Monday, March 25, 2024

Biden's terrible turn

(Originally published in The Times of Israel)

President Biden’s initial responses to Hamas’ atrocities demonstrated moral clarity, strategic acumen, and clear support for the victim of the attack, Israel.

Now, either from strategic errors or out of political concerns, or both, Biden is making some very serious mistakes, both on policy and politics.

The Biden Administration is wrong to pressure Israel not to pursue and eliminate Hamas in Rafah, the last refuge of the surviving four or five Hamas battalions.

Anything short of the total elimination of Hamas militarily will be claimed as a victory by Hamas, and it will be seen that way in the region.  Israel will have lost its most essential defensive tool: deterrence.

The attacks, which went on long before the October 7th attack and which momentarily got the world’s attention on October 7th, will resume.  Israelis will lose faith in the army’s ability to protect them.

The south as well as the north of the country will be uninhabitable.  It will be the start of the end of the Zionist enterprise.  That is why some have referred to Hamas and the October 7th attack as a “slow-motion existential threat.”

The Middle East nations that Israel has established relations with and those that are candidates for the future, all of whom look to Israel as a bulwark against terrorism and Iran, will view it as ineffective, a paper tiger.  They will start making their accommodations with Iran.

The more the Biden Administration pressures Israel not to invade Rafah, the more Hamas leaders Sinwar and Haniyeh and their fellow murderers think they can outlast the Israelis and survive as a force, and the more they will demand in exchange for the hostages.


It gives them hope that they will soon be arising triumphantly from the tunnels, instead of attempting to survive, isolated, thirsty, and starving in their tunnels.  The Biden Administration’s increasing pressure on Israel is the ultimate Hamas morale booster.

Through someone who had extensive interactions with him, Judith Miller provides insight into the psychology of Hamas military leader Yahya Sinwar: https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/israel-middle-east/articles/saving-sinwar-hamas-gaza

The Administration’s constant calls that Israel must protect civilians before any Rafah invasion is wrong.  Firstly, it implies that Israel does not do its utmost to protect civilians.  Every real expert in urban warfare says Israel has gone beyond what any other nation has done before to protect the innocent.

Secondly, the Administration’s position ignores what war is and what it entails. When a people’s leadership attacks another country and that country justifiably responds in defense, the attacking people, including noncombatants, face death and deprivation.

A war that does not produce civilian harm would be unique in world history and impossible to achieve.  To expect that of Israel is to guarantee that Israel will not win.

Secretary of State Blinken repeatedly states that there is another way to achieve Israel’s objectives, to prevent Hamas from being a threat to Israel.  He has yet to tell the Israelis or anyone else what this secret formula is.

Thirdly, the Administration’s calls for Israel to protect civilians wrongly creates the impression that Israel is responsible for deaths and destruction in Gaza. One party is responsible:  Hamas.

Hamas is the entity that built a subway system of terror under the civilians of Gaza.  It is the one that fires from the civilian population. Hamas is the one that intentionally tries to kill the innocent by firing missiles at civilians in Israel.

Hamas is the party that broke a ceasefire and attacked on October 7th after intermittently breaking ceasefires over the years.  Hamas could end the war today by simply releasing all the hostages and laying down its arms.

To continually focus on Israel’s alleged responsibility to not pursue Hamas in Rafah unless it can assure the safety of the civilians turns morality upside down and helps ensure that Hamas survives and terrorism wins.

The Administration has now stepped up its pressure by not vetoing a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire during Ramadan. Invoking Ramadan is ironic, almost comic.

Arabs fight and kill other Arabs during Ramadan.  Hamas attacked on a Jewish holiday, Simcha Torah, as Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Yom Kippur in 1973.  (There is a reason it is referred to as the Yom Kippur War.)

The resolution calls for the release of all hostages.  The Administration is now spinning the resolution as requiring the release of all the hostages as a condition of a ceasefire.

One problem:  the resolution does not say that.  It also does not condemn Hamas.  The Administration knew that when it failed to veto the resolution.

The Biden Administration has also decided to involve itself in internal Israeli politics and to make Prime Minister Netanyahu the target of its wrath.

There is no doubt Netanyahu and his government are hugely unpopular, and for good reason.  They tore the country apart with their attack on the judiciary system.  They left the country completely vulnerable to the October 7th attack.

They have long delayed passing legislation that would require the ultra-Orthodox community to share the burden of army service, a long-time irritant that has now become a total punch in the stomach as others face longer times in service to meet the IDF’s needs.

Despite this, it was a mistake for Biden to say that Netanyahu does not represent the people of Israel, thereby inserting himself into the middle of Israeli politics.

On the issue of going into Rafah and eliminating Hamas, Biden is clearly wrong in saying that Netanyahu does not represent the Israeli people.  While Israelis are agonizing over how this objective impacts the equally important objective of releasing the hostages, the overwhelming majority of Israelis recognize the need to destroy Hamas’ remaining battalions and the infrastructure that supports them.

The objectives and strategies of the war are not Netanyahu’s alone.  War policies are set by the war cabinet established after the October 7th attack. It includes respected members of the opposition, and is backed by most Israelis.

While Opposition Leader Yair Lapid is not in the war cabinet, he shares its objectives.  There is no mainstream political party or leader that would be pursuing a different objective.

The Biden Administration knows this.

They also know very well that no one in the current governing coalition is going to bring the Netanyahu government down at this time over war policy (although some one might bring it down over the draft issue).

They also know that the only other way the government would fall is if a million people took to the streets, which they know, or should know, will not happen while a war is going on.

Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who likes to remind himself and the rest of us that he holds the highest government position ever held by a Jew in America, went one step further.  He explicitly called for Israeli elections and the defeat of Netanyahu, although he conditioned it on the war getting near the end.

If anybody thinks Schumer’s remarks were not coordinated with the White House, I have a beautiful bridge I would like to sell them.

The Biden Administration and Senator Schumer know that when an outside government does this sort of thing, it causes some people to consolidate around their president or prime minister even if they normally would not support him or her.

People resent the interference and they rally around the flag, or the leader. Israelis are no different than other nations in this regard. In short, the Administration and Senator Schumer know that this interference could help Netanyahu politically.

But they did it anyway. They did it in a cynical attempt to pander to and decrease the screaming of the far left, anti-Israel faction of the Democratic Party, members of which are hounding them at every step.  They are afraid these members will vote for Robert Kennedy, Cornel West, or Jill Stein, or will simply stay home in November.

They will find that trying to appease the loud left that hates Israel (and that increasingly exposes their explicit Jew hatred) is a thankless task.  Going half way with this crowd—even going 90 percent—will not satisfy them.

What the Biden Administration’s political advisors do not seem to have factored in is that this works both ways. There are a decent number of independent voters and some Democratic voters, Jewish and non-Jewish, that, if upset enough with the Administration’s pressuring of Israel to not finish the job against Hamas, could sit on their hands, or write in a name, or even vote for Trump.

Israel may not even be a high priority issue for some of these voters. With the humiliating fiasco that was the withdrawal from Afghanistan, with Russia making inroads against Ukraine, with China constantly projecting its power, with the Houthis and Iran playing with the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East, there are some who might view the U.S. pressuring Israel to let up on the terrorists of Hamas as the final straw in a litany of demonstrations of American weakness.

The number of Henry Jackson Democrats left in the party could probably fit inside a phone booth.  But there are a fair number of them in the ranks of the independents in some states.

It is sad and disappointing to see a policy that started out so morally and strategically right take a turn that could very well spell moral and strategic disaster.  And for dubious political reasons, no less.

                                                      ---------------------------------

For two thoughtful analyses of the situation and what a future Gaza might be, see these recent columns by New York Times’ columnists Brett Stephens and David Brooks:

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/19/opinion/gaza-war-palestine-arab-mandate.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2024/03/24/opinion/gaza-israel-war.html?smid=nytcore-ios-share&referringSource=articleShare

 

8 comments:

  1. It is entirely a political calculus. The radicals have taken over Middle East policy for the USA.

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  2. Once again, Alan, you have hit the nail on the head. Doing the right thing is not always easy, popular or politically expedient, but it is still the right thing. The Administration's wishy-washy response is embarrassing--he and his advisors should be ashamed of themselves.

    Brad

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  3. Wow!!!
    I always enjoy reading your articles---this one was special!!
    Well done!

    Thank you for articulating Israel's current situation.
    NO other country could survive worldwide demands for (highly) conditional defensive warfare.

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  4. Another great piece. Your theories, analysis, and conclusions are dead on target. I hope your BLOG reaches a few of our congress members (especially on the left side of the aisle), and also into some of the elite college professor's lunch rooms. They are in desperate need of a reality check.

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  5. Appreciated your article. The US is crashing hard. Sadly. Last ones to leave please turn out the lights and don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

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  6. No disagreement at all. Great analysis. But let's be clear, Natanyahu has chosen himself over the best interests of Israel. Likud has chosen party over the best interests of Israel. The ultra-orthodox has chosen religion over the best interests of the Jewish people. As to American domestic politics, it has never been a concern of Israel, especially this government where it has repeatedly thrown the Democratic Party / Democrats under the bus and now where it's most needed...

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  7. Unfortunately, I think Biden did as much as he could for Israel. He (and Israel) paid a high price for Bibi's determination to turn Israel policy into a partisan issue starting in the Obama administration. That kind of rank opportunism has been a disaster. When they told the Israelis they had until the end of the year, they meant it. Bibi decided to play politics--again. Biden is out of time to not let this become his electoral downfall. And Bibi seems to think his staying in power is Israel's first priority. The IDF needed to go into Rafah two months ago. Now, I'm afraid that Hamas will get out of this war with half their military strength and control of all of Gaza. Bibi should have done the honorable thing and resigned on October 8th and let people who are not so tainted take the helm. Israel didn't need Neville Chamberlain to stick around; they needed a Churchill.

    The other problem, which is a very old one for Israel, is that it has no discernable ability to do public relations. I don't know how you feel, but when the United States entered the territory of the Axis powers in World War II, they turned on the humanitarian aid like nobody's business. Israel gave the impression that it didn't give a shit about civilians when it should have used its reserves to flood the place with food and water.

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  8. Your presentation here is so very, very accurate — and troubling. So few remember the Oct 7 attack on innocent, Israeli citizens. And that, unless Hamas is destroyed, it could/would happen again and again. I hate the fact that innocent Palestinians are having to pay for the Hamas action — again, another “few remember” topic. Has there been any indication of their willingness to stand up to Hamas? If they did the right thing, Hamas would be gone!

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