Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

Netanyahu Blasts Biden’s Slowdown in Delivering Arms to Israel

 

At the weekly Israeli cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu doubled down on his decision last week to issue an English language video that criticized the Biden White House States for its “inconceivable” hold-up of shipments of weapons Israel needs to finish the war against Hamas in Gaza.

After expressing his appreciation for President Joe Biden’s support for Israel in its war against Hamas, Netanyahu said that four months ago, there was a “dramatic drop” in the weapons pipeline to Israel without going into detail.

However, Israel’s Channel 12 reported that during the first part of the war, the U.S. delivered 240 weapons shipments to Israel, but that number dropped roughly in half to 120 shipments during the last four months.

While Biden said his decision to stop the delivery to the IDF of 2,000-pound bombs last month was due to fears that they could result in unacceptable civilian casualties in the current Israeli attacks on Hamas in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, the Biden administration has denied Netanyahu’s accusation that other U.S. arms deliveries to Israel have been systematically delayed over the past six months,

The first media reports that the Biden administration was quietly delaying its arms deliveries to Israel began appearing after the February 27 Michigan primary, when 100,000 Muslim and other pro-Palestinian Democrats declined to vote for Biden to protest his support for Israel’s war against Hamas. At the same time, Biden and other administration officials stepped up their criticism of Israel over the large number of civilians killed in its attacks in Gaza, based upon the highly questionable reports of the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza.

President Biden did not confirm the media reports that he had held up delivery of a total of 3,500 2,000-lb. and 500-lb. bombs that the Israeli air force was planning to use against the Hamas tunnel network in Rafah until a May 9 televised interview on CNN, in which Biden declared, “Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they [Israel] go after population centers. … 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 cities.”

BIDEN TRYING TO HAVE IT BOTH WAYS IN GAZA

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 attack on April 14 in which it launched a total of 331 ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and drone against targets across Israel, and insisted that there were no circumstances under which he would stop sending Israel ammunition for its self-defense.

“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. He also claimed to still support Israel’s primary Gaza war goal of destroying Hamas. However, Biden’s decision to cancel the delivery of the bombs violated a public pledge he made during his 2020 presidential campaign that he would never place conditions on U.S. aid to Israel, “given the serious threats that Israelis face.”

In addition to withholding the heavy bombs that the Israeli air force would have preferred to use in Rafah, Biden also declared, “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 also publicly threatened to freeze additional arms transfers to Israel if the IDF went forward with its planned major offensive in Rafah, prompting Netanyahu to respond defiantly, that if Israel “has to stand alone, we will stand alone.”

Meanwhile, Biden administration officials have insisted that the cancellation of the shipment of heavy bombs to Israel was a one-time event, tied directly to U.S. objections to the Israeli air force’s intended use of blockbuster-sized bombs against Hamas targets in heavily populated civilian areas of Rafah. But Netanyahu and other Israeli officials have been quietly complaining for months about a general slowdown in the delivery of U.S. weapons starting as early as last December, several months before the dispute first arose between U.S. and Israeli officials over the tactics Israel should be using to attack the last four fully operational Hamas battalions in Rafah.

BIDEN REJECTED NETANYAH’S QUIET APPEALS FOR FASTER DELIVERIES

“For many weeks,” Netanyahu told his cabinet last Sunday, “we appealed to our American friends to speed up the shipments. We did it time and time again. We did this at the senior echelons, and at all levels, and I want to emphasize — we did it in private chambers. We got all kinds of explanations, but we didn’t get one thing: The basic situation didn’t change.”

“Certain items trickled in, but the bulk of armaments were left behind.”

“After months with no change in the situation, I decided to express it publicly,” Netanyahu said adding that his “years of experience” have taught him that doing so was “essential to break the bottleneck,” in arms deliveries from the United States.

The prime minister also added that he had expected to come under fire from U.S. officials and members of his opposition in the Knesset after releasing the video in which he went public for the first time with his complaints about delayed U.S. arms deliveries.

“I am ready to suffer personal attacks for the sake of Israel’s security,” Netanyahu said, and that he believes the issue will be resolved soon.

On the other hand, Ynet reported that, according to an unnamed Israeli security source, the Biden White House was on the verge of resuming the prompt delivery of arms to Israel when Netanyahu issued his video publicly criticizing the delays, publicly embarrassing the administration on the issue and making it much more difficult to step up the pace of its arms deliveries once again.

In an interview published by the Punchbowl news website, Netanyahu revealed further details about his frustration over the delays in the U.S. arms shipments, and insisted that going public about the delays, “was absolutely necessary after months of quiet conversation that did not solve the problem. . .

“We tried, in many, many quiet conversations between our officials and American officials, and between me and the president to try to iron out this diminution of supply,” the prime minister said, all to no avail.

U.S. WITHHOLDING ESSENTIAL WEAPONS FROM ISRAEL

“I’m not talking about F-35s or F-16s [American-built warplanes] that are years down the line, Netanyahu explained. “I’m talking about what is necessary now to both win the war in Gaza quickly and avoid a war in Lebanon that — in the absence of a [diplomatic] solution — the risks of it breaking out are increasing,” the prime minister claimed.

On the other hand, Netanyahu told Punchbowl optimistically, “I think [the slowdown in arms deliveries] could be solved instantaneously with goodwill. It could be solved right away.”

Reportedly, during his meeting several weeks ago with visiting Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Netanyahu demanded that the frequency of U.S. arms shipments return to the levels immediately after the October 7 Hamas attack.

When Blinken was asked to confirm that report after his return to Washington, Blinken said that the so-called “bottleneck” Netanyahu was complaining about did not exist.

“We are continuing to review one shipment that President Biden has talked about with regard to 2000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah. That remains under review,” Blinken admitted.

“But everything else is moving as it normally would move, and again, with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges,” the secretary of state insisted.

BIDEN WHITE HOUSE IN DENIAL

Similarly, other White House officials reacted to the Israeli complaints about the delays in its arms deliveries with feigned frustration by pretending that the delays never happened. “We genuinely do not know what [Netanyahu’s] talking about. We just don’t,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

White House spokesman John Kirby told reporters that the Israeli complaint was “vexing and disappointing to us as much as it was incorrect. . . It was perplexing, to say the least, certainly disappointing, especially given that no other country is doing more to help Israel defend itself against the threat by Hamas. . . The idea that we had somehow stopped helping Israel with their self-defense needs is absolutely not accurate.”

While the delivery of the shipment of heavy bombs to Israel is still being delayed, even though the White House now concedes that the Israeli military campaign in Rafah has not crossed Biden’s “red lines,” administration officials insist that other approved U.S. arms shipments to Israel have continued at a “normal pace.”

They also noted that the suspension of the delivery of heavy bombs to Israel does not extend to the $14 billion recently approved by Congress to furnish replacement interceptors for Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system and replacements for the other arms that were taken with permission by Israel for use in the Gaza war from large U.S. military inventories that had been stored in Israel.

Nevertheless, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, said 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…”

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

DELAYS BEING HIDDEN BEHIND THE BUREAUCRACY

Meanwhile, an unnamed Biden administration official did admit to a reporter for the Times of Israel last week that the “normal pace” is far slower than the fast-tracked emergency, U.S. arms deliveries from U.S. military stockpiles that Israel was receiving during the first months of the Gaza war.

According to Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Michael Doran, writing in the Tablet, when the Biden State Department claims that it is following “routine procedures” when it arbitrarily places an arms shipment bound for Israel “under review,” it is actually placing the order on an indefinite hold that can last for months or even years. That is because the laws and policies governing foreign military sales require defense industries, the State Department, the Defense Department, and Congress to work closely with one another, making it easy for the Biden administration’s bureaucracy to delay the delivery indefinitely “in an interagency labyrinth of mandated reviews, verifications, and notifications.”

As a concrete example of how this process works, Doran cites a Politico report on the deliberate delay of an order by Israel for Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAMs), which are converter kits that turn “dumb” bombs into precision-guided “smart” bombs. The American provider of the kits applied to the State Department for an export “license in December 2023, and the administration has been sitting on it ever since.” In addition, Politico reported, the JDAM order, was only one of “multiple” arms sales to Israel that the State Department allegedly “is reviewing.”

These deliberate delaying tactics are not unique to the White House bureaucracy. According to Doran, Europeans call the tactic of deliberately slowing or stopping work by meticulously adhering to rules and regulations an “Italian strike.”

SELECTIVITY COMBINED WITH PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY

“The beauty of the Italian strike,” Doran notes, “is that it offers its [practitioners] plausible deniability.” It also can be applied selectively according to White House priorities. “[If] Biden deems a[n arms sale] transaction to be a national security priority, he has the power to free it from the labyrinth. [He also] has the authority to force cooperation on the Departments of State and Defense, as well as to mediate between the executive and legislative branches. . .

“[That is why] some military sales to Israel have proceeded without delay; some have slowed but not stopped; still others have been halted altogether. Transactions that were once stopped have started again. . . Each new instance of stoppage that comes to light [the White House can] attribute to this or that regulation. . .

“This gaslighting has successfully hidden the true nature of Biden’s policy from the public eye.” It is effective, Doran notes because most press outlets “have failed to recognize the Italian strike for what it is: namely, a coherent policy [of obstruction and delay] hiding behind the appearance of incoherence. Even while treating some of the details of the cover story with skepticism, the press has almost uniformly accepted the general framing of the administration, which presents the disagreements between Washington and Jerusalem as a fight over the Rafah campaign and how best to prevent civilian deaths.”

But Doran writes, the Biden administration began using the Italian strike-stalling tactics on Israeli arms requests long before the political issue over civilian casualties in Gaza became a major Biden campaign concern. He cites the low-profile January visit to Washington D.C. by an Israeli delegation headed by the director general of Israel’s Defense Ministry, General Eyal Zamir. He came to ask for more American military aid and faster weapons delivery times, not just for use against Hamas in Gaza, but also because of the possibility that the low-level war of attrition with Hezbollah in the north could escalate at any time into a major second front.

But Biden administration officials responded by using a classic Italian strike tactic — issuing a bogus promise that, “they would study the issue, but that no answer would be given before the [American] elections so as not to allow political considerations to influence the administration’s decisions.”

BIDEN IS TRYING TO PREVENT AN ISRAELI ATTACK ON HEZBOLLAH

According to Doran, this response revealed the real motive behind Biden’s refusal to fully re-arm the Israeli military. He seeks to deny Israel the amount of military equipment and ammunition it needs to initiate a full-scale war against Hezbollah and to protect itself against a possible Iranian intervention in support of Hezbollah.

Doran argues that the real fear of the Biden administration officials is that such an Israel vs. Hezbollah war would further undermine the long-term Obama-Biden policy goal of achieving “equilibrium” in the Middle East by integrating Iran and its proxies into the regional order, at the expense of the anti-Iran Sunni-Israeli alliance that was created by the Abraham Accords.

The Biden administration still stubbornly refuses to abandon its efforts to revive the failed 2015 Iran nuclear deal or to enforce the existing sanctions against Iran’s oil exports. This is despite Iran’s continued support for terror organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah as well the Houthis in Yemen who are still menacing international shipping, and in addition to Iran’s role as a major supplier of armed drones for use by Russia against Ukraine.

However, because most Americans rightly view Iran as an enemy state in open alliance with other undemocratic rogue regimes, including Vladimir Putin’s Russia, North Korea, and communist China, Doran believes that the Biden administration prefers to pretend publicly that its main motive for withholding the weapons Israel needs is concerns over civilian casualties and a potential humanitarian disaster in Rafah.

SENATOR COTTON EXPOSES THE BIDEN DELAYING STRATEGY

Meanwhile Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, repeated Netanyahu’s accusation that the Biden administration has been holding up deliveries to Israel of fighter jets, tactical vehicles, mortars, tank shells, and other munitions by failing to inform Congress of plans to ship them, as required by federal law.

But Cotton noted that the law also allowed the Biden administration to forgo formal congressional notifications on arms sales last year “when an emergency exists.” That provision enabled Biden to quickly provide Israel with the arms it needed during the early months of the Gaza war. However, Cotton noted, the administration “stopped acknowledging the emergency in Israel after receiving a letter from nearly twenty [pro-Palestinian] congressional Democrats in January, urging [it] to end expedited weapons sales to Israel.”

Since then, Cotton notes, while both Hamas and Hezbollah continued to coordinate attacks on Israeli civilians, “the [Biden] administration has…[been] withholding…formal notification to Congress of approved weapons sales, including F-15s, tactical vehicles, 120-mm mortars, 120-mm tank rounds, joint direct attack munitions, and small diameter bombs… claiming that the weapons are ‘in process’ while never delivering them.”

Cotton condemned “any delays to military support to Israel [as] blatantly disregarding Congress’s bipartisan mandate to supply Israel with all it needs to defeat the Hamas terrorists and other Iranian-backed groups. Our ally is under sustained threat, and we must use all available resources to expedite military aid.” He also said that if Congress must intervene to fast-track any outstanding weapons going to Israel, it will do so.

Meanwhile, in response to the reports of a slowdown in U.S. arms deliveries to Israel, IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari announced that the Israeli military already has on hand, “the necessary weapons” it needs to complete its operations in Gaza, and praised the United States for having supported the Israeli military in an “unprecedented way” since the start of the war. However, former Israeli national security adviser Yaakov Amidror noted that a continued reduction in the flow of American weapons would be likely to “harm Israeli military readiness in the long term.”

NETANYAHU DESCRIBES THE NEXT PHASE OF THE GAZA WAR

Just a few hours after explaining to the Israeli cabinet why he publicly criticized the Biden administration for delaying arms shipments to Israel, Netanyahu revealed more details of his plans for bringing the war in Gaza to a successful conclusion in a prime-time television interview with Israel’s Channel 14. He predicted that “the intensive phase of the war against Hamas in Rafah is about to end.” Still, he insisted that the fighting in Gaza would continue until Hamas’ threat to Israel is thoroughly destroyed.

“I’m not prepared to end the war and leave Hamas standing,” Netanyahu declared. “[But] I am prepared to do a partial deal, that’s no secret, that would return some of the people to us. But we are obligated to continue the fighting after a pause in order to complete our goal of destroying Hamas,” Netanyahu said. “I’m not prepared to give up on that.”

He also said after Hamas is defeated in Gaza, the IDF will continue to be vigilant in stopping any future revival of Hamas. “We will never give up. We [will] hit them hard.”

Netanyahu did come out in opposition to the idea of re-establishing Israeli settlements in Gaza, which has been proposed by some of his far-right coalition partners. He declared that “settlement in Gaza is not realistic and does not help achieve the war aims.” He also insisted that he would not agree to a permanent cease-fire in Gaza in exchange for the release of all remaining 116 hostages being held in Gaza, both alive or dead.

Netanyahu said Israel’s military is working “to create a civilian administration, if possible, with local Palestinians” and regional backing “to manage humanitarian supply and later on civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip.” But he remains opposed to establishing a Palestinian state or transferring control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. He also said it was “clear” that Israel will need to maintain, at least temporarily, “military control in the foreseeable future” over life in Gaza.

SHIFTING THE IDF’S FOCUS TO THE WAR WITH HEZBOLLAH

“After the end of the intense phase” in Gaza, the prime minister added, Israel will “redeploy some forces to the north… primarily for defensive purposes,” to stop Hezbollah’s persistent attacks, and reduce the threat of a full-scale war breaking out between Israel and Hezbollah.

He expressed hope for a diplomatic deal to move Hezbollah away from Israel’s border, but insisted that any such agreement “must be on our terms. He also promised that, unlike U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006, “it won’t be just an agreement on paper. It will include the physical distancing of Hezbollah from the border, and we will need to enforce it…

Since October 8, Hezbollah has fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank missiles, and suicide drones at Israeli border communities. Netanyahu has committed himself to permitting roughly 70,000 Israelis to return safely to their homes in the North. “If we can do it politically, that would be great,” the prime minister said. “If not, we will do it in another way, but we will bring everyone back home — all the residents of the north and the south…” Netanyahu then added, to make his meaning clear, that Israel “can fight on several fronts [simultaneously]. We are prepared for this.”

In response, Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah promised to fight Israel “without restraints, without rules, without limits.” He also warned that a Hezbollah “invasion of the Galilee remains on the table if the confrontation escalates.”

Hamas claimed that Netanyahu’s televised comments amounted to a rejection of the Israeli proposal Biden endorsed in late May, and repeated its demand for a full Israeli military withdrawal from Gaza and a permanent end to the war Hamas started on October 7 as a condition for releasing its remaining Israeli hostages.

Netanyahu also lashed out at National Unity party leaders Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot for leaving his war cabinet three weeks ago in an effort “to topple the government in the middle of a war,” to create a left-wing coalition that would create a Palestinian state.

Eisenkot said that Netanyahu’s call for a “partial” ceasefire deal with Hamas contradicted decisions made unanimously by the war cabinet. He also told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Netanyahu’s remarks caused “emotional turmoil,” for the families of hostages and “critically damaged Israel’s national resilience.”

Netanyahu’s comments were also denounced by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. “We strongly condemn the prime minister’s statement in which he walked back from the Israeli proposal [that was endorsed by President Biden]. This means he is abandoning 120 hostages and breaching the moral duty of Israel to its citizens,” the Forum said in a statement.

TOP U.S. GENERAL WARNS ISRAEL AGAINST ATTACKING HEZBOLLAH

Meanwhile, the IDF announced that its top officers had “approved and validated” plans for an offensive in Lebanon if Hezbollah refuses to agree to a diplomatic deal that would end its escalating war of attrition along Israel’s northern border.

However, General Charles Q. Brown, the recently installed chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned that Iran “would be more inclined to support Hezbollah” in joining the fight against Israel than it has been for Hamas, “particularly if they felt that Hezbollah’s [survival] was being significantly threatened.” He also said that if Iran did join in the fighting, it would be more difficult to protect Israel from missile attacks from just across the northern border than it had been in April when Iran launched a barrage of 331 rockets, cruise missiles, and drones at Israel from a much greater range.

Brown also said that he has urged Israel’s military leaders “to think about the second order of effect of any type of operation into Lebanon, and how that might play out and how it impacts not just the region, but how it impacts our [U.S.] forces in regions as well.”

U.S. SENDING HEZBOLLAH AND IRAN THE WRONG MESSAGE

However, a Wall Street Journal editorial blasted Brown’s statement for holding up a “red light” to Israel’s war plans against Hezbollah, while encouraging Hezbollah’s leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah to believe that he can “get away” with more attacks on Israel’s north without having to fear a U.S. intervention on Israel’s side. However, as the editorial notes, on other occasions since the Gaza war started, when the U.S. held back, “still Israel has done what it needed to do,” and is likely to do so again in the north to enable “70,000 Israelis [to] return to their homes safely.”

“The other half of this Biden policy,” the editorial notes,” is the withholding of armaments, slowing their flow to Israel over the past four months with bureaucratic delays. This gives the President plausible deniability. . .

“The White House’s goal is to discourage a larger war, but a policy of weakening Israel has the opposite effect. It emboldens Hezbollah to keep shooting and extend its range. This increases the domestic pressure in Israel to do something about it.”

The U.S. goals may be “quieting Hezbollah’s rocket fire and convincing it to remove its fighters from the buffer zone in Southern Lebanon.” But as the editorial concludes, “Hezbollah has no reason to do that if it thinks it can keep firing away and President Biden will protect it from the consequences.

Meanwhile, the tensions in the always difficult personal relationship between Netanyahu and Biden have deepened, in part because Biden has publicly criticized members of Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government. In addition, in off-the-record comments to reporters, some of Biden’s aides have echoed the accusations by some of Netanyahu’s critics in Israel that he is deliberately prolonging the war in Gaza in order to stay in power.

Political observers also note that Netanyahu has still not received a formal invitation to meet with Biden in the White House, even though the prime minister has finally received an invitation from both House GOP Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, after the New York Democrat consulted with the White House, to address a joint session of Congress on July 24.

It was less than a year ago when Netanyahu sought a White House meeting with Biden while Netanyahu was under fire from his political opponents in Israel over a proposal by his right-wing coalition members to overhaul Israel’s liberal-dominated judicial system. Biden, who had spoken out against the proposed changes in the Israeli judiciary as a threat to democracy, deliberately snubbed Netanyahu by refusing to invite him to the White House and instead agreed to meet with him on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City. Not even three weeks later, thousands of Hamas terrorists crossed the Israeli border, plunging the region into war and forcing the two leaders to overcome their mutual hatred and try to find a way to work with each other.

BEHIND NETANYAHU’S INVITATION TO ADDRESS CONGRESS

Republicans first floated the idea of inviting Netanyahu to address Congress in March, after Schumer, who is the highest-ranking Jewish official in the United States, gave a fiery speech on the Senate floor in which he called the Israeli prime minister “an obstacle to peace” and urged the Israeli people to topple his government so that new elections could be held to replace Netanyahu as Israel’s leader even before the war in Gaza had ended.

Congressional Republicans denounced Schumer’s speech as unwarranted interference in Israeli democracy and an insult to Israel’s sovereignty, and kept up the pressure until both Schumer and House Democrat Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries reluctantly agreed to join with Johnson in issuing the invitation to Netanyahu.

Yet, even though the Biden White House finally agreed to go along with the gesture, many prominent congressional Democrats say that they do not plan to be present for Netanyahu’s speech.

For example, liberal Democrat Senator Chris Van Hollen of Maryland said that he saw no reason for Congress to extend “a political lifeline to Netanyahu,” at a time when he is once again the target of large weekly demonstrations in Tel Aviv demanding that he step down as prime minister.

New York Congressman Gregory Meeks, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he felt an “obligation” to attend the joint session at which Netanyahu will speak, because of his position as part of the House leadership, even though he felt the event honoring Netanyahu “should not take place. But I can’t control that. And I have to do my job.”

Maryland’s Democrat Jewish senator, Ben Cardin, has said that he, too, will be present for Netanyahu’s speech, while expressing the hope that it will deliver a “message that can strengthen the support in this country for Israel’s needs,” while also laying the groundwork for peace in the region.

LINGERING DEMOCRAT RESENTMENT FROM THE IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Part of that hostility towards Netanyahu by Democrats is due to lingering resentment from his last address to a joint session of Congress in 2015, when he used the occasion to blast the Obama administration for approving the Iran nuclear deal, and urged Congress to vote to reject it. That speech touched off a nasty political battle, with overtones of antisemitism, in which Democrats supporting Obama accused members of the AIPAC pro-Israel lobby and other American friends of Israel who openly opposed the Iran nuclear deal of holding dual loyalties.

At that time, nearly 60 Democrats skipped Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, calling it a slap in the face to then-U.S. president Barack Obama. This time many more liberal Democrats who have been openly criticizing Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza and calling for a suspension of U.S. arms deliveries to Israel are expected to boycott the event. These include most of the 97 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, chaired by Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who told the Associated Press that it was a “bad idea,” to issue the invitation to Netanyahu. “We should be putting pressure on him by withholding offensive military assistance so that he sticks to the deal that the president has laid out,” she said.

Many other more moderate congressional Democrats also find themselves torn between their long-standing support for Israel and their discomfort with the thousands of civilian casualties due to Hamas’ deliberate use of Gaza’s population as human shields.

Noting the large public protests against Netanyahu in Israel, some Democrats expressed the naive hope that Netanyahu might be ousted as prime minister before the date for his scheduled July 24 address to a joint session of Congress. They include Rhode Island Democrat Congressman Seth Magaziner, who said that he stands with those “who hope that he’s not prime minister by the time late July rolls around. I think that he has been bad for Israel, bad for Palestinians, bad for America.” But, Magaziner added, he believes it his job to show up when a head of state addresses Congress, “even if it’s someone whom I have concerns about and disagree with.”

However, there is no indication at the moment of any serious move brewing to bring down Netanyahu’s coalition government before the Knesset adjourns for its summer recess on July 28. That means that Netanyahu’s position as prime minister will remain safe at least until the Knesset reconvenes on October 27, after Sukkos.

On the other hand, Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said it would be “healthy” for members of both parties to attend the speech. McCaul then added, “I think that a lot of Americans are getting a one-sided narrative [against Israel], especially the younger generation, and I think it’s important they hear from the prime minister of Israel, in terms of his perspective,” on the October 7 Hamas attack and the war in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Politico reports that the Biden White House suspects that Netanyahu will again use that platform to criticize the current president at a time when his re-election campaign is vulnerable to criticism by his opponent, Donald Trump, for not giving Israel enough support in its war against Hamas in Gaza.

“The video [issued by Netanyahu complaining about the slowdown in U.S. arms deliveries] didn’t help at all, and it could be much worse in front of Congress,” a senior administration official said. Meanwhile, another unnamed administration source was even more blunt in criticizing the issuance of the invitation to Netanyahu to address the joint session of Congress, because, “No one knows what he is going to say.”

ROLLING OUT THE RED CARPET FOR DEFENSE MINISTER GALLANT

Meanwhile, the Biden administration welcomed with open arms this week the visit to Washington by Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. He met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, CIA Director William Burns, and Biden’s Special Envoy to the Middle East, Amos Hochstein to discuss recent military developments in Gaza and the Lebanese border. Gallant was accompanied by Defense Ministry Director General Eyal Zamir, Deputy IDF Chief of Staff General Amir Baram, and other senior Israeli military and Defense Ministry officials.

Israel’s military leaders have said they believe that the IDF is only a few weeks away from achieving its declared war aims of dismantling Hamas’s organized military and governing capabilities. During his meetings in Washington, Gallant discussed Israel’s plans to transition to “Phase 3” of the war in Gaza, in which counterinsurgency-type operations would target the remaining Hamas leaders and fighters using smaller-scale raids and air strikes.

Once that transition to lower-intensity operations is complete, Israel’s continuing military presence inside Gaza will be reduced to a rapid reaction force based in the Netzarim Corridor, an east-west route that bisects Gaza and facilitates the rapid movement of Israeli troops, and a separate force deployed along the Philadelphi Corridor along the Gaza-Egypt border where Hamas did the bulk of its weapons smuggling into Gaza.

According to a Defense Ministry statement, in his discussions with U.S. officials, Gallant was also expected to “raise the unique areas of cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli defense establishments, with an emphasis on force build-up efforts and power projection, while maintaining Israel’s qualitative [military] edge in the region.”

Gallant’s discussions in Washington also addressed a variety of issues on which Gallant has expressed disagreement with some of Netanyahu’s war policies. This includes Gallant’s public call for a more concrete Israeli proposal for the formation of a civilian Palestinian-led government for Gaza to replace Hamas after the war is over, to prevent the formation of a power vacuum that the remnants of Hamas could use to undo Israel’s military victory, and to avoid the need for maintaining an Israeli military occupation of Gaza for the foreseeable future.

Before his talks with Biden administration officials, Gallant also met with the leaders of the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby and South Carolina’s Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.

After his meeting with Gallant, Graham declared that “any Hezbollah attack that would overwhelm the Iron Dome or create an existential threat to the Jewish state will be considered an Iranian attack against Israel.”

The senator also pledged to “work with my colleagues in the House and Senate to make sure there is congressional oversight of weapons delivery to Israel. The [congressional] package to supply [Israel with] weapons was supported by an overwhelming bipartisan majority, and the United States must provide these weapons accordingly.”

According to a statement issued by the State Department during Secretary of State Blinken’s meeting with Gallant, he emphasized “the importance of avoiding further escalation of the conflict [with Hezbollah] and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows both Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes.”

Blinken also “emphasized the need [for Israel] to take additional steps to protect humanitarian workers in Gaza and deliver assistance throughout Gaza in full coordination with the United Nations.”

Ahead of his meeting with CIA chief William
Burns, who has been working with Qatar’s Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani and Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel to broker a cease-fire and hostage release deal between Israel and Hamas, Gallant told reporters in Washington that Israel is committed to the return of all the October 7 hostages, “with no exceptions.”

AS THE GAZA WAR WINDS DOWN, WILL THE NORTH HEAT UP?

In his meeting with Biden’s senior advisor, Amos Hochstein, Gallant suggested that the Israeli military’s transition to Phase 3 of the war in Gaza would free up more Israeli troops for potential use in the north if the war against Hezbollah escalates.

According to an Israeli Defense Ministry statement, Gallant told Hochstein that “Israel is preparing for every scenario both militarily and diplomatically,” and they also discussed “the actions required to achieve a framework that enables the safe return of Israelis to their homes in the north.”

Reportedly, during his last meeting with Netanyahu on June 17, Hochstein rejected the prime minister’s demand that any deal to end the war of attrition require the withdrawal of Hezbollah forces to the north side of the Litani River, as had been specified in Security Council Resolution 1701, and suggested that Israel be satisfied instead with a Hezbollah withdrawal of six miles from the Israeli border.

While diplomatic efforts continue to reach another cease-fire deal leading to the release of more hostages, it appears that neither Hamas leader in Gaza Yahya Sinwar nor Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu are willing to compromise on their negotiating demands. That means that the war in Gaza is likely to continue indefinitely, albeit at a lower level of intensity, shifting the focus of attention to the escalating war of attrition in the north between Hezbollah and Israel, as well as the continued refusal by the Biden administration to commit its full support to Israel as it fights to restore the safety of its citizens or to hold Iran accountable for its role in instigating and supporting these wars.

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