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President Biden’s betrayal of Israel

His threat to withhold weapons from Israel makes a lasting peace less likely


President Joe Biden boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base on May 8. Associated Press/Photo by Evan Vucci

President Biden’s betrayal of Israel
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President Biden’s announcement last Wednesday threatening to withhold weapons shipments from Israel if the IDF launches a full-scale assault on the south Gaza city of Rafah is contemptible. It is a double betrayal. First, it is the betrayal of an ally, hamstringing Israel’s right and responsibility to protect its people. It is also a betrayal of those Palestinians longing for a governing authority in Gaza that cares for its people. In this moment, the paths toward lasting Israeli security and any prospect for Palestinian flourishing are largely coterminous: They are reached by destroying Hamas.

The Biden administration has repeatedly made clear it opposes ground operations into Rafah unless the IDF can provide a credible plan to protect the million or so Palestinians sheltered there from fighting in the north. IDF spokesmen insist Tel Aviv shared such plans earlier this month. In coordination with international actors, Israel is preparing to direct Palestinians in Rafah to designated “humanitarian islands,” including Al-Mawasi—a strip of land on the Gazan coast roughly adjacent to the Rafah enclave—where they will be provided temporary housing, food, water, and other necessities. In response, an administration official maintains that Israel has “not fully addressed our concerns.” This results in something of a showdown.

With the only Hamas battalions that remain a viable fighting force being positioned in, around, and under Rafah, Israel rightly asserts that a ground operation there is essential in meeting its war aim of destroying Hamas as a military and political power. If Israel can get at and eliminate the Hamas fighters in Rafah, the terror group’s existence as a military organization capable of posting any real threat to Israel will be largely over—at least for some time. Just as essential, if, having broken Hamas’ back in Rafah, Israel can wrest control of the crossings between Egypt and Gaza then they—and not Hamas—will control the economic and humanitarian lifelines into Gaza. This effectively eliminates Hamas as the dominate political element in Gaza. There is no alternate strategy for doing any of this that does not involve a move on Rafah.

And yet, in the beginning of last week, as Israeli leaders began to signal they were approaching a launch-point on a Rafah operation, the White House halted a shipment of high-payload munitions and maneuvered to effectively pause delivery of other weapons systems including tank rounds, military vehicles, mortars, and upwards of 6,500 JDAMs—kits that convert dumb bombs into precision-guided munitions and which, not incidentally, are quite useful for limiting civilian harm. Biden’s more recent remarks threaten additional weapons, including artillery.

The best way to protect innocent Palestinians is to help Israel end this fight as quickly—and discriminately—as reasonably possible.

Some downplay the force of recent White House moves. Israeli officials suggest Biden’s warning is mere messaging, rightly seen as political theater that won’t actually affect Israel’s ability, in the short term, to wage war. The IDF maintains a certain amount of reserve munitions—sufficient at least for a full-scale fight against Hezbollah—that it can draw on to avoid any immediate military impact. The problem is, they have already drawn from this stockpile to supply the Gaza fight. Biden’s kubuki, if it is mere theater, is a dangerous game that could negatively affect Israel’s long-term ability to fight on several fronts if its slow-simmering conflict with Hezbollah boils over.

Moreover, Biden’s messaging emboldens Hamas both by confirming that they are winning the public relations campaign and by validating their strategy of fighting against Israel from within the civilian population. By punishing Israel for the war’s civilian toll—largely attributable to Hamas’ tactics—Biden will only incentivize those tactics. Hamas—which started this war—will continue sewing its military forces into the fabric of Palestinian society. In trying to protect them, Biden has blundered into putting them at further risk.

The best way to protect innocent Palestinians is to help Israel end this fight as quickly—and discriminately—as reasonably possible. There is no question whether the Middle East will be better off without Hamas. A Gaza free of Hamas’ parasitic leadership, which has engorged its theocratic fever-dreams on the lives of innocent Palestinians since 2007, will be a godsend for those innocent Palestinians. There are signs even now that many will feel liberated by the destruction of Hamas.

If Israel is sane, the government has no interest in even a short-term occupation of Gaza. The Biden Administration should focus its energies on helping to manage a hand-off as quickly as possible once Hamas has been made a memory. None of this will be either easy or certain. It may be that the route to an enduring non-Hamas Palestinian government in Gaza has to pass through the temporary stewardship of a UN peacekeeping force or an Arab coalition. But whatever that route, it is likely the only path along which the viable hope of something like peace can pass.

Biden has a choice. He can side with hope—by helping Israel win. Or he can side with Hamas. He had better choose rightly.


Marc LiVecche

Marc LiVecche is the McDonald Distinguished Scholar of Ethics, War, and Public Life at Providence: A Journal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy. He is also a non-resident research fellow at the U.S. Naval War College in the College of Leadership & Ethics. He is the author of The Good Kill: Just War and Moral Injury.

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