The statements about placing conditions on military aid to Israel made by Democratic presidential candidates at last week’s J Street conference are rightly being treated with the seriousness and critical scrutiny they merit. In my years of observing – and participating in – Israel politics in the Democratic Party, I have never seen anything quite like this before. Strong disagreements between Israel and Democratic administrations, most obvious during the Obama years, imposed strains on the relationship, but there was never any serious consideration of leveraging U.S. military support. In fact, it was the Obama administration itself that negotiated the generous $3.8 billion per year military aid package now in the sights of progressives.

How exactly the U.S. should go about using aid to twist Israel’s arm is still an unresolved question for proponents of conditioning. Senator Bernie Sanders took by far the most left-leaning position on the subject among the candidates who attended the conference; yet, Matt Duss, his chief foreign policy adviser, told the journalist Mairav Zonszein that “the goal is not to get to the point” of actually conditioning aid, which he conceded had not been fully thought through.

When it comes to pushing allies in the right direction, the line between strategic and hubristic is gossamer-thin. Any form of conditioning aid would ideally be crafted carefully and as part of larger foreign policy strategy. And, to expand on Duss’s comment, the overriding consideration should be to avoid a standoff over aid altogether.

First, it is worth acknowledging the logic of the progressive position. What Sanders – and, to a much lesser extent, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg – suggested is not radical on its face. After all, the U.S. uses aid as leverage with other allies. For instance, the current impeachment investigation centers on the Trump team’s fixation with the Obama administration – through then Vice President Joe Biden – leveraging U.S. support for Ukraine to encourage a more proactive anti-corruption campaign. More recently, the U.S. suspended aid to the Lebanese army following mass anti-government demonstrations in Beirut and the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri. And Israel itself saw loan guarantees threatened during the George H.W. Bush administration.

That said, it is hard to imagine any administration abruptly confronting Israel with an ultimatum about military aid and the Palestinian issue – and certainly not in the near future. The more likely scenario for conditioning aid would be as a response to an Israeli provocation, such as annexation of settlements; this is the specific scenario both Warren and Buttigieg cited in their comments.

Employing such a reactive approach is unwise for a number of reasons. Threatening or conditioning military aid to Israel is laden with geopolitical risks. American withdrawal from the region has already created a panic among Arab allies – some of whom are now turning to Russia for stability, and even seeking an arrangement with Iran. The stinging betrayal of the Kurds will not soon be forgotten by those we ask to fight for us in the future. Going through with an aid cut to Israel in this environment would send a most regrettable message in a time of acute instability: the U.S. no longer has the patience for even its closest democratic ally in the region, which implies worse news for countries with whom it shares even fewer values. Israel will also be much less inclined to keep a check on its relationship with China, which is seeking its own foothold in the Middle East.

Failing to follow through on a threat to suspend or cut aid would be almost just as bad. That would signal a bright green light for the settlement movement to agitate for more aggressive growth in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It will send a far darker message to regional troublemakers at both the state and nonstate level. American credibility will remain in tatters if a third consecutive American administration dithers in the region.

In the Middle East today, the U.S. should not be instigating or escalating a crisis with an ally. As distasteful as it is, the disparity between rhetoric and action from the administration with regard to Turkey’s invasion of Northern Syria last month makes some sense. Following the inexcusable decision to withdraw the small number of American forces that effectively provided an umbrella of protection for the Syrian Kurds, and the subsequent Turkish attack, there was little to be achieved by angrily lashing out at Turkey for driving through the gates we had just opened for them (Congress, for its part, has taken much tougher action). Israel, by almost any accounting, is a far more trustworthy, moral, and vital regional ally than Turkey.

Still, it is reasonable to ask if U.S. support for Israel should really come with no policy strings attached. Couched in more diplomatic terms, the question is this: Should such an integral element of an important U.S. alliance be untethered to our broader foreign policy objectives? As former Ambassador Dan Shaprio wrote, American support for Israel reflects common “interests and values,” which “are put at risk by the demise of the two-state solution.” What to do if Israel fails to live up to its role as a trusted U.S. ally is not an easy question to answer, but the response should be proportional and not radically different from how other allies are treated.

Making sure Israel does not fall afoul of these interests and values from the start is a superior tack to waiting to see if it does. Ambassador Shapiro recommends that Israel permanently rule out annexation and recommit to the two-state solution; it wouldn’t hurt for the next U.S. administration to directly ask this of Israel’s government while reminding it of the support it receives from U.S. This may not be a dramatic form of conditioning aid, and it won’t carry the punitive connotations for Israel that some on the left favor, but a proactive and preventive approach is comparatively less risky to making public threats that we may or may not be willing to actually carry out – with potentially calamitous consequences for either choice.