Joe Biden is frustrated with Israel.
This is what anonymous sources told US media, as the president faces widespread condemnation for his support for Israel’s war in Gaza.
But as Israel continues its military campaign, Biden is close to a “break” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Washington Post said on Sunday. And he has increasingly expressed his anger toward the Israeli far-right leader, even calling him an asshole a few times recently, NBC News reported Monday morning.
Yet despite Biden’s alleged frustrations, analysts say the US president’s closed-door comments mean little if he remains unwilling to pressure Israel to end its deadly military offensive in Gaza.
“To anyone with even a shred of conscience, Israel’s war should arouse frustration and anger. But in Biden’s case, it has not yet forced him to issue an absolutely necessary call for a ceasefire that can spare Palestinian lives,” said Imad Harb, director of research and analysis at the Center Arab from Washington DC.
“Unfortunately, and despite the fact that the United States has many pressure tools that it can use to change Israel’s policies and behavior, it is Israel that is in the driver’s seat,” he said. to Al Jazeera in an email.
Deadly Israeli attacks on Rafah
Reports of Biden’s growing frustrations with Netanyahu come as the United Nations and human rights groups have raised the alarm over an expected Israeli ground offensive in Rafah, a southern city of Gaza.
Israel bombed the densely populated city early Monday, killing at least 67 Palestinians, including children.
Previously designated a “safe zone” by Israel, Rafah is now home to more than 1.4 million people, many of whom are internally displaced from other areas of Gaza and sleeping in tents.
The strikes — which Israel says were carried out as part of an operation to free two Israeli captives — came less than 24 hours after Biden spoke with Netanyahu about the planned Rafah offensive.
Israeli military operation should not continue without “a credible, enforceable plan to ensure the safety and support of the more than 1 million people sheltering there,” Biden told Israeli leader, according to a briefing of Sunday’s White House talks.
📍#Gaza Rafah is one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Families have been displaced several times.
There is panic and despair as 1.4 million people try to survive, trying to get food and water – all while fearing for their lives due to continued military operations. pic.twitter.com/BjXeEiAjLz
– UNRWA (@UNRWA) February 12, 2024
Tariq Kenney-Shawa, a US researcher at the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka, said Biden’s call with Netanyahu “was a green light” for the deadly nighttime attacks.
“Biden’s harsh words against Netanyahu, if he really said them, are nothing more than words. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is policy, and Biden’s policy has been unconditional support for Israel every step of the way,” Kenney-Shawa told Al Jazeera.
Iman Abid-Thompson, director of advocacy and organizing for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said Biden and his administration have been “cowardly” because they have voiced most of their criticism behind the scenes.
These criticisms, she said, “should be brought to the forefront. You have to say them out loud. They must be understood by the public and visible in official declarations.
Abid-Thompson told Al Jazeera that Israel has been emboldened by the lack of pressure from the United States, which provides the Israeli government with at least $3.8 billion in military aid a year. She rejected the idea that the United States might be unable to curb the Israeli military campaign.
“I think this idea of ’What can we do?’ is just an absolute joke,” she said. “There is much to be said about America’s lack of responsibility for what is happening to the Palestinians, particularly on the part of the Israeli government. »
Referring to Israel’s military campaign, she added: “We know that it has only been sustained and strengthened thanks to the funding that the United States has provided unconditionally to Israel.” »
Ways to put pressure
Asked on Monday whether the Biden administration would consider cutting aid to Israel if it continued with its plans in Rafah, US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Washington “continued the policy that we believe gives us the maximum ability to successfully influence the way Israel conducts its military campaign.”
Miller told reporters that “in many cases” the administration was not satisfied with the results. But Washington has not assessed whether cutting aid “would have more impact than the steps we have already taken,” he said.
“I think sometimes people pretend that the United States of America has a magic wand that it can wave to make any situation in the world turn out exactly the way we would like it to, and that doesn’t is never the case,” Miller said. also said during the press conference.
“We use the tools available to try to influence policy.”
At a subsequent news conference, White House spokesman John Kirby echoed Miller’s position. Asked if Biden had ever threatened to cut off U.S. military aid ahead of the planned Rafah offensive, he responded with a general statement of support for Israel.
“We will continue to support Israel,” Kirby said. “They have the right to defend themselves against Hamas and we will continue to ensure that they have the tools and capabilities to do so.”
But experts say the United States could put pressure on Israel simply by following its own laws. This includes enforcing the so-called Leahy Act, which prohibits the U.S. government from providing military aid to foreign countries committing human rights violations.
“Biden’s reported frustration only makes sense if he connects it to concrete, tangible pressure on Netanyahu and the Israeli government as a whole,” Kenney-Shawa said. But, he added, Washington instead “took all necessary measures to minimize the cost of the Israeli assault.”
‘Moment of truth’
Since the start of the war in Gaza, the Biden administration has approved arms transfers to Israel despite concerns about alleged war crimes and the risk of genocide in the Palestinian territory.
He also supported legislation that would provide more than $14 billion in additional security aid to the country, refused to call for a long-term ceasefire in Gaza, and blocked U.N. attempts to end the war.
Raed Jarrar, advocacy director at Democracy for the Arab World Now, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, said the administration “failed miserably in managing relations” with Netanyahu.
But Washington can “redeem itself,” Jarrar told Al Jazeera, if it takes decisive action to prevent what he described as “the next chapter of genocide” in Gaza: the expected Israeli military offensive in Rafah.
“This week will actually be the moment of truth. What will they do if Netanyahu doesn’t listen to them and launches the attack on Rafah? What are they going to do?” he asked.
“Will they continue the same failed policies, or will they turn to the only option they should have considered all along, which is not aligning with a genocide maniac?