Is Biden’s patience with Israel running thin as questions about Rafah persist?

President Joe Biden faces a critical decision regarding America’s military assistance to Israel in its conflict with Hamas. This choice holds immense significance, as it has the potential to shape the trajectory of his presidency and impact the long-standing relationship between the United States and Israel.

Biden’s choice to temporarily halt the delivery of weapons to Israel, coupled with a report from the State Department that determined American arms were probably utilized in Gaza operations without sufficient protection for civilians, signifies a significant shift for the Democratic president.

Last week, Biden introduced a significant change in the U.S. policy regarding the supply of weaponry during the ongoing war. For the first time, he set conditions on the weapons provided to Israel, stating that high payload bombs or artillery shells will not be supplied as long as the Israeli government persists with its plan to invade the heavily populated city of Rafah. This move marks a significant shift in the approach taken by the Biden administration.

According to Representative Ro Khanna, a prominent progressive in Congress and a Biden campaign supporter, President Biden’s patience has reached its limit after being consistently challenged. Khanna believes that Biden had shown immense goodwill for several months before reaching this point.

Frustration with Biden’s handling of the war has reached its peak after more than seven months. College campuses are witnessing protests, and both young voters and Democratic lawmakers have cautioned Biden about the potential loss of support in future elections. Senator Bernie Sanders even likened the war to Biden’s own Vietnam.

The issue of U.S. military aid to Israel has become a major point of contention, leading to significant tension and divisions within the Democratic Party regarding the approach President Biden should take.

Most congressional Democrats voted in April to increase assistance to Israel, but a group of 88 members from the same party recently expressed “serious concerns” about Israel’s actions in Gaza. In a letter to Biden, they urged his administration to consider withholding certain arms transfers.

After the president took this action, a group of Democrats expressed their concerns to the White House. In a letter to the national security adviser, they emphasized their deep concern regarding the message being conveyed to Hamas and other Iranian-backed proxy groups. These lawmakers are now requesting a classified briefing from the Biden administration to seek clarification on this matter.

Republicans have raised concerns about Biden’s actions, with House Foreign Affairs Chairman Michael McCaul stating that they have led to one of the largest disagreements between the United States and Israel. McCaul made this statement after a meeting with Israel’s ambassador to the U.S.

“It’s not just about the impact on our longstanding alliance with Israel; the consequences extend even further,” expressed Representative McCaul, a Republican from Texas. “What concerns me greatly is the message this sends to our allies and friends, questioning our reliability, and the message it gives to our adversaries, like Iran, empowering and emboldening them.”

U.S. officials have stated that the suspension and review of certain offensive weapons were driven by the large population size in Rafah, where over 1 million people had sought refuge. This decision comes as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contemplates a significant ground invasion. Biden has expressed his support for U.S. aid in Israel’s defense.

According to Biden’s advisers, they believe that the war has entered a different phase compared to the aftermath of Hamas’ attack on Israel, which resulted in the loss of 1,200 lives.

“We think they have exerted immense pressure on Hamas and there are more effective ways to target the remaining Hamas presence in Rafah than a large-scale ground operation,” stated White House national security spokesman John Kirby in a recent press conference.”

According to the Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, over 35,000 Palestinians have lost their lives in Gaza since the conflict began. However, it is worth noting that the details for more than 11,000 of these reported casualties have not been provided by the militant group. The United States, lacking personnel on the ground, has been unable to independently verify these numbers.

Biden seeks to regain leverage

The Biden administration had maintained for months that it would refrain from interfering in Israel’s military operations. Top officials consistently emphasized that it was Prime Minister Netanyahu’s prerogative to decide on the strategy for combating Hamas.

However, by temporarily halting the sale of certain offensive weapons, the United States is sending a clear message to Israel. President Biden is essentially urging the Israelis to heed the guidance of his military advisors on how to effectively combat Hamas. If they choose not to do so, they risk losing access to crucial weapons such as bombs, artillery shells, and other munitions.

According to Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts, Biden’s actions serve as a reminder that the United States has always placed conditions on foreign aid.

According to USA TODAY, she cautioned the prime minister of Israel, reminding him that the United States will not sit idly by when he worsens a humanitarian crisis. “We have made it clear that we support a two-state solution and the need for access to humanitarian aid,” she emphasized. She also added that Benjamin Netanyahu is taking a significant risk by disregarding the United States’ stance on these matters.

In his speech last week, Netanyahu stated that Israel would be prepared to “stand alone” if necessary in response to the weapons pause.

Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser at the White House, informed reporters on Monday that American officials are still in discussions with their Israeli counterparts regarding potential alternatives.

“We are in discussions with Israel on developing a comprehensive, strategic plan to achieve a clear endgame for their military operations. Our focus is on creating a holistic and integrated strategy that will ensure the long-term defeat of Hamas and pave the way for a better future for Gaza and the Palestinian people,” he stated.

According to Daniel Mouton, the director for defense and political-military policy for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Security Council during the early days of Biden’s administration, the recent actions taken by the president can be seen as a shift in tactics rather than a significant change in U.S. policy towards Israel.

According to Mouton, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan think tank, the Atlantic Council, there were ample means for the administration to effectively communicate a significant change if they had desired to do so.

According to the expert, the government has been attempting to provide support and assistance to Israel during a challenging time for its security in the region. Additionally, the administration has been working to offer diplomatic and political backing to the Israeli government. However, it appears that there are certain restrictions on what the White House is willing to do, leading to the public nature of this situation.

During his appearance on “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken showcased the delicate balance that the administration is treading.

President Biden has successfully assembled a coalition of nations to support and protect Israel, showcasing his exceptional efforts in this regard. However, we cannot overlook the growing apprehension we have experienced in recent months regarding the potential consequences of a significant military operation in Rafah. The primary concern lies in the substantial harm it could inflict upon innocent civilians.

According to Blinken, the United States has yet to receive a credible plan for ensuring the safety of civilians or for addressing the aftermath of the war.

Progressives who had previously praised Biden for conditioning arms transfers were disappointed with the assessment, as they felt it fell short of their expectations.

According to Allison McManus, managing director for national security and international policy at the liberal Center for American Progress, there is a prevailing sense of skepticism among many on the left regarding Biden’s commitment to follow through on the weapons threat. This skepticism arises from the State Department’s decision not to officially attribute blame to Israel in its findings.

“We are still waiting for a clear confirmation that sending weapons in that situation is in violation of our laws and policies, and we will not proceed with it,” she emphasized.

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