Biden’s risky bet: Withholding weapons from Israel threatens more than military outcomes | USA TODAY

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Biden’s risky bet: Withholding weapons from Israel threatens more than military outcomes | Avi Melamed special to the USA TODAY Network | This article has already published in more that 225 other media and newspapers.

3-minute read

President Joe Biden’s threat to withhold specific types of weapons from Israel if it takes military action in Rafah is a grave mistake that jeopardizes not only U.S.-Israel relations but also stability in the Middle East. This policy emboldens Hamas, endangers the civilian population of Gaza, and potentially fuels further violence on U.S. campuses.

Within the Arab world, there is a current clear demand from Hamas that the group soften its position on negotiating a deal that will ease pressure on the residents of Gaza and allow for the beginning of Gaza’s reconstruction. By signaling a potential reduction in military support for Israel, Biden has provided an insurance policy for Hamas leaders by protecting them and their fighters in Rafah, ensuring the continuation of Hamas governance in Gaza, and encouraging the reverse — the hardening of their demands in the negotiations. This move will likely prove counterproductive to U.S. interests across the region and ultimately extend the war, which has already created major political upheaval within the Democratic party.

Biden’s position effectively corners Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose policy on the war is heavily influenced by concerns over the erosion of his political and historic legacy as Israel’s defender. Netanyahu has firmly declared that Israel will militarily dismantle the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah, vowing that the conflict will not conclude until all hostages are freed and Hamas’s control in Gaza is terminated. Netanyahu’s ability to remain in power heavily relies on the support from his far-right coalition partners, who have threatened to withdraw from the government unless decisive action is taken in Rafah. Biden’s limitations on Israel’s military actions risk driving Netanyahu into a tight spot where his only political option might be to defy Biden’s call, thereby securing his political future at the cost of damaging bilateral relations.

Biden’s statement has also undermined the confidence of U.S. allies in the Middle East, to whom the U.S. thwarting of the Iranian attack on Israel on April 14, solidified the country’s reputation as a reliable partner. However, this trust is now jeopardized for two primary reasons:

  • First, the fact that the U.S. openly threatens to limit military aid to a central ally, effectively withdrawing support, during such a critical juncture in the war significantly compromises Arab countries’ trust in the United States. Each of these nations are increasingly anxious over escalating threats and destabilization efforts from Iran and its network of proxies including Hamas.
  • The second reason is that Biden’s statement came just a day after a threat from the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards that the war against Israel would expand, including the imposition of a naval blockade on the Eastern Mediterranean. The coincidence exacerbates concerns among the vast majority of western aligned Arab nations about the U.S. commitment to regional stability.

In the lexicon of Middle Eastern politics, Biden’s statement — especially considering the concurrent threats from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards — is perceived as giving Iran the green light to escalate its aggression.

For the safety of its partners in the region, both Israel and its Arab neighbors, It is critical for Biden to reassess his current position and to conduct private discussions with Israeli leaders to align efforts toward mutual objectives. This is not the moment for public threats that undermine shared goals. Instead, the U.S. should bolster its commitment to its allies with steadfast support and definitive and decisive policy measures. Such a shift is essential not only for the health of U.S.-Israel relations but also for the stability and security of the entire Middle East.

Biden unequivocally supported Israel following the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, with his prompt and decisive response, backed by American military readiness in the eastern Mediterranean, playing a crucial role in averting a regional conflict. He also explicitly set a strategic goal: to end Hamas’ rule in Gaza — a goal aligned with the U.S. and its allies’ interests. This objective is vital as fracturing Hamas’s rule and use of Gaza as a launching pad for attacks against Israel, significantly disrupts the Iranian regime’s ambitions, which have plunged the Middle East into a cycle of violence and instability, directly threatening U.S. strategic interests.

It is difficult to understand how Biden’s recent statement advances the very goal he established. A more effective approach would have been to continue discreet dialogues with Israel to coordinate efforts toward achieving this shared objective.

Avi Melamed is a former Israeli intelligence official who went on to serve as deputy and then as senior Arab affairs adviser to Jerusalem Mayors Teddy Kollek and Ehud Olmert, operating as a negotiator during the first and second intifadas. He is the author of “Inside The Middle East | Entering A New Era,” and his latest docuseries, “The Seam Line,” available on the Izzy streaming platform, focuses on Jerusalem’s flashpoints and his work during the intifadas.

Absolving Hamas from responsibility must end for the sake of Palestinians and Israelis | Avi Melamed special to the USA TODAY Network | This article has already published in more that 225 other media and newspapers.

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Avi Melamed
Avi Melamed
Avi Melamed is an expert on current affairs in the Arab & Muslim World and their impact on Israel & the Middle East. A former Israeli Intelligence Official & Senior Official on Arab Affairs, Fluent in Arabic, English, and Hebrew, he has held high-risk Government, Senior Advisory, Intelligence & Counter-Terrorist intelligence positions in Arab cities & communities - often in very sensitive times - on behalf of Israeli Government agencies. He is the Founder & CEO of Inside the Middle East | Intelligence Perspectives - an apolitical non-partisan curriculum using intelligence methodology to examine the Middle East. As an Author, Educator, Expert, and Strategic Intelligence Analyst, Avi provides Intelligence Analysis, Briefings, and Geopolitical Tours to diplomats, Israeli and foreign policymakers, global media outlets, and a wide variety of international businesses, organizations, and private clients on a range of Israel and Middle East Affairs.

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