By Larry Gordon

It becomes increasingly clear what it means when Israeli leaders say, as they have often over the decades, that Israel reserves the right to defend itself, by itself. It’s a pithy turn of phrase that we tend not to pay too much attention to. Until now.

This kind of reference could be an allusion to the Israeli Air Force destroying stockpiled Iranian weapons in Syria. It can be about a raid inside Ramallah seeking out the terrorist scourge, or penetrating Lebanon to undermine Hezbollah.

Placing Israel military independence in context, it is now better understood what is potentially at stake when a country — any country — has its safety and security reliant, to some extent, on the presence of the U.S. military to protect it.

Today, those two little words, “by itself,” are looming rather large. For decades, Israel has made a policy point of not needing or requesting that U.S. troops be present on Israel territory for any reason at any time. One would have certainly thought that over all these years and struggles with Israel’s enemies on various borders as well as within the country itself, the presence of U.S. troops might have been a worthwhile contribution to the security dynamic for the Jewish state.

But that has been every Israeli leader’s red line — no U.S. troops in the country. And that is not because there is any real objection to the presence of U.S. military in the territories or perhaps on the Golan Heights, for example. The U.S. is Israel’s greatest ally and there certainly were occasions when U.S. forces could have been employed effectively, but that type of presence would have established a very poor and undesirable precedent.

And that is why Israel stands firm with this uncompromising policy of never requesting the presence of foreign troops — American troops — in the country. Case in point is what transpired over these last two weeks as President Trump quickly ordered the withdrawal of U.S. forces that were stationed between Turkish forces and the Syria Kurdish forces.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen with Israeli soldiers during a Hanukka candlelighting ceremony with the IDF’s Canine Unit (Oketz) on December 16, 2014. Photo by Amos Ben Gershon/GPO

The removal of U.S. forces was a fulfillment of Mr. Trump’s campaign promise to extricate the American military from what he referred to as endless wars. It is sickening and disheartening to hear again and again how young soldiers lose their lives in Syria, Iraq, or Afghanistan trying to police a tribal blood feud that has been ongoing for centuries.

It is certainly unlikely that had there been U.S. forces anywhere in Israel protecting Israel’s borders that President Trump would, without warning or notice, just remove those troops, leaving Israel vulnerable and with an unprotected border. But that does not mean that some future Democratic president with a different vision of what the Middle East and especially Israel should look like would not do that to Israel. This is exactly why we have heard Prime Minister Netanyahu say over and over again that Israel retains the right to defend itself — most importantly, by itself.

This kind of farfetched American foreign-policy scenario is not an impossibility. Democratic Party candidates for president have made it clear that their policy on Israel would be to reduce U.S. aid to Israel until such time that a Palestinian state was established, most of it within Israel’s currently existing borders.

There is a great deal at stake as we head into the 2020 presidential elections. But despite the vast number of countries that are dependent on the U.S., no country receives more media and other attention than Israel.

The Jewish state does receive about $3.8 billion annually in U.S. aid. Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of military assistance from the United States since World War II. About three quarters of the aid is earmarked for purchases of military equipment from U.S. companies and the rest is spent on domestic equipment.

2020 is going to be a pivotal and contentious year for both the U.S. and Israel. President Trump is determined to put an end to American boys dying in a fight that appears to have no solution or end.

This is where the longstanding Israel policy shines brightly. So long as Israel has the resources, the equipment, and the ability to defend herself, she should certainly be able to do it by herself as well.

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