analysisU.S.-Israel Relations

Prepare for a Biden-Netanyahu showdown

Israel sees UN resolution as a real threat

The pressure from Jerusalem, Republicans and some Democrats is supposed to create a counterweight that will force Biden to publicly support Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with then-Vice President Joe Biden at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Jan. 21, 2016. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with then-Vice President Joe Biden at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Jan. 21, 2016. Photo by Haim Zach/GPO.
Shirit Avital Cohen

There has been no shortage of hints when it comes to the White House’s efforts to convey the message that Israel should refrain from taking action in Rafah, find a path to a ceasefire, and increase aid to Gaza.

Vice President Kamala Harris turned this subtlety into explicit policy when she threatened Israel that there could be consequences to an operation in the city. On Monday, the rhetoric turned into action at the U.N.

Israelis by and large will likely brush off the Security Council resolution as yet “another example of a delusional U.N.,” but high-ranking Israeli officials see it as a real threat to Israel’s freedom of action, as a deliberate undermining of Western legitimacy to act against Hamas terrorists, and as a weapon that Israel-haters around the world will seize to demand an end to the war before the return of the captives and the toppling of Hamas.

The doom and gloom that had until Monday been dismissed as paranoia became a real possibility in the hours following the resolution, which calls for a halt to the war in Gaza for the entire month of Ramadan and the release of the captives, without condemning Hamas.

The text was hailed by the murderous terrorist organization, and Palestinian representative to the U.N. also demanded that the international community actively force Israel to implement the decision with the tools at its disposal (and there are such tools). The sponsors of the resolution even went on to contradict the U.S. by saying they viewed it as binding.

‘Very senior’ White House officials

So is this just American naivete or an attempt by Washington to use tools at its disposal to show the Israeli government that it is serious in its intentions against the operation in Rafah?

Senior Israeli officials who held talks with the White House in the hours leading up to the resolution tried to have the wording changed or have it vetoed—as was the case with previous similar statements—but they were told that “Very senior officials at the White House are opposed to a veto this time.”

The Biden administration had felt compelled to show a tougher hand on Israel for electoral purposes; Israel sees this move as a way to appease progressive voters at the expense of the captives in Gaza and Israelis living in border communities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reaction—scrapping the talks that had been planned in Washington—at first glance, appears measured. The rationale is that if the White House is not interested in supporting Israel’s efforts on the battlefield, there is no reason for a senior delegation to travel to Washington to hear alternatives to the operation in Rafah.

But this is not going to be the end of Israel’s response. The American decision caused consternation from within the Democratic Party and even more intensely among Republicans—who may now do what they did in 2015 all over again. Back then it was President Barack Obama who came out against Netanyahu, which resulted in the latter being invited for a fiery speech in Congress in which he lashed out at the administration. This time it’s Biden who is president, and the current speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, has already said he would invite Netanyahu. 

There are those who think that these actions will ultimately push Biden to express unequivocal support for the continuation of Israel’s offensive operations in Gaza until Hamas is defeated.

The pressure exerted from Israel and internally from Republicans and within the Democratic Party is supposed to silence the rising tones from the progressives, or at least create a counterweight that will force Biden not only to quietly support Israel by arming it, but also publicly.

This may be what Israel needs most at this stage, when the international legitimacy of its actions is dwindling at an alarming rate. It needs American backing on the world stage that would push back against the pressure exerted by European countries that have already begun to take action to stop the war.

Originally published by Israel Hayom.

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