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Will Joe Biden really discipline Israel? 

The US commitment to Israel may be “iron clad”, as Joe Biden says, but it’s never been unconditional
Issue 2905
US President Joe Biden greeting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Picture: US Embassy Jerusalem on Flickr)

US President Joe Biden greeting Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Picture: US Embassy Jerusalem on Flickr)

 
It was an act of childish petulance, but it confirmed that, even as it continues to rampage murderously in Gaza, Israel has lost the ideological war.
 
Last Friday the United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to support Palestine’s full membership.
 
Just before, Israeli ambassador Gilad Erdan stood on the podium running the UN Charter through a portable shredder.
 
This was an expression of contempt but also, I suspect, of frustration at Israel’s isolation—and at the fact that, finally, the United States is starting to put the squeeze on.
 
Erdan was paying tribute to the power of the global solidarity movement with Palestine.
 
The support the US gives Israel reflects a calculation of the advantage that having a powerful military client in the Middle East provides in securing the region’s energy supplies for Western imperialism. 
 
The US commitment to Israel may be “iron clad”, as Joe Biden says, but it’s never been unconditional.
 
Successive presidents have put direct pressure on defiant Israeli prime ministers. Dwight Eisenhower threatened sanctions in 1956 when David Ben-Gurion tried to annex Gaza and Sinai.
 
In 1982 Ronald Reagan stopped supplying cluster bombs and ordered Menachem Begin to call a ­ceasefire in Beirut.
 
George HW Bush blocked £7.9 billion in housing loan guarantees until Yitzhak Shamir agreed not to use the money to build illegal settlements in 1992.
 
Up to last week Biden had been an exception. He and his secretary of state Anthony Blinken, both fervent Zionists, have stood foursquare behind Binyamin Netanyahu’s genocidal assault on Gaza.
 
Even last week Biden used Holocaust Memorial Day to attack the student encampments as antisemitic. Nevertheless, the realisation that this stance is dangerously isolating the US is pushing them publicly to put pressure on Netanyahu.
 
First on Tuesday last week came the report that the US had “paused” a shipment of 1,000 and 2,000 pound bombs.
 
This was followed by Biden last Wednesday going on CNN to confirm that he would cut off the supply of weapons like this to Israel if the Israel Defence Forces launched a full‑scale offensive against Rafah. 
 
Biden also acknowledged that “civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centres.” This will be very hard to unsay.
 
On Friday, the State Department reported it was “reasonable to assess” that the IDF had used US weapons in Gaza in ways “inconsistent with” international humanitarian law.
 
The report came hedged with qualifications and didn’t recommend that arms supplies are halted. This angered even the BBC’s normally calm international editor Jeremy Bowen.
 
On last Saturday’s Radio 4 Today programme he called the report an example of how the US always defends Israel.
 
But this missed the implicit threat—if Netanyahu carries on defying the US then the flow of arms will be cut off.
 
He continues to bluster, as the IDF pushes deeper into Rafah. But the Financial Times reported “a person familiar with Israeli deliberations said that, despite the tough talk, there was a sense of ‘shell shock’ at the top of the Israeli government over the ‘perfect storm’ with Washington, with efforts ongoing to mend ties behind the scenes.”
 
According to another report in the same newspaper, “the IDF has historically treated the US-Israel relationship ‘like a delicate, but professional, flower’,” says a senior Israeli military official with deep experience in dealing with the US on the military assistance.
 
“‘This partnership has grown year by year to become the foundation of the IDF’ … the ‘daily reality’ is that Israeli and US officials must have ‘complete trust, complete faith’ in one another. ‘The truth is, we have no other friends than the Americans.’”
 
Netanyahu, desperate to stay in office and out of jail, and the fascists in his cabinet may want to keep the war going.
 
But my guess is that the IDF chiefs, the dominant force in Israeli society, will finally call the shots.
 
The calculus of advantage for the US has shifted against Israel. This leaves Biden facing a dilemma. If the offensive doesn’t halt, he will have to punish Israel more. Otherwise, US prestige will be even more damaged.
 

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