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The Israel-Hamas War: Operation Iron Sword
U.S. Policy

(October 7, 2023 - Present)
By Mitchell Bard

First Reaction
Moving Military Assets
Micromanaging
Growing Concern Over Civilian Deaths
Holdup On Aid
Tensions Boil Over
Fighting Words
Biden Lays Down the Law
Netanyahu’s Ingratitude

First Reaction

The initial reaction of the international community outside the Middle East was almost universally supportive of Israel. The leaders of France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom, and the United States released a joint statement expressing “steadfast and united support to the State of Israel” and “unequivocal condemnation of Hamas and its appalling acts of terrorism.”

In what many were describing as the strongest statement ever made by President Biden and the angriest most had seen him, the president called the Hamas assault “an act of pure, unadulterated evil.” Repeating a theme of the Israelis, he said, “The brutality of Hamas — this bloodthirstiness — brings to mind the worst — the worst rampages of ISIS.”

“We stand with Israel. And we will make sure Israel has what it needs to take care of its citizens, defend itself, and respond to this attack,” Biden added. “Like every nation in the world, Israel has the right to respond — indeed has a duty to respond — to these vicious attacks.”

Even with Congress in disarray following the Republican decision to replace the Speaker of the House, Biden said, “We’re surging additional military assistance, including ammunition and interceptors to replenish Iron Dome.”

The president also announced that the U.S. was moving a carrier strike group and other military assets to the region and issued a warning: “Let me say again — to any country, any organization, anyone thinking of taking advantage of this situation, I have one word: Don’t. Don’t.”

He reiterated that the “atrocities have been sickening” and that the U.S. would “make sure the Jewish and democratic State of Israel can defend itself today, tomorrow, as we always have.”

When he arrived in Israel on October 12, Secretary of State Blinken said, “You may be strong enough on your own to defend yourself, but as long as America exists, you will never, ever have to.”

Former State Department official David Makovsky said the president did five things to impress Israelis:

  • He “struck a clear and decisive moral stance” and “expressed genuine, palpable horror at the brutal Hamas terror attack and massacres in southern Israel.”
  • “Israelis could see Biden’s empathy on full display at a time of national trauma.”
  • “The promise of genuine U.S. wartime military assistance was the most vivid reminder that Israel is not alone in its moment of peril.”
  • “Israelis believe Biden’s declarations of fealty to Israel could be politically costly for him, and yet he persists.”
  • “Israelis see that Biden understands the DNA of Zionism. During his visit in July 2022, he arrived in Israel and declared one doesn’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist.”

The U.S. Senate unanimously adopted the Standing with Israel Against Terrorism resolution on October 19, and a week later, nearly the entire House of Representatives, 412 members, voted for a bipartisan resolution expressing support for Israel and condemning Hamas. Several members also called on the president to cancel the release of any of the $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets held by a Qatari bank. Across the country, rallies were held where community leaders and elected officials stood with the Jewish community to express their support.

More than 2,000 people in the entertainment industry, including Gal Gadot, Jamie Lee Curtis, Chris Pine, Mayim Bialik, Amy Schumer, Michael Douglas, Jerry Seinfeld, Mark Hamill, and Helen Mirren, signed an open letter calling on the entertainment community to speak out forcefully against Hamas, to support Israel, to refrain from sharing misinformation about the war, and do whatever is in their power to urge the terrorist organization to return the innocent hostages to their families.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, visiting Israel with a bipartisan group of senators, said, “You are not alone. The United States stands beside you as an unrelenting partner.” The group was forced to run to shelters twice because of Hamas rocket fire.

In New York City, for example, Mayor Eric Adam spoke at one on October 10: “We are not all right when we see young girls pulled from their home and dragged through the streets. We are not all right when we see grandmothers being pulled away from their homes and children shot in front of their families. We are not all right when right here in the City of New York, you have those who celebrate at the same time....Everything is not fine. Israel has a right to defend itself, and that’s the right that we know.” He continued, “I’m your brother. Your fight is my fight....You marched with us with Dr. King. You stood with us with all the fights we have. And I’m saying we’re going to stand with you and stand united together. And we don’t have to be all right. We should be angry at what we saw.”


Secretary of Defense Austin meets with
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu

Secretary of State Antony Blinken went to Israel to meet with government officials and also met some Americans and Israelis with family members who had been taken hostage.

Moving Military Assets

The U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel on October 13 along with a planeload of supplies. Two days earlier, the first shipment of armaments arrived. The U.S. promised to deliver ammunition and interceptors for Iron Dome, and Boeing reportedly was accelerating the delivery of 1,000 smart bombs. Austin said additional security assistance to Israel will “flow at the speed of war.”

Austin condemned the “bloodthirsty, fanatical and hateful” attacks by Hamas terrorists. “The world has just witnessed a great evil: the deadliest attack on civilians in the history of the state of Israel and the bloodiest day in Jewish history since the end of the Holocaust, he said after meeting with Defense Minister Gallant. “So, make no mistake: The United States will make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself,” he added.

The United States had already repositioned the USS Gerald R. Ford Strike Group closer to Israel and sent additional fighter aircraft to the region. “For any country, for any group or anyone thinking about trying to take advantage of this atrocity to try to widen the conflict or to spill more blood, we have just one word: Don’t,” Austin said.

As tensions along Israel’s northern border intensified, and Iran threatened to intervene if Israel went ahead with a ground attack on Gaza, Biden ordered a second aircraft carrier task force into the Eastern Mediterranean. Austin reiterated that the intention was “to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war following Hamas’s attack on Israel.” A rapid-response force of 2,000 Marines was also deployed to the region.

As the world anticipated a ground operation, Biden made clear he thought it would be “a big mistake” for Israel to reoccupy Gaza.

The administration was also becoming increasingly concerned with the safety of civilians in Gaza. The president appointed a former State Department official, David Satterfield, as a special envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues tasked with facilitating aid to “the most vulnerable people” and promoting the safety of civilians.

Micromanaging

On October 16, Blinken took part in a meeting of the Israeli war cabinet as it laid out plans for prosecuting the war against Hamas. According to BICOM, this is the first time a senior U.S. official has joined these consultations since Henry Kissinger attended Golda Meir’s security cabinet during the 1973 War.

General Michael Kurilla, head of U.S. Central Command, also visited Israel. “I’m here to ensure Israel has what it needs to defend itself, particularly focused on avoiding other parties expanding the conflict,” Kurilla told Reuters.

President Biden traveled to Israel on October 18 to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, the first time a president visited Israel during wartime. “For the people of Israel, there is only one thing better than having a true friend like you with Israel, and that is standing in Israel as the first U.S. sitting president to visit Israel in a time of war, it is deeply moving and speaks to the depth of support for Israel,” Netanyahu said.

The president reaffirmed his support for Israel and repeated previous warnings that none of its enemies should try to exploit the situation. Biden also announced he would ask Congress for “an unprecedented support package for Israel’s defense” and “keep Iron Dome fully supplied.”

Privately, Biden urged Israeli officials to have a plan for humanitarian relief for Palestinian civilians and publicly asked Israel “to agree to the delivery of lifesaving humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.” He insisted that aid would have to go to civilians, not Hamas. This was after UNRWA had reported that Hamas had stolen fuel and medical supplies (the tweet was subsequently deleted). The president said the U.S. would provide $100 million in humanitarian aid.

Israel reportedly asked for a $10 billion emergency aid package, and former Defense Minister Gantz reportedly told Biden destroying Hamas “could take years.” Current minister Gallant told the president, “It will be a long and difficult war, and Israel will need U.S. support for a long period.”

Just before departing Israel, Biden met with families of hostages and missing persons. He stayed long after his aides tried to hustle him to the airport. Each group member was given a minute to speak to the president. “Biden came to Israel to give us both diplomatic and military backing. But in this meeting, the feeling was that he came to give us something more, no less important: a hug,” journalist and resident of Kibbutz Nahal Oz Amir Tibon related. “He shared with us the challenge of not giving in to despair or turning sadness into anger. There were moments when he wiped a tear from his eye.”

Biden had originally planned to meet with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority, but they all canceled following the bombing of a Gaza hospital that resulted in many civilian casualties. Israel was initially blamed, but as the president explains, the hospital was hit by an errant rocket fired by a terrorist group in Gaza, which Israel identified as Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

In a rare nationally televised Oval Office address on October 20, Biden once again expressed America’s steadfast support for Israel in its war with Hamas and announced he would ask Congress to approve a security package that will “sharpen Israel’s qualitative military edge.” He also reiterated his admonition for Israel to “operate by the laws of war.”

The aid package totaling $14.3 billion will be held up until Republicans in Congress stop their infighting and elect a new Speaker of the House. In the meantime, the United States is sending two Iron Dome batteries it had purchased to Israel. Haaretz also reported that U.S. transport aircraft have landed in Israel carrying additional military supplies, including advanced ammunition. Israel also purchased and received armored vehicles, including ambulances, jeeps, and engineering equipment.

On October 22, the leaders of the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and the UK issued a joint statement supporting Israel and expressing concern for civilians and hostages.

In the first crack in Biden’s unequivocal support for Israel’s operations, he called for a “pause” in fighting to allow more time to get “prisoners” out. It was unclear precisely what the president meant. One official said he was referring to his request that Netanyahu temporarily suspend the assault to allow the two American hostages Hamas released to exit Gaza. Another official had said the previous week that the White House wanted a pause to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza.

Meanwhile, an American official told reporters that following talks with the U.S., Israel “significantly refined” its original military plan.

Blinken traveled around the Middle East, meeting with Arab leaders to discuss the crisis. He met with Abbas in Ramallah to implore him to keep the West Bank calm and discuss the future of Gaza after the war ends. He also went to Iraq to express support for the government and ask Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani to hold responsible those found to have carried out attacks against American personnel.

The administration was also reportedly sending messages to Iran and Hezbollah warning that the United States would intervene militarily if they attacked Israel. The Pentagon announced that a nuclear submarine was sent to the area to emphasize the threat.

Growing Concern Over Civilian Deaths

As the Hamas-derived number of civilian casualties reached 10,000, Blinken, CIA director Bill Burns, and the president repeatedly called on Netanyahu to pause its assault to allow more humanitarian aid into Gaza and were reportedly becoming increasingly frustrated by Netanyahu’s refusal to do so. The prime minister said there would be no pause unless all the hostages were released. He suggested Israel would be willing to offer “tactical little pauses, an hour here, an hour there...to enable goods, humanitarian goods to come in, or our hostages, individual hostages to leave.”

Meanwhile, Ron Dermer, the former ambassador to the U.S. and current Strategic Affairs Minister, who has taken an active role in most of the talks with American officials, is said to have cautioned government officials that failing to respond to the pressure could result in a high political cost for Israel.

The administration became increasingly critical of Israel’s tactics and their impact on civilians. In particular, officials believed Israel was using bombs that were more powerful than needed for the operations and were causing too much collateral damage. This undoubtedly played a role in Biden’s agreeing to accelerate the delivery of a $320 million sale of precision-guided weapon systems to Israel that could reduce civilian casualties. This sale was already in the works before Biden had submitted his proposal for emergency aid, which had not yet been approved.

Chief of Staff Halevi told a Knesset committee on November 9 that American-made weapons and intelligence were critical to the IDF’s operations. Haaretz reported that some of the aid provided by the U.S. included:

  • From U.S. stockpiles in Europe, 57,000 155mm artillery shells.
  • Thousands of bunker-buster munitions.
  • Some 200 kamikaze drones.
  • To resupply Apache gunships, 2,000 Hellfire laser-guided missiles and 36,000 rounds of 30mm ammunition.
  • A shipment of 1,800 of the 3,000 M141 bunker-buster shoulder-fired rockets was requested by Israel.
  • A total of 3,500 of 5,000 PVS-14 night vision devices on order.
  • Two Iron Dome batteries that Israel will lease from the U.S., along with 312 Tamir interceptors.

Other requests expected to be fulfilled include 200 Switchblade 600 dive-bombing drones, 75 armored Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, and 20,000 M4A1 rifles.

Following the announcement that Israel planned to begin operations in southern Gaza, the administration sought to delay them until a plan is made for the Palestinians whom Israel had told to move south. “In the event that we believe that Israel is likely to embark on combat operations, including in the south, we believe both that they have the right to do that, but that there is a real concern, because hundreds of thousands of residents of Gaza have fled now from the north to the south at Israel’s request,” said U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer. He added, “We think that their operations should not go forward until those people – those additional civilians – have been accounted for in their military planning. And so, we will be conveying that directly to them and have been conveying that directly to them.”

As Israel prepared to resume its military campaign following the pause for releasing hostages, the Biden administration reportedly urged Israel to minimize the displacement of Palestinian civilians in southern Gaza. The administration opposed establishing a safe area, citing concerns that it would be insufficient to accommodate the population and necessary humanitarian aid. Additionally, Israel was advised to conduct operations with increased precision in southern Gaza to reduce the risk of harming civilians.

Blinken had arrived for his fourth trip to Israel the day before the pause in fighting ended and repeated previous admonitions to de-escalate tensions in the West Bank and hold settler extremists accountable for anti-Palestinian violence. He also continued to emphasize the administration’s concern with what would happen to Gaza after the war, reiterating U.S. opposition to renewed occupation and settlement in Gaza.

Blinken elaborated on his expectations, “taking more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians, including by clearly and precisely designating areas and places in southern and central Gaza where they can be safe and out of the line of fire. It means avoiding further significant displacement of civilians inside of Gaza. It means avoiding damage to life-critical infrastructure, like hospitals, like power stations, like water facilities. And it means giving civilians who’ve been displaced to southern Gaza the choice to return to the north as soon as conditions permit. There must be no enduring internal displacement.”

Netanyahu said, “I told him we have sworn, and I have sworn, to eradicate Hamas. Nothing will stop us.”

Holdup On Aid

With the aid package still held up in Congress in December over issues unrelated to Israel, the administration issued an emergency order bypassing congressional review to supply Israel with nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition worth more than $106 million. “The United States is committed to the security of Israel, and it is vital to U.S. national interests to assist Israel to develop and maintain a strong and ready self-defense capability. This proposed sale is consistent with those objectives,” the State Department said, “Israel will use the enhanced capability as a deterrent to regional threats and to strengthen its homeland defense.”

Biden appeared to be attempting to micromanage the war. Every day, articles appeared in the press about how the administration was pressuring Israel on how and where to fight and for how long. Blinken tried to tamp down suggestions the U.S. wanted Israel to finish its campaign by the end of the year. “These are decisions for Israel to make,” he said after admitting the discussions were held on how Israel was “prosecuting this campaign against Hamas” and the duration.

Israeli officials also disputed accounts that disagreements with the administration were affecting the war effort. “There’s 100% agreement from the U.S. on our goals for the war both in public and private,” a senior official told the Times of Israel. The official said Gallant and Austin “are in constant contact.”

During a celebration of Chanukah at the White House, Biden said, “We continue to provide military assistance until they get rid of Hamas, but we have to be careful....The whole world, public opinion can shift overnight. We can’t let that happen.”

At a fundraising event, Biden said, “There’s no question about the need to take on Hamas. There’s no question about that. None. Zero. They have every right.” He criticized Itamar Ben-Gvir for opposing a two-state solution and said Netanyahu needs to strengthen the PA. “You cannot say there’s no Palestinian state at all in the future.” That said, he added, “But in the meantime, we’re not going to do a damn thing other than protect Israel in the process. Not a single thing.”

Biden said Netanyahu (he calls him by his nickname Bibi) understands that “Israel’s security can rest on the United States, but right now it has more than the United States. It has the European Union, it has Europe, it has most of the world supporting it. But they’re starting to lose that support of the indiscriminate bombing that takes place.” He said when Netanyahu pointed out that a lot of civilians died when the United States bombed Germany and Japan in World War II, that was why institutions were set up later to be sure it didn’t happen again. He told Netanyahu, “Don’t make the same mistakes we made at 9/11.”

The next day, the administration walked back the comment.

“The president was reflecting a concern that we have had for some time and will continue to have as this military operation proceeds, about the need for reducing civilian harm and being as precise and careful and deliberate as possible,” John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications. He also spoke about the lengths Israel was going to protect civilians mentioning the alerts to move from combat areas. “That’s basically telegraphing your punches. There are very few modern militaries in the world that would do that. I don’t know that we would do that.” He also gave credit for the “positive ways” Israel was acting to reduce civilian casualties.

Still, there was no mistaking the administration’s growing impatience. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met with Israeli leaders in mid-December to discuss Israeli war plans and to urge the government to wind down operations within weeks. Israel was reportedly being told to end most air operations and limit ground missions to small special forces units to minimize casualties in the densely populated southern part of Gaza. “I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives,” Biden said when asked if he wanted Israel to scale down its operations by the end of the month. “Not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful.”

Israel remained defiant, with Gallant saying that since Hamas had built its infrastructure over more than a decade, “it is not easy to destroy them. It will require a period of time.” He added, “It will last more than several months, but we will win, and we will destroy them.”

Netanyahu was more blunt, saying he told Israel’s “American friends” that the country was “more determined than ever to continue fighting until Hamas is eliminated — until complete victory.”

Despite ongoing disagreements with Netanyahu over war and postwar strategy and a political standoff in Congress over the $14.3 billion aid package, the administration continued to provide weapons to resupply the IDF. For the second time since the beginning of the war, the president bypassed Congress in late December to approve a weapons package for Israel, this time consisting of $147.5 million of artillery munitions and other equipment.

The aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford was withdrawn from the Mediterranean and replaced at the beginning of 2024 by an amphibious-ready group with more than 4,000 sailors and marines and more than 50 aircraft.

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby again reaffirmed support for Israel’s defensive war. He noted the strategy of targeting infrastructure and leadership was similar to the U.S. approach in Iraq and Afghanistan. Questioned about Israel’s ability to achieve its goal of destroying Hamas, Kirby insisted, “It is absolutely an attainable goal for the Israeli military forces to degrade and defeat Hamas’s abilities to conduct attacks inside Israel.” He also acknowledged the campaign’s limitations. “Are you going to eliminate the ideology? No. And are you likely going to erase the group from existence? Probably not. But can you eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to the Israeli people? Absolutely.”

The New York Times reported that the CIA formed a task force to collect and provide information to Israel on senior Hamas leaders and the location of hostages.

Back in Washington, the president’s aid package for Israel remained bogged down by Republican opposition to the portion of the bill related to U.S. border security. Biden insisted that Congress pass the entire package that included aid to Ukraine and Taiwan. He threatened to veto a standalone bill for Israel aid introduced by House Republicans who wanted to force Democrats to choose between loyalty to the president and their pro-Israel constituents. The president pressured Democrats to oppose the bill. Though 46 supported it, the bill failed.

Tensions Boil Over

Administration officials had been pressuring Israel for months to take action against extremist Jewish settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank and finally became fed up with the lack of response. On February 1, 2024, Biden issued an executive order allowing the U.S. to impose new sanctions on Israelis, primarily settlers, involved in violent attacks against Palestinians. Initially, only four Israelis were sanctioned, and it did not appear many others would be affected. Israeli officials were upset by the new policy and argued the administration had greatly exaggerated the problem and ignored the far more prevalent issue of Palestinian attacks on Jews.

Facing increasing pressure from Democrats from the left, concerns about losing Arab and Muslim votes in the critical swing state of Michigan, feeling unhappy with Netanyahu’s responses to his concerns, and anger over the number of civilian casualties in Gaza, Biden lashed out during a press conference on February 8, 2023. The event was called primarily so Biden could respond to a critical Department of Justice report about his handling of classified information, which questioned his mental acuity. Angry about that, he expressed frustration with what he referred to as Israel’s “over the top” military operation. “There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s gotta stop,” Biden said. He also said he was pushing for a ceasefire and a deal for the release of hostages held by Hamas as well as a deal whereby Saudi Arabia would normalize relations with Israel, but that hit a roadblock when Netanyahu rejected the Saudi demand that Israel create a path for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In addition, though it did not specifically mention Israel, Biden issued a national security memorandum that restricts the use of U.S. weapons by allies. This appeared to be a response to pressure from some Congressional Democrats to condition aid to Israel and his anger over the growing number of civilian casualties in Gaza. The memo states the standards countries that receive U.S. weapons must adhere to, calls for the State Department to obtain written assurances from countries receiving U.S. arms that they are abiding by international law and facilitating the transport of U.S. humanitarian assistance, and requires the administration to submit an annual report to Congress about whether countries are meeting the requirements.

Despite the disagreements and admonishments, Biden continued to supply arms to Israel, even as his large aid package remained bottled up in Congress. In mid-February, the administration proposed the transfer of MK-82 bombs, KMU-572 Joint Direct Attack Munitions that add precision guidance to bombs, and FMU-139 bomb fuses, according to the Wall Street Journal. Congress will still need to approve the transfer.

The Journal said that Israel had already received some 21,000 precision-guided munitions since the start of the war and was believed to have used about half of those. The paper noted this was another example of how the administration has sped up the flow of arms to Israel, which have been airlifted directly to the Jewish state. Biden, it noted, had used emergency rules to bypass Congress to make the deliveries.

The Washington Post reported that more than 100 sales had been approved for Israel between October 7, 2023, and March 2024. The paper noted only two of these had been made public, one for $106 million worth of tank ammunition and $147.5 million for components needed to make 155 mm shells.

Fighting Words

Biden ratcheted up the pressure on Israel during his State of the Union address. While acknowledging that “Israel has a right to go after Hamas” and recognizing the families of hostages invited to attend the speech, he also implicitly criticized Israel’s conduct of the war. “To the leadership of Israel, I say this: Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” Biden said. “Protecting and saving innocent lives has to be a priority.” 

He announced the U.S. would build a pier in Gaza to facilitate the distribution of aid, which would be shipped from Cyprus.

Biden also said he was “working nonstop to establish an immediate ceasefire that would last for six weeks” and restated his position that a two-state solution is the only path “that guarantees peace between Israel and all of its Arab neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.”

As Biden was leaving the House chamber after his speech, he was caught on a hot mic saying, “I told Bibi, don’t repeat this, you and I are going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting.” It was an odd turn of phrase to use in regard to the prime minister of the Jewish state, but he clearly meant Netanyahu was going to be given an ultimatum; it just wasn’t evident what Biden was going to demand.

Biden raised the stakes further two days later when he said Netanyahu “hurts Israel more than he helps Israel (by killing civilians). This is a mistake.” When asked about Israel’s plan to move into Rafah, Biden said he considered that a “red line.” “You can’t have another 30,000 Palestinians dead as a consequence of going after (Hamas). There are other ways to deal with Hamas,” he said.

Focusing on the humanitarian crisis and the need for a ceasefire was no doubt heartfelt, but also an effort to appease his progressive base and, his campaign undoubtedly hoped, the Arabs and Muslims who had voted “uncommitted” in the Michigan primary a few days earlier. Still, he was not going to accept their demands to condition or cut aid to Israel. “It is a red line, but I am never going to leave Israel,” Biden said. “The defense of Israel is still critical, so there’s no red line I’m going to cut off all weapons.”

Netanyahu took the president’s words as an insult and fired back that Israel would not change its plan to go after Hamas in Rafah. “You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is, that October 7 doesn’t happen again.” Responding to Biden’s assertion that he is hurting Israel, Netanyahu said, “I don’t know exactly what the president meant, but if he meant by that, that I’m pursuing private policies against the wish of the majority of Israelis, and that this is hurting the interests of Israel then he’s wrong on both counts,” 

Just as the administration was becoming increasingly open about its frustration with Netanyahu, Israelis were no less angry with their American counterparts. After a U.S. intelligence report suggested Netanyahu would lose power, the prime minister was reportedly “fuming” and determined to “embark upon on strong, public and dramatic confrontation with the president of the United States.” A senior Israeli official said, “Israel is not a protectorate of the U.S. but rather an independent and democratic country whose citizens are the ones who elect the government. We expect our friends to work to bring down the terror regime of Hamas and not the elected government in Israel.”

Things got worse soon after when Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the United States, said Netanyahu had “lost his way” and become an obstacle to peace. Schumer called for Israel to hold new elections because the extremists in his coalition had made Netanyahu “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows.” He added, “Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.”

Netanyahu responded furiously, echoing Menachem Begin when he had come under criticism from the United States, “It’s inappropriate to go to a sister democracy and try to replace the elected leadership there. That’s something that Israel, the Israeli public does on its own, and we’re not a banana republic.”

On March 18, roughly a month since their last conversation, Netanyahu and Biden spoke on the phone. Biden reaffirmed his support for Israel defeating Hamas and reiterated the importance of protecting the civilian population and facilitating the safe and unhindered delivery of aid throughout Gaza. Netanyahu agreed to send a team to Washington to produce “alternative approaches for an operation in Rafah.”

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan later reinforced the message that Biden opposes Israel’s plan to enter Rafah. “A major ground operation there would be a mistake. It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza and further isolate Israel internationally,” Sullivan said.

On March 25, the State Department announced that after receiving assurances from Israel, it found no evidence that Israel is violating a recent directive that recipients of U.S. military aid comply with international human rights law. The administration had been under pressure from some Democrats to cut aid to Israel on the grounds it was misusing American weapons.

The same day, the United States abstained on a UN Security Council resolution that demanded “an immediate cease-fire” during Ramadan, “leading to a lasting sustainable cease-fire, and also the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages.” Israel read the text as failing to make the release of the hostages a prerequisite for a ceasefire, though the U.S. insisted it was. Amb. Thomas-Greenfield said, “A ceasefire of any duration must come with the release of hostages.”

Biden seemed to be straddling a line between his political need to appease progressives in the party who were demanding that he support a ceasefire and abandoning support for Israel’s need to destroy Hamas. Israel did not take it that way. Netanyahu had agreed in a phone call with Biden to send two of his closest aides—Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer and National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi—for meetings in Washington to discuss the planned ground operation in Rafah that the administration hoped to prevent. The prime minister’s office issued a statement, “The United States has abandoned its policy in the UN today....Today’s resolution gives Hamas hope that international pressure will force Israel to accept a ceasefire without the release of our hostages, thus harming both the war effort and the effort to release the hostages.” Consequently, he announced he would not send the delegation to Washington.

John Kirby said, “we’re kind of perplexed by this” because “it’s a nonbinding resolution. So, there’s no impact at all on Israel and Israel’s ability to continue to go after Hamas.” He took issue with Netanyahu’s characterization of the vote as a change in U.S. policy, insisting that it was consistent with the position linking a hostage deal to a temporary ceasefire. He also said, “we still have Israel’s back....we are still providing tools and capabilities, weapons systems so that Israel can defend itself against what we — we agree is still a viable threat to [of] Hamas.”

Adding to the spat, the administration rejected Netanyahu’s office statement that Hamas’s rejection of the latest proposal for the release of the hostages was “a sad testament to the damage caused by the UN Security Council resolution.” The State Department spokesman said, “That statement is inaccurate in almost every respect, and it is unfair to the hostages and their families... I can tell you that that response was prepared before the UN Security Council vote, not after it.”

Biden Lays Down the Law

The administration continued to send mixed messages as Biden tried to satisfy supporters of Israel and critics from within the Democratic Party. 

House National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby, for example, said on April 3 that “Israel has a right to defend itself. Maybe not everybody believes that, but they do. And maybe not everybody believes that they’re living next to a genocidal threat, but they are. And so, we’re going to continue to support them. No country should have to live like that. No country should have to be attacked, like they were on the 7th of October, with 1,200 people slaughtered.” 

The next day, furious over the mistaken targeting of aid workers from the World Central Kitchen (WCK), Biden called Netanyahu and told him “that an immediate ceasefire is essential to stabilize and improve the humanitarian situation and protect innocent civilians, and he urged the prime minister to empower his negotiators to conclude a deal without delay to bring the hostages home.” He “emphasized that the strikes on humanitarian workers and the overall humanitarian situation are unacceptable” and “made clear the need for Israel to announce and implement a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers.” Further, “He made clear that U.S. policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action on these steps.”

Though it was speculated that Biden threatened to stop military aid to Israel if Netanyahu did not heed his advice, the president said, “I asked them to do what they’re doing.” He also reacted angrily to the suggestion that he would end support for Israel.

To prove the point, the administration authorized the transfer to Israel of over 1,000 500-pound bombs and over 1,000 small-diameter bombs just before the WCK attack. Biden was also calling on Congress to approve the sale of  $18 billion worth of F-15 fighter jets to Israel despite members of his party asking him to suspend or condition arms deliveries and sales to Israel (the request for the planes by Israel had been made before the war).

Israel also helped its cause by withdrawing most of its troops from Gaza and opening up additional entry points for aid convoys.

Despite Israel bowing to U.S. demands to increase aid and hold off on a Rafah operation, Biden’s anger boiled over again, telling Univision in an interview taped on April 3, “What I’m calling for is for the Israelis to just call for a ceasefire, allow for the next six, eight weeks, total access to all food and medicine going into the country.” He added, “I’ve spoken with everyone from the Saudis to the Jordanians to the Egyptians. They’re prepared to move...this food in. And I think there’s no excuse to not provide for the medical and the food needs of those people. It should be done now.”

For the first time, he did not link a ceasefire to the release of the hostages or defend Israel’s right to defeat Hamas, suggesting a dramatic shift in policy in the direction of those demanding an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. The White House, however, denied any policy change. “The president was reiterating our longstanding position: we are calling for an immediate ceasefire that would last for at least six weeks as part of a hostage deal,” an official said. National Security Adviser Sullivan went further and blamed Hamas for the impasse. “There could be a ceasefire in place today that would extend for several weeks to be built upon longer if Hamas would be prepared to release some of those people, so let’s train the attention where it belongs… I believe Israel is ready and Hamas should step up to the table and be prepared to do so as well,” he stated.

Biden also criticized Netanyahu more directly than in the past. When asked if the prime minister was more concerned with his political future than Israel’s national interest, the president said, “I think what he’s doing is a mistake… I don’t agree with his approach.” He also lambasted Israel for the strike on the WCK, which had occurred two days earlier. “I think it’s outrageous that those… three vehicles were hit by drones and taken out on a highway,” he said.

Biden’s Jekyll and Hyde approach to Israel came out as the former again after Congress approved the long-delayed foreign aid bill providing Israel with a record $14.3 billion in military assistance. He said:

My commitment to Israel, I want to make clear again, is ironclad. The security of Israel is critical.  I will always make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Iran and terrorists it supports. And with this aid, the United States can help replenish Israel’s air defense and provide other critical defense so Iran can never carry out the destruction it intended with its attack 10 days ago.

Biden also noted the bill significantly increased humanitarian aid to Gaza. He said the $1 billion in additional aid would be used for food, medical supplies, and clean water.

In an interview with CNN, Biden delivered a mixed message of support and threat. “We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks that came out of the Middle East recently,” he said before adding, “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone into Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been historically used to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem.”

His remarks came after the administration confirmed it was suspending the shipment of certain weapons. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jack Lew said, “fundamentally, nothing has changed in the basic relationship,” and that only “one set of munitions” had been held back and that “everything else keeps flowing.”

Even as the administration continued to criticize Israel, Biden acknowledged, “There would be a ceasefire tomorrow if Hamas would release the hostages.”

The Washington Post reported the administration was also using carrots to discourage Israel from launching an offensive in Rafah. The paper said the U.S. was offering Israel intelligence on the location of Hamas leaders and tunnels. It is also advising Israel on how to provide the necessary assistance to relocate civilians from Rafah. Simultaneously, American officials were working with Egypt to find and destroy tunnels that cross the border in the Rafah area. Israel has long complained that Hamas used such tunnels to smuggle weapons.

After suspending the delivery of some weapons, President Biden continued to express support for Israel’s overall objectives. “We stand with Israel to take out [Hamas leader Yahya] Sinwar and the rest of the butchers of Hamas,” he said on May 20, 2024. “We want Hamas defeated, and work with Israel to make that happen.”

Despite more civilian casualties after Israel moved troops into Rafah, the administration said its red line had not been crossed, and officials made no public effort to pressure Israel to halt its operation. They only reiterated their insistence that Israel do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties and do more to allow humanitarian assistance to reach Gazans.

Netanyahu’s Ingratitude

With tensions between Israel and the White House simmering, Netanyahu inexplicably decided to blast the Biden administration following a June 10 meeting with Blinken, accusing the U.S. of withholding arms. “When Secretary Blinken was recently here in Israel, we had a candid conversation,” Netanyahu said in a video released on June 18. “I said I deeply appreciated the support the U.S. has given Israel from the beginning of the war. But I also said something else. I said it’s inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunition to Israel. Israel, America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies.” He added, “During World War II, Churchill told the United States, ‘Give us the tools, we’ll do the job,’” Netanyahu said. “And I say, give us the tools and we’ll finish the job a lot faster.”

Administration officials reacted with incredulity and anger at what they considered ingratitude and disrespect toward a president who supported Israel despite his disagreements with the prime minister. Other than the suspension of the shipment of bombs to signal dismay over the operation in Rafah, the White House said, “There are no other pauses, none, no other pauses or holds in place.”

“With regard to 2,000-pound bombs, because of our concerns about their use in a densely populated area like Rafah, that remains under review,” Blinken said. “But everything else is moving as it normally would move.”

He added, “The president’s been very clear from day one, that he will do everything he can to make sure that Israel has what it needs to effectively defend itself against these threats.”

Axios reported that the White House canceled a high-level meeting in Washington to discuss Iran in response to Netanyahu’s comments. The White House denied the report and said the meeting was moved because of a scheduling conflict.

The timing of the remarks was also strange, given that previously reluctant Democrats in Congress agreed the day before to the transfer of F-15 fighter jets to Israel as part of a record $18 billion military assistance package. The Wall Street Journal reported that despite Congress’s support, the State Department had not yet formally notified Congress of the planned sale. A Republican senator told the Washington Free Beacon that the administration had stopped fast-tracking weapons to Israel in January in response to pressure from Democrats in Congress.

Biden envoy Amos Hochstein was already in Israel to discuss efforts to de-escalate the situation on the northern border and, according to Axios, told Netanyahu that his remarks were “inaccurate and out of line.”

Netanyahu nevertheless continued to make public comments about the U.S. failure to provide needed weapons. He said during a cabinet meeting “For long weeks, we turned to our American friends and requested that the shipments be expedited. We did this time and again. We did so at the highest levels, and at all levels, and we did so behind closed doors. We received all sorts of explanations, but the basic situation did not change. Certain items arrived sporadically but the munitions at large remained behind.” He added that he only went public because deliveries did not change despite privately imploring the administration to expedite them.

Some Israeli officials told Haaretz confirmed “a slowdown in recent weeks in the rate at which ammunition and replacement parts are arriving,” but said the reasons were “bureaucratic and technical problems rather than a deliberate decision.” Yediot Ahronot’s Nahum Barnea said the shortage of munitions was due to several reasons, “manufacturing limits in light of the demand created by the wars being fought simultaneously by Ukraine and Israel; tremendous waste of munitions in the first few weeks of the war and flawed management of the use of munitions in the months that followed; American objections to Israel’s use of munitions that cause massive damage, damage that looks bad on camera and creates a political problem in an election year.”

The prime minister did clarify one point that was of particular concern to the administration, saying, “Settlement in Gaza is unrealistic and does not help achieve the war aims.” The U.S. was concerned because of comments from right-wing ministers expressing the desire to return Jewish settlers to Gaza.

During Gallant’s visit to Washington in late June, administration officials admitted that unintentional “bottlenecks” had slowed the transfer of some weapons to Israel. Gallant said, “During the meetings, we made significant progress. Obstacles were removed, and bottlenecks were addressed… [regarding] munition supply.”

An administration official said the U.S. had sent more than $6.5 billion in weapons to Israel since the war started. The U.S. also plans to release a shipment of 1,700 500-pound bombs that was delayed in April after Israel completes its Rafah operation. The decision was apparently made because Israel does not need the bombs for use in Gaza and the administration wanted to patch up relations with the Israelis. The 2,000-pound bombs were still being withheld because “the President was not taking orders from Netanyahu.”

At a later press conference, Biden said, “I am not providing them 2,000-pound bombs. They cannot be used in Gaza or any populated area without causing great human tragedy and damage.”


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