Reining In Israel

The Wall Street Journal has a long article about the Biden administration’s efforts to stop Israel from winning a decisive victory over Gaza:

The looming Israeli military plans to invade Rafah have exacerbated tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and the Biden administration, which has grown increasingly frustrated with its attempts to rein in Israel’s military campaign.

The consequences of the distrust between President Biden and Netanyahu, who have spoken 18 times since Hamas’s Oct. 7 assault, have grown only starker in recent days. Biden now appears to be trying to draw a line with Israel’s proposed military operation on Rafah where 1.1 million Palestinians—many of them displaced—now reside.

There is no obvious reason why Israel’s operation in Rafah should be seen differently from prior battles in the war. The difference more likely lies in Joe Biden’s political situation.

The U.S. has communicated that it wouldn’t—under any circumstances—support a plan for a full-scale invasion of Rafah, and that it would prefer to see targeted operations, U.S. officials said. The Biden administration has asked the Israeli military to produce a “credible plan” that included both a military and humanitarian component if it decides to disregard Washington’s advice and invade the city, U.S. officials said.

The idea that Israel should submit its military plans to the Biden Administration for clearance, if that is what is implied, as it seems to be, is outrageous. Happily, the Israelis don’t appear to be listening.

The growing clash between the two governments over Rafah underscores the Biden administration’s waning leverage over Netanyahu as his military continues to hammer Gaza, even as pressure grows inside the U.S. government to rein in Israel. The State Department has launched a probe looking at several Israeli airstrikes in Gaza that killed dozens of civilians and the possible use by Israel of white phosphorus in Lebanon, to determine whether the Israeli military misused American bombs and missiles to kill civilians, U.S. officials told The Wall Street Journal.

Why is the administration trying to “rein in” Israel, and investigating supposed Israeli misdeeds?

Some of Biden’s senior aides are becoming increasingly worried that his support for Israel’s war in Gaza risks damaging his re-election prospects amid cratering support from young voters. Last week, Biden dispatched a group of foreign policy and political advisers to Michigan on Thursday in an effort to quell growing outrage over deaths in Gaza ahead of Michigan’s Feb. 27 presidential primary. The appeal has taken on a new urgency after Biden’s previous attempts to assuage Muslim and Arab-American supporters have proven insufficient.

The Journal says that Biden has become enraged at Prime Minister Netanyahu:

The relationship reached a boiling point later that month, according to U.S. and Israeli officials, when Biden abruptly ended their Christmas-week call following a tense exchange about civilian casualties and, in Washington’s view, the need for Israel to shift to a new phase in its war, focused on targeted operations. Biden, who was so angry that he was almost shouting in the Dec. 28 call, according to officials, declared the conversation “over” and hung up.

The good news is that Netanyahu isn’t paying attention:

Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank, said the Biden administration’s public messaging so far is having very little impact on pushing Netanyahu to develop an exit strategy for Gaza or embracing the Biden administration’s goal of advancing talks to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“The gap between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government on a range of key issues has widened in recent weeks as the war between Hamas and Israel continues,” Katulis said.

Yes, that is because Biden and Netanyahu have fundamentally different objectives: Netanyahu wants to protect his people and ensure the viability of the State of Israel, while Biden wants to carry Michigan.

The last thing Israel should do now is scale down its offensive, switch to small, “targeted” operations, and so on. While the numbers are necessarily imprecise, it seems that over half of Hamas’s fighters are still alive. So Israel’s job is not yet half done.

STEVE adds: I have my doubts that the Biden Administration wants Ukraine to defeat Russia, too.

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