Middle East

Joe Biden’s Muddled Messaging To Israel

Joe Biden, the president of the United States, recently delivered an impassioned speech at a Holocaust memorial event during which he strongly condemned antisemitism and described American support for Israel’s security as “ironclad.” Yet the following day, he threatened to withhold certain weapons from Israel if it launched a major ground offensive in Rafah, Hamas’ last urban stronghold in the Gaza Strip.

Biden’s conflicting messaging, which has often focused on U.S. arms sales to Israel, has been a source of surprise, disappointment and anger to many American Jews since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war nearly nine months ago.

A self-declared Christian Zionist, Biden flew to Israel in a tangible show of support shortly after roughly 1,200 Israelis were murdered by Hamas terrorists on October 7, the single blackest day in Israeli history.

With Israel striving to avenge the massacre, obliterate Hamas’ military capabilities and remove it as the governing authority in Gaza, the Biden administration openly endorsed Israel’s war aims, demanded the release of Israeli and foreign hostages held by Hamas, consistently dismissed global calls for an immediate ceasefire, vetoed United Nations Security Council resolutions demanding a truce, and continued to replenish Israel’s armory.

But as the war dragged on, resulting in a high Palestinian civilian death toll, a critical tone crept into the Biden administration’s policy.

In his most vocal critique, Biden accused Israel of bombing Gaza indiscriminately, while some of his officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, complained that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government was not cooperating sufficiently in the delivery of humanitarian aid to needy Palestinians.

Amid the criticism, progressive members of Biden’s Democratic Party, notably Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, denounced the president’s pro-Israel stance, falsely claimed that Israel was committing genocide, and demanded an immediate truce to end the war and thereby preserve Hamas’ foothold in Gaza.

Rashida Tlaib

Concerned that Gaza was descending into famine, the United States began air dropping supplies on its beaches and built a $350 million pier to facilitate the flow of food, water and medicine into the coastal enclave. Subsequently, Washington demanded an immediate ceasefire without spelling out its dire strategic consequences.

Biden’s inconsistent and seemingly muddled approach can be explained. He is trying to be everything to everyone.

With a U.S. presidential election looming in November, he has adopted a dual policy rooted in the quest to appease divergent constituencies. In short, Biden has charted a middle-of-the-road course that offers Israel support yet has set a high bar for its military strategy.

Acutely cognizant that around 75 percent of Jewish Americans vote for the Democrats and are among its most loyal donors, Biden is reluctant to offend and alienate the vast majority of Jews who identify with Israel and endorse its objectives in the current war.

On the other hand, Biden is under increasing pressure from progressives, liberals, younger voters, trade unionists, Arab Americans and African Americans to curtail or cut off the supply of weapons to Israel and stop the war and end the bloodshed.

These are political realities he can ignore only at his peril, especially at a fraught moment when his Republican opponent, Donald Trump, is leading in some battleground state polls.

Bernie Sanders

In recent months, scores of Democrats in the House of Representatives, including former speaker Nancy Pelosi, have expressed “serious concerns” that Israel has been “withholding” humanitarian assistance to Gaza, and have asked Biden to consider halting offensive arms sales to Israel. Left-of-center senators like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have been among the politicians who have conveyed this message.

The Israeli government denies Pelosi’s accusation and contends that aid agencies have failed to deliver aid due to dangerous conditions in Gaza.

Most recently, Netanyahu jumped into the fray when he accused the Biden administration of slowing arms shipments to Israel, a claim endorsed by U.S. senator Tom Cotton and his Republican colleagues.

In an English language video which upset Biden and his advisors, Netanyahu said he had told Blinken that it was “inconceivable” that the United States was “withholding weapons and ammunition” to Israel.

On June 23, Netanyahu repeated his accusation, saying he had gone public only after having failed to solve the problem behind closed doors. “For many weeks, 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.”

According to the Times of Israel, the Biden administration has removed “emergency procedures” to fast-track weapons to Israel.

Israeli forces in eastern Rafah

The U.S., too, withheld one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel on the eve of Israel’s invasion of Rafah. Otherwise, the Biden administration has continued sending weaponry to Israel, as Biden’s National Security Council spokesman John Kirby insisted a few days ago.

“The idea that we had somehow stopped helping Israel with their self-defence needs is absolutely not accurate,” he said. He reminded reporters that the United States, in conjunction with Britain and Jordan, helped Israel fend off a massive and unprecedented Iranian missile and drone attack in mid-April.

Earlier in June, Israel signed two major arms contracts with the United States. Israel will spend $18 billion to buy more F-15 fighter jets and $3 billion to purchase an additional batch of F-35 aircraft, the world’s most advanced stealth fighter jet.

Israeli F-35 fighter jets

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, who is currently visiting Washington, described the F-35 deal as “another illustration of the strength of the strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel.”

Yoav Gallant

Last month, the Biden administration announced that a new package of more than $1 billion in arms and munitions would be sent to Israel.

And in April, after a lengthy delay, a $15 billion aid package to Israel passed muster in the U.S. Congress.

These agreements are of immense importance to Israel, but staunchly pro-Israel Republicans in the U.S. Senate have nonetheless introduced legislation that would prevent the president from withholding weapons in the future.

Marco Rubio

Sponsored by Jim Risch, Pete Ricketts, Tim Scott and Marco Rubio, the “Maintaining Our Ironclad Commitment to Israel’s Security” bill was introduced in the House of Representatives and is backed by nine of 24 Democrats.

Clearly, some U.S. lawmakers agree with Netanyahu and are convinced that the Biden administration is slow-walking” arms sales to Israel.