessor's markedly pro-Israel policy, notably by reopening the US consulate in East Jerusalem and the PLO office in Washington – did nothing from that. Instead, he followed in Donald Trump's footsteps, first focusing on encouraging Saudi Arabia to join the Arab states that have established diplomatic relations with Israel under Trump's aegis, and then giving unconditional support to Israel in its invasion. of Gaza. In doing so, he managed to anger his own Democratic Party – which is now more sympathetic to Palestinians than Israelis (34% to 31%), according to a poll published on December 19 – without satisfying Republicans. In the end, 57% of Americans disapprove of Biden's handling of the conflict, according to the same poll[vii].

*Gilbert Achcar is professor of international relations at the University of London. Author, among other books, of Morbid Symptoms: Relapse in the Arab Uprising (Saqi Books).

Translated by Fernando Lima Neves.

Originally published on Land Monde Diplomatique.


[I]               Congressional Research Service, US Foreign Aid to Israel, CRS Report, Washington, 1 March 2023.

[ii]              Jared Malsin and Nancy A Youssef, 'US Sends Israel 2,000-Pound Bunker Buster Bombs for Gaza War’, Wall Street Journal, 1 December 2023.

[iii]             Lauren Leatherby, 'Gaza Civilians, Under Israeli Barrage, Are Being Killed at Historic Pace’, New York Times, 25 November 2023.

[iv]            '244 US cargo planes, 20 ships deliver over 10,000 tons of military equipment to Israel – report’, Times of Israel, 25 December 2023.

[v]             Harry Davies and Manisha Ganguly, 'Gaza war puts US's extensive weapons stockpile in Israel under scrutiny’, The Guardian, 27 December 2023.

[vi]            See Gilbert Achcar,'Israeli far right's plans for expulsion and expansion’, Le Monde diplomatique in English, December 2023.

[vii]           Jonathan Weisman, Ruth Igielnik and Alyce McFadden, 'Poll Finds Wide Disapproval of Biden on Gaza, and Little Room to Shift Gears’, New York Times, 19 December 2023.

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