Monday, May 27, 2024

Biden’s Efforts to Block Israel’s Invasion of Rafah His ‘Biggest Blunder’

 

 

The Washington Post reports that the Biden administration, in a desperate effort to stave off a full-scale Israeli invasion of Rafah, is offering Israel sensitive intelligence if it holds back on the attack that would enable the Israeli military to pinpoint the location of Hamas leaders and still hidden tunnels in Gaza. But the report, which is based upon four people who claim to be familiar with the offers, also implies that the Biden administration has been withholding this critical information from Israel until now, effectively protecting Hamas’ leaders and making it more difficult for Israel to achieve its objectives and win the war in Gaza.

American officials have also reportedly offered to help provide thousands of shelters so Israel can build tent cities — and to help with the construction of delivery systems for food, water, and medicine for the roughly 800,000 Palestinian civilians that the U.S. insists must be evacuated from the war zone before it will permit Israel to attack and destroy the remaining four Hamas battalions in Rafah.

Over the last several weeks, the Biden administration has been trying to micro-manage Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza. Biden administration officials, including experts from the U.S. Agency for International Development, claim that any full-scale attack on Rafah must be delayed by several months in order to safely relocate hundreds of thousands of civilians now sheltering there.

ISRAEL CLAIMS THAT IT CAN PROTECT GAZA’S CIVILIANS

However, Israeli officials strongly disagree with that assessment. They argue that Israel’s experience in attacking northern Gaza has proven that large numbers of civilians can be successfully relocated from smaller areas that it designates for attack to safer zones much more quickly than U.S. officials claim.

For example, Israel claims that 300,000 civilians have already been evacuated from an area along Gaza’s southeast border that has been designated as a combat zone. Starting on May 6, they have been relocated to a temporary tent city that Israel has already created in the area near Khan Younis known as Al-Mawasi, a safe distance to the northwest of Rafah.

Over the weekend, Israeli planes dropped leaflets for civilians in a designated combat area in Rafah which said, in Arabic, “You are in a dangerous combat zone. The IDF will soon act with extreme force against terrorist organizations in the region in which you are located. Everyone who is in these areas risks his life and the lives of his family members.”

According to a spokeswoman for UNRWA, the U.N.’s Palestinian relief agency, the Israeli-designated combat area in Western Rafah was “visibly emptying before our eyes,” as the civilians who had been living there left for the relative safety of Al-Mawasi following the warning in the Israeli leaflets.

According to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Daniel Hagari, the evacuation will enable Israel to conduct its next planned military operation in Rafah in a “precise” manner and “limited in scope,” while avoiding Rafah’s most “densely populated areas.”

Nevertheless, President Biden has refused to accept the repeated public guarantees from Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu and the other members of Israel’s emergency war cabinet, as well as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the IDF’s senior commanding officers, that every effort will continue to be made to minimize civilian casualties as the IDF’s final attack to destroy Hamas remaining combat units in Rafah unfolds.

The Washington Post also reported that, according to a senior Biden administration official, in private discussions, Israel has provided assurances that its soldiers would not launch an invasion of Rafah before completing the evacuation of about 800,000 Palestinian civilians.

BIDEN DELAYS DELIVERY OF HEAVY BOMBS FOR ISRAEL’S USE IN RAFAH

Nevertheless, in a televised CNN interview last week. President Biden confirmed previous media reports that he has held up delivery of a shipment of a total of 3,500 2,000-lb. and 500-lb. bombs that the Israeli air force will need to penetrate and destroy the Hamas tunnel network in Rafah, where its leaders and remaining military forces are hiding. By depriving Israel of these weapons which are essential to a quick victory, Biden is needlessly prolonging the Rafah operation, inevitably increasing the number of both Israeli military and Gaza civilian casualties, while providing a lifeline and encouragement for Hamas and its supporters.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they [Israel] go after population centers,” Biden declared. “I made it clear [to Israel] that if they go into Rafah … I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically … to deal with [the military problem] of cities [like Rafah].”

Biden claimed that he would “continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks [like the one] that came out of the Middle East recently,” referring to Iran’s April 14 attack in which it launched a total of 320 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drone. The attack tried but failed to destroy the Nevatim air base near Be’er Sheva, which is home to Israel’s fleet of advanced U.S.-built F-35 stealth warplanes.

“We’re not walking away from Israel’s security. We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in [civilian populated] areas,” Biden said. To prove that point, Biden pointed to the U.S.-organized effort to coordinate the successful multinational effort, including Jordan, Great Britain, and France, to help shoot down almost all of the 320 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and drones that Iran launched against Israel last month. Biden also claims to still support Israel’s primary war goal of destroying Hamas in Gaza.

Nevertheless, Biden’s threat to cancel the delivery of the bombs if the Israeli military invades Rafah violates a public pledge he made during his 2020 presidential campaign that he would not place conditions on U.S. aid to Israel, “given the serious threats that Israelis face.”

According to the White House, since the war in Gaza started on October 7, the U.S. has shipped more than 200 planeloads of weapons and ammunition to help Israel defend itself. President Biden has also said that there are no circumstances under which he would stop sending ammunition for Israel’s defense.

However, concerning the 2000-lb. and 500-lb. bombs that the IDF would prefer to use in Rafah, the president said, “It’s just wrong. We’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells. . .

BIDEN’S ULTIMATUM TO BIBI AND HIS WAR CABINET

“I’ve made it clear to Bibi and the [Israeli] war cabinet: They’re not going to get our support if they go [into] these [Rafah] population centers,” Biden declared.

A senior but unnamed Biden administration official told the Washington Post, “We have serious concerns about how Israel has prosecuted this campaign, and that could all come to a head in Rafah.”

Biden and Netanyahu have a long and difficult personal history. However, the tensions between them did not reach a boiling point until April 1, following the killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in what Israel has admitted was a mistaken air strike. Biden then told the prime minister that U.S. military support for Israel’s war in Gaza going forward would depend on new steps by Israel to protect civilians and delivery of a sharply increased amount of humanitarian aid.

An unnamed Biden administration official accused Netanyahu of trying to turn the proposed attack on Rafah to his domestic political advantage and that Israel’s attempt to defeat Hamas through military means has failed because of the ability of Hamas fighters to resurface in areas of Gaza that have previously been cleared by Israeli soldiers.

Meanwhile, IDF spokesman Hagari declared that the Israeli military already has on hand, “the necessary weapons for its planned maneuvers, including in Rafah.” He also was careful to praise the United States for having supported the Israeli military in an “unprecedented way” since the start of the war in Gaza, while noting that previous disagreements between the U.S. and Israel on security issues had always previously been dealt with “behind closed doors.”

Former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror agreed that on a tactical level, Israel could keep fighting in Gaza without immediate additional U.S. support, but that a move to cut off the flow of U.S. offensive weapons could “harm Israeli military readiness in the long term.”

A BRIEF HISTORY OF U.S. ARMS CUTOFFS TO ISRAEL

This is not the first time that a U.S. president has withheld military or financial aid to Israel over a policy dispute. Former President Barack Obama delayed the delivery to Israel of Hellfire missiles for several weeks that were being used during a previous round of Gaza fighting in 2014. George H. W. Bush and his secretary of state, James Baker, withheld billions in loan guarantees that Israel needed to care for a million newly arrived Soviet Jews in the early 1990s, in order to punish Yitzchak Shamir’s Likud-led Israeli government for continuing to build Jewish settlements on the West Bank, but they did not disrupt U.S. arms sales to Israel. In 1982, Ronald Reagan halted a shipment of cluster-type artillery shells after Israel invaded Lebanon, and in 1973, Richard Nixon delayed a week before providing Israel with crucial replacements for the warplanes and other weapons that it lost during the attacks by Egypt and Syria in the first week of the Yom Kippur war.

According to the Washington Post story, a Biden administration official insisted that the suspension of a U.S. delivery of heavy bombs to Israel does not apply to the $14 billion recently approved by Congress to furnish replacement interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and other types of U.S.-made armaments, as well as replacements for the arms that were taken by Israel for use in Gaza, with permission, from the large U.S. military inventories that had been stored for that purpose in Israel.

Nevertheless, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, called Biden’s decision to delay delivery of the bombs “difficult and very disappointing.” Erdan also said in an interview with Israel’s Kan public radio channel that “any pressure on Israel, any limitations on it, even from close allies who care for our interests, are being interpreted by our enemies [Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah] … as something that gives them hope. . .

“If Israel is restricted from entering an area as important and central as Rafah where there are thousands of terrorists, hostages, and leaders of Hamas, how exactly are we supposed to achieve our goals?” Erdan asked during the interview.

He also suggested that “there are many Jewish Americans who voted for the president and for the Democratic Party [in 2020], and now they are hesitant” to vote for Biden again in November.

BIDEN SPOKESMAN KIRBY WARNS OF MORE CUTS IN WEAPONS TO ISRAEL

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters last week that if Israel opts to “smash” into Rafah, President Biden would withhold additional weapons shipments. “Again, we hope it doesn’t come to that.”

Kirby added that Israel now has “a choice … to make.”

He suggested that the U.S. could help Israel in Gaza in other ways if it gave up the idea of invading Gaza, such as helping to make sure the border between Gaza and Egypt can’t be used for smuggling weapons to Hamas, as well as providing more humanitarian aid and working toward standing up “an alternative [Palestinian] governance structure.”

Israel is still being criticized by the Biden administration, the U.N., and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), such as the World Food Program, for failing to make sure that enough humanitarian aid is reaching civilians in Gaza. They ignore the fact that Israel has re-opened the Kerem Sholom border crossing where four Israeli soldiers were killed by a Hamas rocket attack on May 5. Israel has also opened a new border crossing to bring aid directly into northern Gaza. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to attack the border crossings and steal the humanitarian aid being brought to the civilians of Gaza, instead of trying to protect them and relieve their suffering.

Kirby also said, “We [the U.S.] could also, in fact, help them [Israel] target the leaders, including [Hamas’ leader in Gaza, Yahya] Sinwar, which we are, frankly, doing with the Israelis on an ongoing basis.” Meanwhile, the Times of Israel reported that Sinwar is not in Rafah, as had been previously believed, and that more recent intelligence assessments indicate that the Hamas leader is hiding out in underground tunnels in the Khan Younis area.

BIDEN’S WEEK OF MIXED MESSAGES

Last week, the Biden administration continued to send a series of mixed messages, undermining President Biden’s earlier unequivocal declarations of support for Israel’s right to retaliate in self-defense against Hamas in Gaza using full force in retaliation for Hamas’ October 7 attack.

On Monday, Israel was blind-sided by Hamas’ public “acceptance” of a cease-fire deal that had been presented to Hamas by American, Egyptian, and Qatari mediators 10 days earlier, but which had not previously been shown to Israel. According to a report on the Axios news website, the deal Hamas accepted contained “many new elements” and concessions to Hamas demands that were not contained in the previous cease-fire proposal to which Israel had agreed, and which came as a rude shock to Israeli officials.

The backhanded U.S. diplomatic move was reminiscent of the notorious September 1938 Munich pact, in which the leaders of France and Britain attempted to appease Nazi leader Adolph Hitler, ym”sh, by ceding the province of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland to Germany without the permission of Czech leaders. Then-British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain boasted at the time that giving in to Hitler’s demands would lead to “peace in our times,” when, in fact, he only confirmed Hitler’s belief that British and French leaders were too weak to resist him.

BIDEN’S SHAMEFUL MUNICH MOMENT

As Winston Churchill, who had become a political outcast in Parliament during the 1930s for repeatedly warning against the threat from Nazi Germany, told Chamberlain after he returned from Munich, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor, and you will have war.” Less than a year later, Churchill’s prediction came true when Germany invaded Poland, starting World War II.

That is a very relevant historical lesson that the Biden administration would do well to remember in light of its repeated failure to stand up against continued aggression against Israel by Iran and its terrorist proxies, including Hamas and Hezbollah.

Apparently, the Biden administration gave Hamas guarantees via the Egyptians and Qataris that the new deal would permanently end the war, which Israel’s leaders have insisted since the October 7 attack will not happen before Hamas is thoroughly defeated, all the remaining hostages, dead and alive, are released, and Gaza is never again permitted to pose a threat to Israel’s security.

On Tuesday, in a prepared address delivered at a Holocaust memorial event, President Biden, for the first time, clearly and forcefully condemned the pro-Palestinian and openly antisemitic demonstrations and acts of violence on college campuses across the country by identifying the Hamas attack as a deliberate effort to repeat the atrocities and war crimes committed against the Jewish people by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

BIDEN BELATEDLY SPEAKS OUT AGAINST ANTISEMITIC PROTESTS

Even though it was seriously belated, Biden’s strong statement was warmly welcomed by American Jews who have grown increasingly concerned by the lack of a serious response by the Biden White House, the federal Justice Department, and the FBI. to the well-organized nationwide surge of antisemitic hate crimes orchestrated by the pro-Palestinian, Muslim and radical leftist anti-American groups triggered by the October 7 attack.

However, Biden immediately muddled that message by announcing during his interview with CNN reporter Erin Burnett the very next day that a major Israeli invasion of Rafah would lead to an immediate cutoff of any further U.S. shipments of offensive weapons to Israel, leaving it increasingly incapable of responding in kind to continuing missile attacks from Iran and its regional terrorist proxies, including almost daily barrages from Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen.

In the same interview, Biden also highlighted his sharp differences with Netanyahu over who will govern Gaza, replacing Hamas after the war is over. The Biden administration has said it wants a thoroughly reformed Palestinian Authority to take responsibility for ruling postwar Gaza, as part of a larger agreement to establish a Palestinian state on the West Bank. Biden and his Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, have held multiple discussions with five unnamed Arab states, which are believed to be Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt and Qatar. Biden has said that the five “are prepared to help rebuild Gaza, prepared to help transition to a two-state solution… to maintain the security and peace while they’re working out a Palestinian Authority that’s real and not corrupt.” The Arab states have also reportedly conditioned their cooperation in rebuilding Gaza on Israel agreeing to create a pathway for a two-state solution.

NETANYAHU INSISTS ON POSTWAR ISRAELI SECURITY CONTROL OVER GAZA

But Netanyahu has insisted that Israel must maintain security control over Gaza indefinitely. The prime minister also refuses to even contemplate the creation of a Palestinian state in the foreseeable future.

In his CNN interview, Biden also recalled what he told Netanyahu when he visited Israel just two weeks after the Hamas attack on October 7. “We’ll help you get [Hamas leader] Sinwar. We will help you focus on getting the bad guys.”

But Biden also said that he told Netanyahu during his October visit to Israel, “Don’t make the same mistake we made in America [after 9/11],” referring to what Biden characterized as U.S. missteps in the extended wars it fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Then, on Friday the Biden State Department issued its long-awaited report to Congress on whether the U.S. believed that Israel had used its U.S.-supplied weapons in Gaza in violation of international humanitarian law. That accusation against Israel has been made by pro-Palestinian leftist human rights groups assisting Gaza civilians, and left-wing Democrats, such as Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen.

Deliberately fudging its conclusions, the report declared that “It is reasonable to assess that” Israel has violated “obligations or… established best practices for mitigating civilian harm,” clearly implying that Israel was guilty, as Hamas and its supporters have claimed, that it has committed war crimes in Gaza. But the report then went on to note steps that Israel has taken extensive measures to mitigate the harm to civilians in Gaza, as well as the considerable difficulty that Israel faces in doing so because Hamas deliberately uses those civilians as human shields in total disregard for the accepted international rules of warfare.

STATE DEPARTMENT REPORT SMEARS ISRAEL’S REPUTATION

The report also criticized Israel for providing only “limited information” about its use of U.S.-made munitions in “incidents that raise concerns about Israel’s international humanitarian law compliance.”

The report conceded that “Israel has taken “some steps” to mitigate harm to civilians in Gaza, and has the “knowledge” and the “tools” to do so. But “the results on the ground, including high levels of civilian casualties, raise substantial questions as to whether the IDF is using them effectively in all cases.”

Despite Israel’s unprecedented efforts to reduce the risks in the war zone to Gaza’s civilians and humanitarian workers providing for their needs, the report claimed that they were insufficient to prevent large numbers of civilian deaths and casualties among the aid workers. Nevertheless, the report concluded that U.S. military aid to Israel should continue because, while the U.S. Intelligence Community “assesses that Israel could do more to avoid civilian harm,” it also “has no direct indication of Israel intentionally targeting civilians.”

The day before the report was issued, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters that “Even when Israel has taken additional steps to minimize civilian harm, we have still seen results where far too many civilians were dying.”

A Biden administration official denied suggestions that the president decided to halt the delivery of bombs to Israel and step up his criticism of the proposed Israeli attack on Rafah in response to fears that the pro-Palestinian protests could cost him the youth vote, as well as Muslim votes in the November presidential election, especially in the battleground state of Michigan. But in his CNN interview, Biden did admit that he “absolutely” has heard the message being shouted against his policy supporting Israel’s war in Gaza at campus protests across the country.

BLINKEN PREDICTS THAT AN ISRAELI ATTACK ON RAFAH WILL FAIL

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a televised NBC News Sunday “Meet the Press” interview that the planned major IDF military operation in Rafah will not succeed in destroying Hamas’ ability to operate effectively in Gaza.

“We treat Israel, one of our closest allies and partners, just as we would treat any other country, including in assessing something like international humanitarian law and its compliance with that law,” Blinken said.

He also questioned whether such a victory was possible given Hamas’ record of returning to the areas of Gaza where they suffered defeat after the bulk of Israeli troops had left.

“We’ve seen in areas that Israel has cleared in the north, even in Khan Yunis, Hamas coming back.”

Blinken also said that Israeli troops that are in Gaza now are facing an “incredibly complex military environment.

“You have an enemy that intentionally embeds itself with civilians hiding under and within schools, mosques, apartment buildings, [and] firing at the Israeli forces from those places,” he explained.

“Based on the totality of the harm that’s been done to children, to women, to men who are caught in this crossfire Hamas is making, it’s reasonable to conclude that there are instances where Israel has acted in ways that are not consistent with international humanitarian law.”

But Blinken also noted that the IDF has carried out “hundreds” of inquiries, including criminal probes, into claims of improper behavior by its forces.

“Israel, unlike many other countries, has both the means and the will to try to police itself. So we need to let those play out,” he conceded.

“Right now, the trajectory that Israel is on, even if it goes in and takes heavy action in Rafah, there will still be thousands of armed Hamas left,” he said.

“Going into Rafah even to deal with these remaining battalions, especially in the absence of a plan for civilians, risks doing terrible harm to civilians and not solving the problem, a problem that both of us want to solve, which is making sure that Hamas cannot again govern Gaza.

“Israel is on the trajectory potentially to inherit an insurgency with many armed Hamas left. If it [Hamas does] leave [Gaza, it will create] a vacuum [to be] filled by chaos, anarchy, and probably [eventually] refilled by Hamas,” Blinken predicted.

The secretary of state added, “We’ve been talking to them [Israeli leaders] about a much better way of getting an enduring result, [with] enduring security, both in Gaza itself and much more broadly in the region. Those conversations continue.”

In a separate interview with CBS News the same day as his appearance on NBC, Blinken was even more explicit in suggesting that Netanyahu’s goal of destroying Hamas in Gaza by attacking its remaining forces in Rafah was unachievable, which will ultimately force Israel to learn to live with the continued presence of Hamas in Gaza, even after the war is over.

“As we look at Rafah, they [Israel] may go in and have some initial success, but potentially at an incredibly high cost to civilians, but one that is not durable, that’s not sustainable. And they will be left holding the bag on an enduring insurgency because a lot of armed Hamas will be left no matter what they do in Rafah.”

Blinken said that instead of invading Rafah, Israel should try to develop a viable exit strategy from Gaza. Secretary of State Blinken also called upon Israel to develop “credible plans for security, for governance, [and] for rebuilding,” that tacitly accepts Hamas’ continued existence in Gaza.

Blinken also reiterated that “We [the Biden administration] have real concerns about the way [American weapons] are used. What we’ve been clear about is that if Israel launches this major military operation to Rafah, then there are certain [weapons] systems that we’re not going to be supporting and supplying for that operation.”

Biden’s National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan made a similar statement in a televised ABC News interview the same day.

He said that “[President] Biden doesn’t want to see American weapons used in that kind of operation [in Gaza]. That’s not to say that he is going to abandon Israel or cut them off from weapons [entirely].

“He [Biden] was focused on a particular operation that he doesn’t believe will succeed in defeating Hamas and that will cause grievous harm” to Gaza’s civilians, Sullivan said.

In an interview with Israel’s Channel 12, Biden’s ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, tried to minimize the significance of the decision to delay the delivery of bombs to Israel by pointing out that, that only “one set of munitions” has been held back, and that “everything else keeps flowing.” Lew insisted that “fundamentally, nothing has changed in the basic relationship” between Israel and the U.S., and that the leaders of the two countries “need to keep talking through” issues that relate to the use of “heavy bombs, particularly when there’s the possibility of them being used in densely populated urban areas.”

WHY ALL EYES ARE NOW ON RAFAH

Meanwhile, Jerusalem Post reporter senior military correspondent Yonah Jeremy Bob notes that Rafah had never before been considered to be “the key to resolving the war and peace issues between the Israeli government, the IDF, Hamas, and the U.S.. . . it has evolved, in some ways by accident, into being the issue which has now brought every conflict between the many sides to this war to the forefront.”

Bob also opined that “it is not at all clear whether a larger [IDF] operation in Rafah is worth the cost at this point, given U.S. and Egyptian opposition and Israel’s ongoing inability to corner [Hamas leader] Sinwar on one hand, balanced against the need to eliminate Hamas’ remaining battalions on the other hand.

Bob is skeptical of the American offer to use its intelligence sources to locate Sinwar because he believes, “unfortunately, it is unlikely that Washington has better intelligence than Israel on where Sinwar is hiding. If it did, presumably it would have shared that information long ago to end the war much sooner.”

Instead, Bob suggests that the Biden administration leaked its offer to help Israel find Sinwar “for public relations [purposes] to try to corner Israel into looking unreasonable if it wants to continue into Rafah.”

Bob writes that “the same is true about the alleged debate between Israel and the U.S. over whether it will take weeks (according to Israel) or months (according to the U.S.) to evacuate civilians from Gaza.

“Top Israeli sources have [told him] that really the disagreement is about whether to build all of the tents for evacuees before or after they evacuate [from Rafah]. The U.S. wants [the] makeshift new neighborhoods put up before evacuation. . . [while] the IDF [fears] putting up tents before the evacuation could lead to Hamas destroying them. [The IDF believes that] even Hamas will not brazenly attack tents once Palestinian civilians have occupied them.”

Bob believes this Israeli-American dispute is more about public relations than the laws of war. and [that it] is more about American anger at the Jewish state, for not only killing so many Gazans, but also for destroying so much neighborhood infrastructure — making rebuilding [Gaza] that much harder.”

He also writes that “Really, this is about the U.S. having lost patience with promises it feels Israel made in the past and then broke. . . [and] about Biden wanting a ‘return’ on six months of ‘investing’ militarily and diplomatically in Israel’s war, despite the heavy criticism he took [from Israel’s liberal Democrat American enemies] for providing that support.”

Bob concludes that “while Rafah itself is certainly a potential crisis point, much of the current crisis has more to do with all of the conflicts over the past seven months between Netanyahu, the U.S., and the Israeli defense establishment coming to a head all at the same time.”

HAS BIDEN BEEN MISLED BY HIS GRAND BARGAIN STRATEGY?

Gerald M. Steinberg, a professor emeritus who taught politics at Bar-Ilan University, has a much darker theory to explain Biden’s near 180-degree flip-flop on his policy towards Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

Writing in a Jerusalem Post op-ed column, Steinberg attributes the dramatic policy reversal to Biden’s “Grand Bargain” strategy for the Middle East, which had its origins when he served as vice president in the Obama administration. It calls for an “‘irrevocable commitment’ to Palestinian statehood, an ‘end of [the Israeli-Palestinian] conflict;’ and a large-scale Israeli withdrawal on the West Bank.” The only new element in the Biden strategy is the addition of a formal Saudi-Israeli peace agreement, patterned after the successful Trump and Netanyahu approach in fashioning the Abraham Accords.

However, according to Steinberg, Biden’s Grand Bargain strategy is based upon the same illusions that were responsible for the failure of the 1993 Oslo Accords. Instead of leading to peace, the Oslo Accords effectively “ended in the disaster known as the Second Intifada, in which over 1000 Israelis were murdered in mass [suicide] bombings and shootings, and thousands more died on the Palestinian side.”

REPEATING THE FAILURES OF THE OSLO ACCORDS

The fundamental problem with the strategy behind the Oslo Accords, which survives to this day in Biden’s Grand Bargain, was “that Yasser Arafat and the PLO, as well as Hamas leaders never bought into the ‘shared interests’ that were taken for granted by the optimistic Israelis and the Clinton administration,” and who were deeply disappointed and surprised when their efforts to negotiate a two-state solution repeatedly failed.

Steinberg also writes that “Iran and its proxies also see these developments as weakening the IDF’s capability to use its military superiority offensively. And as long as Hezbollah’s terror squads remain in southern Lebanon, the 50,000 or so Israeli civilians that were evacuated from their homes after October 7 will continue to be ‘displaced.’ In Tehran, regime leaders draw strength from the very visible American constraints placed on Israel. . .

“Thus, instead of encouraging restraint and cooperation, as the [Biden] dream scenario envisions, greater instability and violence are far more likely,” Steinberg writes. He also notes that “most Israelis [today] understand the massive gap between [the] optimistic dream scenarios” behind Biden’s strategy and today’s harsh Middle East political realities.

“For all these reasons,” Steinberg concludes, “successful diplomacy must be based on realism, in contrast to [the Biden administration’s] wishful thinking and illusions of a ‘Grand Bargain.’”

However, to his credit, Biden has finally recognized and condemned the antisemitic undertones of the pro-Palestinian campus protests.

Reiterating some of the points he made during his previous speech on Holocaust Memorial Day, Biden said, “There’s a legitimate right to free speech and protest… There’s not a legitimate right to use hate speech; there’s not a legitimate right to threaten Jewish students; there’s not a legitimate right to block people’s access to class. That’s against the law,” he said.

“I made a speech on Holocaust Day and pointed out that it took seven decades to get to [this] place. . . after the Holocaust occurred, and there’s still antisemitism. Look what’s happened in [the past] seven [months]… Everybody’s sort of forgotten about what happened in Israel. Those 1,200 [sic] young kids murdered. I saw pictures… [of] a mother and her daughter being roped together and then kerosene poured and burned to death. Nothing like this has happened to the Jewish community since the Holocaust,” Biden said.

ISRAEL’S FRIENDS AND ENEMIES ANGRY AT BIDEN OVER GAZA

The State Department’s report’s severely compromised conclusion about the legitimacy of Israel’s use of military force in Gaza left both Israel’s enemies and supporters deeply unhappy, and even angrier at Biden and his administration’s deeply confused and ambiguous public position on the morality of Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza, and the future of American military aid to Israel.

Earlier last week, Biden’s White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, tried to resolve the confusion over the administration’s position on the war in Gaza by arguing that, “Two things can be true at once. Israel has a right and a responsibility to defend itself, and we’re going to continue to provide for their security and help them with that. And at the same time, they have a right and obligation to be careful about civilian casualties and getting more humanitarian assistance.”

Andrew Bates, another White House spokesman, argued that “the American people expect their presidents to have the guts to make hard national security decisions, and to put our safety, interests, principles, and alliances above politics. That’s exactly what Joe Biden is doing. He is standing with Israel as they fight the Hamas terrorists who committed the hideous October 7 attacks, and is making clear that how Israel defends itself matters because we do not want to see any more civilians killed.”

CORRECTING HAMAS’ EXAGGERATED GAZA CIVILIAN CASUALTY FIGURES

Since the start of the war in Gaza, the Biden administration and the mainstream media have accepted at face value the unconfirmed casualty estimates issued by the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry. It claims that more than 35,000 people have been killed so far, most of whom were women and children. But that estimate does not differentiate between dead Hamas fighters and civilian casualties.

Israel’s supporters point to a sophisticated statistical analysis in January which shows that the Hamas death figures are highly unlikely. Professor Abraham Wyner, who conducted the statistical analysis for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Tablet Magazine that the rate of deaths reported by the Gaza health ministry was unnatural and suggested that its figures had been manipulated for public relations and political purposes.

Last week, the U.N. quietly issued a sharply reduced Gaza casualty estimate which only counts the dead whose identities have been verified. As of the data it collected by April 30, the U.N. reduced its estimate of the total number of casualties in Gaza by about 30% to 24,686 individuals, including 10,006 (40%) men; 4,959 (20%) women, and 7,797 (32%) children. The new U.N. casualty estimate also reduces the number of women and children killed by about half, compared to its previous estimate.

The Israeli military estimates that it has killed about 14,000 Hamas terrorists since the war in Gaza began, which suggests that the actual ratio of Gaza civilians to combatant casualties is about 1-1, which is far lower than the ratio in recent comparable battles involving U.S. troops, such as the liberation of the Iraqi city of Mosul from ISIS in 2017.

ISRAELI LEADERS DETERMINED TO GO FORWARD WITH THE RAFAH ATTACK

Despite Biden’s decision to withhold the weapons Israel needs to win the war in Gaza and respond to the ongoing attacks on Israel by its enemies on all sides, Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to promise that the Israeli army will go forward with its plans to attack Rafah with “extreme force.” In response to a previous public declaration by Biden that an Israeli invasion of Rafah without adequate safeguards for the civilians in the area would be crossing a “red line,” Netanyahu defiantly responded that Israel would do whatever was necessary to defeat the remaining Hamas fighters in Rafah.

A day after Biden announced that he had delayed the shipment of bombs to Israel, Netanyahu released the video of a speech he delivered earlier last week at a Yad Vashem event on Holocaust Remembrance Day in which he said “To the leaders of the world, no amount of pressure, no decision from any international forum, will stop Israel from defending itself.

“If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone,” he declared, adding, “We will defeat our genocidal enemies. Never again is now.”

Similarly, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed in a message to Israel’s “enemies and best friends” that the IDF “will achieve [its] goals in the north and south. Israel cannot be subdued.

We will stand, we will achieve our goals, we will hit Hamas, we will destroy Hezbollah, and we will bring security [to the people of Israel].”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweeted on X, in response to Biden’s decision to delay the shipment of bombs, that “Israel will continue to fight Hamas until its destruction. There is no war more just than this.”

Support in Israel for an IDF attack on the remnants of Hamas in Rafah is not limited to its elected leaders, Kobi Michael, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv told the Washington Post. “If the U.S. administration thought that by threatening Israel, then Israel would hesitate, they were mistaken. There is very broad consensus not only among the political echelon but also among the Israeli public, that the operation in Rafah must be done now,” Michael said.

On the other hand, Yair Lapid, the head of the opposition to Netanyahu’s government said that the prime minister is responsible for the “failed management” of Israel’s critical ties with the United States. “The failure of this becoming a public disagreement during wartime is entirely on the government,” Lapid said in an Israeli radio interview.

BIDEN HANDING TRUMP AND THE REPUBLICANS A WINNING ISSUE

Biden’s decision to withhold the bombs Israel needs to attack Hamas in Rafah was also harshly criticized by Donald Trump and prominent Republicans in the House and Senate.

Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform, “Crooked Joe [Biden] is taking the side of these terrorists just like he has sided with the radical mobs taking over our college campuses because his donors are funding them.”

Trump also said, “What Biden is doing to Israel is disgraceful. If any Jewish person voted for Joe Biden, he should be ashamed of himself. He’s totally abandoned Israel as nobody can believe it.”

GOP House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a joint letter to President Biden blasting his decision to hold up the U.S. arms transfer to Israel. “[It] flies in the face of assurances provided regarding the timely delivery of security assistance to Israel [and] call[s] into question your pledge that your commitment to Israel’s security will remain ironclad,” they wrote.

“Israel faces an existential and multi-front threat as recently demonstrated by the direct attack by Iran and Iranian-backed terrorists, and daylight between the United States and Israel at this dangerous time risks emboldening Israel’s enemies and undermining the trust that other allies and partners have in the United States.”

During an earlier press conference, Senator McConnell said about the strained relationship between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s government, “This is obviously an extremely challenging situation. I think the last thing we ought to be doing is telling our democratic allies you ought to have an election or you ought not to conduct this war in a certain way.”

Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah tweeted, “We stand by allies, we don’t second guess them. Biden’s dithering on Israel weapons is bad policy and a terrible message to Israel, our allies, and the world.”

Arkansas Republican Senator Tom Cotton wrote that Biden’s “de facto position is a Hamas victory.”

In an effort to prevent the recurrence of Biden’s decision to delay the delivery of approved arms to Israel, Texas Republican Congresswoman Beth Van Duyne has introduced the “Immediate Support for Israel Act,” which would require transfers of American weapons for Israel that were approved by Congress last month in a $95 billion foreign aid package to occur within 30 days of their procurement.

Republican Congressman Cory Mills of Florida has told Fox News that he is drafting an article of impeachment against Biden for withholding aid from Israel, in the same way that Democrats drafted an article of impeachment against then-President Donald Trump for denying military aid to Ukraine during a July 25, 2019 phone call with its President Volodymyr Zelensky. Arkansas GOP Senator Tom Cotton has endorsed that idea, declaring that the House “has no choice but to impeach Biden.”

DEMOCRATS DEEPLY SPLIT OVER ISRAEL’S WAR IN GAZA

Meanwhile, Democrat reaction to Biden’s decision was split. Anti-Israel progressive Democrats and Vermont’s socialist Senator Bernie Sanders called the cutoff of U.S. military aid to Israel long overdue. Sanders told CNN that “Netanyahu should not have gotten a nickel so long as he continued this incredibly destructive war. I’m glad to see that the president is beginning to move in that direction.”

Senator Van Hollen said that he would like to see Congress dig deeper into the State Department report’s findings, but added, “What is undeniable is the fact that for the greater part of the period since Oct. 7, the Netanyahu government has restricted the flow of humanitarian assistance.”

But Democrats who still support Israel were harshly critical of Biden’s move. Pennsylvania’s Democrat Senator John Fetterman, who has been speaking out in support of Israel’s war against Hamas, said that he was in “hard disagree[ment]” with Biden’s decision to cut off the arms shipment, which he found to be “deeply disappointing.”

New York Democrat Congressman Richie Torres told Axios he believes that by cutting off the shipment to Israel, Biden was “pandering to the far left.

“It looks like election-year politics was driving it. That’s my impression,” Torres added. “I’d like the president to do right by Israel and recognize that the far left is not representative of the rest of the country.”

Maine Democrat Congressman Jared Golden tweeted, “The President’s actions signal weakness to Hamas, to our allies and adversaries abroad, and at home.”

FIRST PHASE OF THE RAFAH OPERATION IN PROGRESS

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu has already implemented several steps which indicate that the first stages of the long-promised Israeli military operation in Rafah are now in progress. According to IDF spokesman Hagari, the initial operation last week killed dozens of terrorists and uncovered several underground tunnels in Rafah. Hagari also stressed that the Israeli military activities in Rafah so far “remain limited in scope and focus on tactical advances; tactical adjustments; and military advantages — and have avoided densely populated areas.”

In addition, in a small ground raid, Israeli soldiers captured the Gaza side of the border crossing with Egypt. The Rafah crossing had continued to operate under Hamas supervision since October 7, providing the terrorists with a significant source of income and the ability to smuggle weapons and other contraband into Gaza from the Egyptian side of the border.

According to Yossi Kupperwasser, a former head of research at Israel’s military intelligence agency, Israel’s Rafah offensive is already “underway” in a “gradual” way with “limited forces” meant to satisfy Biden’s demands for a sharp reduction in civilian casualties compared to earlier Israeli offensives in Gaza. Biden administration officials last week confirmed that Israel’s limited operation on the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing did not violate Biden’s red line. Nevertheless, a few hours later, the White House confirmed that Biden had blocked the delivery of the heavy bombs to Israel.

Over the last week, two brigades of Israeli troops have also been sent to fight limited military operations in areas of northern Gaza, such as the Jabalya refugee camp, Beit Lahia, and the Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza City, which the IDF had conquered earlier this year, but to which some Hamas fighters returned after the bulk of Israeli troops left.

The Washington Post report also claimed that U.S. officials are now working closely with Egypt to find and cut off the many tunnels across the entire 8.7-mile length of the Egypt-Gaza border known as the Philadelphi area, which Hamas has historically used to replenish itself militarily. However, Egypt has publicly declared that it will not permit Israel surveillance of the corridor to stop the flow of arms and other contraband to Hamas.

According to a report by Israel’s Channel 12, the Israeli military’s plans for the Rafah operation should take about two months. In light of Biden administration objections, the Rafah attack is to be carried out in successive, limited phases in contrast to the sudden full-scale invasions that characterized the previous Israeli attacks on Gaza City and Khan Younis. The separate phases are also designed to accommodate the need for a pause in the fighting should the ongoing negotiations with Hamas result in a hostage release deal, and for the attack on Rafah to resume once the temporary cease-fire ends. Israel’s security cabinet announced that it had voted to approve the phased attack plan for Rafah last Thursday.

HAMAS LEADERS WANT ISRAEL TO ATTACK RAFAH

However, according to the Washington Post report, “the Biden administration has made an internal assessment that Hamas — and its leader in Gaza, Yehiya Sinwar — would welcome a major, protracted battle in Rafah that is destructive and deadly. . . because it would further isolate Israel.”

It appears that Biden’s ultimate goal is to use Israel’s heavy reliance on a continuing flow of crucial U.S. military weapons as the war continues to force Israel to accept, very much against its will, a totally impractical two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. The Biden strategy continues to ignore the fact that the current Palestinian leadership, including Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority, remain fundamentally unwilling to accept the legitimacy and permanent presence of Israel in the region and continue to support terrorist attacks on Israel.

The Biden administration also continues to reject a much more simple and effective way to protect the bulk of the 1.3 million civilians who have already been displaced from their homes and reconcentrated in the area of Rafah, which is adjacent to the Egyptian border. They could be quickly and easily moved into a temporary refugee camp set up in the largely vacant area of the Sinai desert on the Egyptian side of the border, safely outside of the combat area, easy to fully supply with international humanitarian, and no longer forced to serve as human shields for Hamas.

However, since the start of the Gaza war, the Biden administration has ruled out that option by backing the Egyptian government’s refusal to abide by its obligation under international law to open its borders to refugees escaping war in a neighboring country. Egypt has also now threatened to cancel its longstanding peace treaty with Israel, which was negotiated and signed under U.S. auspices more than 45 years ago if Israel goes forward with its attack on Rafah on the Gaza side of Egypt’s border.

BIDEN DEMANDS TO SEE ISRAEL’S PLAN TO PROTECT RAFAH’S CIVILIANS

Biden and his aides are insisting that Israel must provide basic infrastructure — including shelter, food, water, medicine, and other necessities for the civilians who will be evacuated from Rafah in advance of the Israeli attack. U.S. government experts have been dictating the preparations in Rafah they are demanding from their Israeli counterparts in great detail, down to the level of how many tents and how much water would be needed for specific areas. Biden administration officials, as well as some of the NGO groups providing humanitarian assistance, have also said that safely evacuating the civilians now sheltering in Rafah is nearly impossible given the dangerous conditions in the rest of Gaza.

Biden White House officials have been demanding that before approving the military operation against Hamas in Rafah, Israel submit to them a credible and highly detailed plan to house, feed, clothe, and care for the hundreds of thousands of Gaza civilians who will be forced to leave the combat zone.

On the other hand, Elliot Abrams, who served as a national security and foreign policy advisor for President Donald Trump, President George W. Bush, and President Ronald Reagan, and who is currently a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that “U.S. concerns about the [safety of the] Rafah population are more likely to be met by having people move out of Rafah,” as Israel suggests. Abrams also described the current Biden administration policy as “self-defeating” by giving Hamas reassurance that it can [safely] stay put in Rafah and need not compromise on its terms in the cease-fire talks.

BIDEN’S GOOD INTENTIONS WILL NOT BE REALIZED

Meanwhile, Brett Stephens, the only consistently pro-Israel voice still regularly appearing on the New York Times editorial pages, writes that even though Biden may mean well by pausing the delivery of 3,500 bombs to Israel in order “to spare innocent Palestinians from the military consequences of Hamas using Rafah as its last stronghold in Gaza. . .

“But motives are not results,” the former Jerusalem Post editor observes. “And the consequences of Biden’s decision, if not soon reversed, will be the opposite of what he intends.”

First of all, Stephens points out, “The munitions cutoff helps Hamas. . . It is both a propaganda coup and a tactical victory for Hamas that validates its decision to treat its own people as human shields. And it emboldens Hamas to continue playing for time — especially in the hostage negotiations — with the idea that the longer it holds out, the likelier it is to survive.”

Second, Stephens warns, “It doesn’t end the war. It prolongs it [because] no Israeli government, even one led by someone more moderate than Netanyahu, is going to leave Gaza with Hamas still in control of any part of the territory. . .

“That means that one way or the other, Israel is going in, if not with [American-made] bombs [steered by American-made] precision-guidance kits, then with far less accurate 120-millimeter tank shells and 5.56-millimeter bullets [which will] put Israeli troops at greater risk, [and extend the war with] weeks or months of house-to-house combat.”

Next, withholding the bombs from the Israeli military “diminishes Israel’s deterrent power and is a recipe for a wider war.” That is especially true if Hezbollah’s leaders believe that Israel’s air force will soon be suffering from “a munitions shortage, and decides that now would be an opportune time to strike. . . with its arsenal of an estimated 150,000 rockets and missiles.”

THE DANGER OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Stephens also predicts that Biden’s arms cutoff to Israel could lead to “unintended foreign-policy consequences.

“Israeli doubts about America’s reliability as an ally won’t [necessarily] lead to Israeli pliancy. Instead, it will strengthen [Israel’s] determination to become far more independent of Washington’s influence in ways [the Biden administration] may not like,” such as supplying state-of-the-art Israeli cyber tech to Beijing, or creating an incentive for closer Israeli ties to Moscow.

Stephens observes that, from a political point of view, Netanyahu might become stronger by making the case that only he and his right-wing coalition partners have the courage to stand up to a weak American “liberal president who folds to pressure from Israel-hating campus protesters.”

It is also a political gift by Biden to Donald Trump because, according to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll, “a clear majority of Americans back the current level of [U.S.] support for Israel or even want to increase it.

“It also plays into the perception that Biden is weak — unable to stand up to the left flank of his party, and a feckless ally to our embattled friends [abroad].”

Stephens concludes that “there is still time for the president to reverse this ill-judged decision [to cut off the supply of American-made offensive arms to Israel], but if he fails to do so, it is likely to be viewed by the judgment of history as the ‘biggest blunder’ of Biden’s presidency.”

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