Amir Rapaport's Column: The IDF Is Winning Battles, But What About the War?

How has the political drama in Washington been affecting the hostage deal and the continuation of the war, and what's the real story behind the delayed armaments

Amir Rapaport's Column: The IDF Is Winning Battles, But What About the War?

Photo: IDF Spokesperson's Unit

This past Monday was the first since October 7th in which not a single news item about the war in Gaza was published in the major newspapers in the United States.

Seemingly, this is a minor detail, but in fact, it indicates a significant development: we have moved to the sidelines of the news (the New York Times headline the following day, about the IDF pushing for a hostage deal and a ceasefire, is now the exception).

This is because the United States has been engulfed in a political drama of historic proportions. Since President Joe Biden's embarrassing performance in the debate against Donald Trump, we have become of little interest here (this column was written after meetings in Washington and New York). All that concerns Americans is whether Biden will drop out of the race or not, and who will replace him if he does.

The US election

In any case, the timing also plays a role – America is in the final stretch leading up to the election in November. Now, the Middle East is largely seen as a nuisance, as is Prime Minister Netanyahu's planned speech to Congress in Washington – which seems out of touch with reality.

The American priorities influence everything happening in the Middle East and will continue to do so (or not) until November. For example, the Americans are exerting all their pressure on Qatar, and through it on Hamas, to bring about a hostage deal and a ceasefire, at least in Gaza. Perhaps this is what is moving the negotiations forward and bringing back the dilemma for the Israeli side about whether to go for a deal: on Thursday night, the cabinet was supposed to discuss the matter.

A deal in Gaza might lead to a cessation of fighting in the north as well, which flared up again this week following the impressive elimination of senior Hezbollah commander Mohammad Naama Nasser, the commander of a unit known as "Aziz," and the expected response that included over 200 rocket launches, suicide drones, and missiles.

For comparison, even during the most difficult days of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, such a quantity (and quality) of fire was not launched into our territory. In general, the United States is exerting clear pressure on Israel not to go to an all-out war in Lebanon, if Israel is even interested in doing so. This is also related to the issue of ammunition supply to Israel, which is still grabbing headlines in Israel. I will start with this.

Well, since everything war-related has now become a battle on X (such as ministers' tweets against connecting the desalination station in Gaza to the electricity grid and the strange discharge of the director of Shifa Hospital against the backdrop of overcrowding in prison service facilities), I've looked into what the truth is on this critical issue and what is mere spin. This investigation reveals that the question of whether the United States is delaying a weapons shipment to Israel is related to hundreds of shipments of various equipment and ammunition, not just the reported delay of 3,500 heavy bombs for the Air Force.

To answer whether the United States has been leaving Israel hanging or not, it is important to understand the process: every request from Israel for military equipment or weapons is routed through one of two channels – either through the Pentagon and the U.S. military or through the State Department. In the defense channel, equipment is usually smoothly transferred to Israel from the military, if available, it is typically below a certain monetary threshold.

In contrast, large purchases require congressional approval, which raises significant concerns in Washington due to headlines linking weapons supply to Israel with numerous, seemingly uninvolved casualties in Gaza, typically not covered in our media. Therefore, some procurement requests are delayed until they receive congressional approval, if at all.

At the same time, the procurement route through the State Department approval is much more problematic: historically, this department has been less supportive of Israel. Even the boss, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, may have reservations about Israel, and he may not go out of his way to release requests stuck in this channel.

Global allies

Still, our situation with the United States is relatively good compared to relations with other allies, or former allies. For example, it was reported that France excluded Israeli security industries from a significant arms exhibition in Paris. What wasn't widely reported is that Canada is actively severing Israeli defense relations. This extends beyond just the IDF; for instance, the Canadians are currently preventing the shipment of defensive equipment for use by the special units of the Border Police, which engage in daily combat operations in Gaza and the West Bank.

Back to the United States. Ultimately, it is important to understand that like any issue, U.S. policy regarding arms supply to Israel heavily depends on the goodwill of leaders and officials. If they are willing, they will expedite; if they wish, they will delay. For comparison: in the early weeks of the war, Americans went out of their way to supply us with weapons as quickly as possible. The Pentagon even worked around the clock to expedite weapons delivery to us, even on weekends. A substantial amount of weaponry left U.S. military depots in Israel and was on its way to Ukraine, even made a detour and returned for use by the IDF.

Now, the big question is whether Netanyahu's infamous video, in which he “outed” the weapons disagreements (after President Biden had already done so, albeit as a political misstep, a few weeks earlier), somehow expedited the arrival of weapon shipments to Israel? The investigation I conducted indicates that in the perspective of several weeks since the video, the unequivocal answer is no.

The description of American handling of the issue remains on our radar these days as well. It is possible that the video actually delayed some improvement in the situation – as prior to it, quiet negotiations were underway between official entities from the U.S. and Israel to enhance the pace of weapon supply. The intention may have been to give Defense Minister Yoav Gallant a "carrot" during his four-day visit to Washington, which concluded towards the end of last weekend.

In hindsight, it seems that Netanyahu's video stunned the Americans. It also shocked Defense Minister  Gallant, Minister Ron Dermer, and Head of the National Security Council Tzachi Hanegbi – all of whom were in DC at the time Netanyahu blasted his message via social media. 

By the way, regardless of the arms supply issue, although the Americans canceled a special strategic forum meeting after Netanyahu's video, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan still managed to hold an important meeting with Dermer and Hanegbi. Both managed to brief Gallant on the content of this crucial meeting during a brief one-hour discussion after returning from the US, right before Gallant himself took off. 

A war in the north?

There is no doubt that how the Americans have been handling the arms issue is also tied to a severe global shortage of munitions and the need to supply arms to Ukraine, which is under intense Russian attack, while also maintaining readiness for a potential conflict in Taiwan. The delay in armaments might also be intended to discourage Israel from engaging in a full-scale conflict in Lebanon. The headline in the New York Times also claimed that part of the reason the IDF is pressing for a ceasefire and preparing for redeployment is related to shortages in munitions and the strenuous depletion of forces, both regular and reserves.

In any case, it is important to understand that strategically, the IDF's achievements against Hezbollah are significant on a global scale, going far beyond the ability to target senior Hezbollah commanders tens of kilometers from the border, as happened again this week. If the IDF declares a transition from Stage B to Stage C in its operations in Gaza soon, even without a deal and certainly without evacuating the Philadelphi Route and Netzarim Axis that divide the Gaza Strip in half – Israel will announce it is satisfied with systematically distancing all Hezbollah forces from the border area. 

Simultaneously, it will threaten with a wide-scale operation if Hezbollah does not hold its fire. This could potentially resemble the 1978 Litani Operation (Gallant spoke about the possibility of Israeli tanks up to Litani this week) and also a plan for rapid escalation. 

Should there not be a deal in Gaza, the coming weeks are expected to be highly tense in the north. 

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Please be in touch via Twitter and LinkedIn.

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