Biden Holding Up Israel Arms Shipments

Is Rafah the breaking point?

President Joe Biden, Oval Office, 4 April 2024
Official White House Photo

CNN (“Biden says he will stop sending bombs and artillery shells to Israel if it launches major invasion of Rafah“):

President Joe Biden said for the first time Wednesday he would halt some shipments of American weapons to Israel – which he acknowledged have been used to kill civilians in Gaza – if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orders a major invasion of the city of Rafah.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers,” Biden told CNN’s Erin Burnett in an exclusive interview on “Erin Burnett OutFront,” referring to 2,000-pound bombs that Biden paused shipments of last week.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem,” Biden said.

The president’s announcement that he was prepared to condition American weaponry on Israel’s actions amounts to a turning point in the seven-month conflict between Israel and Hamas. And his acknowledgement that American bombs had been used to kill civilians in Gaza was a stark recognition of the United States’ role in the war.

The president has come under extraordinary pressure, including from members of his own party, to limit shipments of arms amid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Until now, the president had resisted those calls and strongly supported Israel’s efforts to go after Hamas. Yet a looming invasion of Rafah, the city in southern Gaza where more than a million Palestinian civilians have been sheltering, appears to have shifted the president’s calculus.

“We’re not walking away from Israel’s security. We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in those areas,” Biden said.

Biden said while the US would continue to provide defensive weapons to Israel, including for its Iron Dome air defense system, other shipments would end should a major ground invasion of Rafah begin.

“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. “But it’s, it’s just wrong. We’re not going to – we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells.”

Already, the US has paused a shipment of “high-payload munitions” due to Israel’s possible operations in Rafah without a plan for the civilians there, according to the Pentagon, though it said a final decision on that shipment hadn’t been made. The administration has said it is reviewing the potential sale or transfer of other munitions.

Israeli officials privately expressed to US officials “deep frustration” on the pause in shipments as well as the US media briefings on the decision, according to a source briefed on the matter.

Biden’s public linking of American weapons shipments to Israel’s conduct could widen a rift between himself and Netanyahu, with whom he spoke by phone on Monday. That conversation came as Israel ordered the evacuation of tens of thousands of civilians from Rafah and launched strikes near border areas of the city.

Biden said Israel’s actions in Rafah had not yet crossed a red line of entering heavily populated zones, even if their actions had caused tensions in the region.

“They haven’t gone into the population centers. What they did is right on the border. And it’s causing problems with, right now, in terms of – with Egypt, which I’ve worked very hard to make sure we have a relationship and help,” he said.

He said he had conveyed to Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders that American support for operations in population centers was limited.

“I’ve made it clear to Bibi and the war cabinet: They’re not going to get our support, if in fact they go on these population centers,” he said.

Later, Biden described warning Netanyahu about the risks of becoming bogged down in Gaza, drawing parallels to the American experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I said to Bibi, ‘Don’t make the same mistake we made in America. We wanted to get bin Laden. We’ll help you get Sinwar,’” he said, referring to the Hamas leader in Gaza. “It made sense to get bin Laden; it made no sense to try and unify Afghanistan. It made no sense in my view to engage in thinking that in Iraq they had a nuclear weapon.”

WaPo (“Biden says he will cut off offensive weapons if Israel invades Rafah“) adds:

Since the outset of the war in October, Netanyahu has repeatedly defied U.S. demands on major issues, rejecting Biden’s requests that he do more to protect civilians and that he accept the notion of a future Palestinian state. But the president has been loath to impose direct consequences, even as the death toll mounts in Gaza and Israel refuses to allow in more humanitarian aid to ease catastrophic conditions in the enclave.

Biden’s tone and message toward Israel have become increasingly sharp, however, while student protests against his support of Israel’s military campaign have erupted on campuses across the country. Wednesday’s comments were in a sense a culmination of that shift in tone.

Israel has taken a number of actions in recent days that have raised fears among U.S. officials that the Israel Defense Forces are preparing for a major Rafah operation. It seized the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, cutting off the main artery for humanitarian aid. Israel also warned more than 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate the city, even as aid groups have warned that there is no place left in Gaza with the infrastructure to support such an influx.

[…]

Biden’s comments Wednesday are not the first time a U.S. president has threatened to condition aid to Israel. President Ronald Reagan halted a shipment of artillery shells and cluster bombs in 1982 during Israel’s invasion of Lebanon while the U.S. determined whether Israel’s use of American weapons violated arms exports laws. Reagan also paused the shipment of F-16s in 1983 until Israel withdrew from Lebanon.

About a decade later, President George H.W. Bush told Israel an aid package of $10 billion loan guarantees would only go through if Israel stopped using U.S. money to build settlements on land that belonged to the Palestinians.

NBC News (“U.S. pauses Israel arms shipment over Rafah assault fears as Biden pushes for a cease-fire“):

The United States halted a large shipment of offensive weapons to Israel last week in a sign of its growing concern over a possible military offensive on Rafah, senior administration officials told NBC News.

[…]

The Israeli military appeared to play down the dispute, with a spokesman saying Wednesday that the two allies would resolve any disagreements “behind closed doors.”

But an Israeli official told NBC News there is deep frustration in the Israeli government over the decision. The official added that tensions had already been running high after Israel felt the U.S. allowed it to be blindsided by Hamas’ announcement this week that it was accepting a version of a cease-fire proposal.

[…]

The U.S. began reviewing future transfers of military assistance to Israel in April, as the government appeared to move closer to a Rafah operation despite the urging of Biden, other world leaders and humanitarian officials, the official said.

No final decision had been made on whether to proceed with the weapons delivery at a later date, the official said, adding that the State Department is separately considering whether to approve future weapons transfers, including Joint Direct Attack Munition kits, which place precision guidance systems onto bombs.

[…]

The decision to pause last week’s arms delivery, which was first reported by Axios, came to light as the Biden administration appeared set to miss a Wednesday deadline to submit a highly anticipated report to Congress on whether Israel is using U.S. weapons in accordance with international law.

Multiple administration officials told NBC News the Biden administration would miss the deadline, with State Department spokesperson Matt Miller confirming to reporters Tuesday afternoon that a delay was possible.

“We are trying very hard to meet that deadline,” he said. “It’s possible it slips just a little bit, but we’re still at this point trying to get it done by tomorrow.”

The report is mandated under a National Security Memo signed by Biden in February requiring the secretary of state or the defense secretary to assess whether recipients of U.S. military assistance involved in active conflict are using those weapons in line with international law.

As a practical matter, I’m not sure that cutting off these shipments will matter. Given that the consensus of Israel’s unity government is that going into Rafah is the only way to get to the Hamas leadership, they’ll almost certainly go into Rafah. This will almost certainly be a humanitarian nightmare and further erode Israel’s international standing, but they’re going to do it anyway.

By all accounts, the IDF have sufficient bombs to accomplish the task. I haven’t the slightest idea what their JDAM inventory is but, I must say, it seems odd to withhold precision guidance technology if the goal is to minimize civilian deaths. Without smart bombs, more dumb bombs will need to be used.

The WaPo report reminds us that US Presidents—Republican Presidents, even—have withheld munitions before as leverage to achieve foreign policy demands. It seems unlikely to work in this case, at least in the short term. In the longer term, one imagines that Israeli leaders will diversify their weapons suppliers or invest in their own munitions industry to increase their autonomy in making security policy.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. MarkedMan says:

    Seen solely as a way to influence Israel, you’re probably correct to feel it will be ineffective. But I think it is important as another step in pushing Israel out of the “Us” camp and into a more realistic position in American foreign policy, one similar to Saudi Arabia, another repressive regime that we reluctantly ally with because of Iran.

    It is interesting that Israel has chosen this time to make it clear they have nothing but contempt for American liberals and even centrists and have thrown themselves all in with the Republicans. They fail to recognize that their alliance with Republicans is indirect, and comes about through evangelicals and other Christian extremists. And there is a very real chance that more and more Republicans will be seeking to put some distance between their fortunes and the anti-abortion, anti-democracy, pro-Trump wing of the party.

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  2. JohnSF says:

    The point is probably to put a little distance between the US and Israel if the Rafah offensive becomes the bloodbath many are expecting, given:
    – repeated examples of eroding discipline with the IDF
    – refusal of Netanyahu and the rest of the War Cabinet to over-ride the hard right and prepare a filtration/evacuation plan for the south (having had a mere seven months to get one in place)
    – the fact that HAMAS’s attitude to Palestinian civilian casualties is not mere disregard but an actual objective

    Also, I suspect the administration is losing patience with Netanyahu’s studied refusal to address the post-conflict policy for Gaza: how is it to be administered, policed, supplied, financed etc?

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  3. Tony W says:

    This will be a problem for the edgy college students who don’t seem to understand that Trump would *never* restrict arms shipments to Israel for fear of alienating his evangelical base.

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  4. Charley in Cleveland says:

    A visitor from another galaxy would (rightly) conclude that humans are a violent, stupid life form that appear determined to destroy themselves and the planet. Such a visitor would laugh at the notion of “rules of war,” and point to the futility of the International Court of Justice and the UN. Netanyahu, like Trump, is a corrupt narcissist who uses his political position as a shield, and will take any available avenue to avoid accountability.

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  5. Modulo Myself says:

    In 2020, Biden was able to thread the needle between the unpopularity Defund the Police and the objective truth that the base who disliked Defund would never, in a million years, wish to be part of the police.

    He has the same issue with Gaza, the protests, etc. The protesters may be annoying but the blowback comes from a place the base doesn’t want to be a part of, mostly. The military, the police–these are not places people aspire to end in. Hearing Eric Adams use the word ‘we’ re: college students…in no known universe is that guy part of a ‘we’ which includes higher education. People spend 200K on higher ed to poison their kids’ minds so that their lives are fulfilling and financially rewarding enough not to be a cop like Eric Adams.

    So Israel saying no to a cease-fire was probably the turning point. He’s got to signal some sort of distance between Israel and its fanatics and what normal people want, which is a cease-fire.

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  6. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo has an editorial about this today: https://talkingpointsmemo.com/edblog/cutting-the-spigot

    “The Israeli government has been swaggering around saying, hey we’re sovereign, we’re nobody’s protectorate and we’ll do what we want … and also, please don’t cut off our supply of heavy ordinance otherwise our army will grind to a halt in a few days. Sorry, that’s not how it works.”

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  7. steve says:

    Agree that it will have no effect on Israel. They may be surprised as they seem to expect the US to provide arms and money whenever they want but I would bet they planned for this, mostly using US weapons and saving their own for this contingency. This is for domestic consumption and I am not sure it accomplishes much. Maybe he takes a bit less blame if Rafah goes bad, but the angry people want more than that.

    Steve

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  8. Michael Reynolds says:

    1) If Israel goes ahead it falsifies the notion that all we had to do was cut off arms.

    2) If Israel backs off, it sets Netanyahu up to blame us for whatever Hamas does next.

    3) It frees Netanyahu to say, ‘the whole world is against us, so we’ll do it our way.’ If I were Gazan, that’s what I would worry about.

    I don’t know whether Netanyahu is upset by this, or laughing up his sleeve. It’ll be interesting.

    A Quinnipiac poll came out yesterday showing Biden up by six in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is one of the very few swing states where college votes might matter. Maybe this will soothe the Michigan Arab voters, but I doubt it – they’re predominantly Shi’ite, so not taking cues from the Saudis. I hope the Biden campaign has some encouraging internals on this because the college kids are going home and I doubt they’ll get it up for another round in autumn. And the Michigan Arabs may already be a lost cause.

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  9. JKB says:

    They used munitions to Israel to push through the recent war funding bill that also covered Ukraine and Taiwan. Now Biden is blocking the munitions for Israel. Hmmm

    One presumes that Israel just isn’t coughing up the “ten percent for the Big Guy” like Ukraine does.

    In reality, of the $26.3B in the “Israel” funding, $13B goes to the Pentagon and Arab states for “Defensive Activities” in the region. $9.2B is to send Humanitarian Aid much of which is stolen by Hamas and UNRWA employees for their own use or to sell on the black market.

    Only $3.6B is for “Security Assistance” to Israel. All of which must be spent in the company store of US weapons manufacturers according the renewal agreement under Obama. US assistance is now only about 10% of Israel defense spending but it locks Israel into US weapons. In 10 years, I would suspect Israel will have a more diversified munitions supply chain.

    ($600M is “General Expenses” which is the little taste taken by the career DC bureaucrats for their own agency use.

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  10. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    1) If Israel goes ahead it falsifies the notion that all we had to do was cut off arms

    This conflates “Should we supply Israel with arms in this instance” with “Not supplying arms will stop them from doing this stupid and immoral thing.” I don’t make that second claim and I don’t remember anyone else doing so. If they did, they were naive. Despite that, I think Biden is doing the correct thing in making it clear the US does not support this move.

    2) If Israel backs off, it sets Netanyahu up to blame us for whatever Hamas does next

    Yes. Israel is an unreliable partner who abuses the relationship. I agree wholeheartedly.

    3) It frees Netanyahu to say, ‘the whole world is against us, so we’ll do it our way.’ If I were Gazan, that’s what I would worry about.

    That ship has sailed long, long ago. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when, but an argument could be made it was when the Israeli leadership decided to turn Jimmy Carter, the US President most invested in Israel’s long term future, into a pariah after the publication of his 2006 book “Israel: Peace not Apartheid” published in 2006 in which he laid out what would happen if Israel did not turn away from permanent occupation and confiscation of Palestinian lands. (TLDR: exactly what is happening now.)

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  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I don’t make that second claim and I don’t remember anyone else doing so. If they did, they were naive.

    People have, people right here, and yes, they are naive.

    James in the OP makes the point I’ve made as well, that depriving Israel of precision weapons is in conflict with the stated goal of saving civilian lives.

    Yes. Israel is an unreliable partner who abuses the relationship.

    Netanyahu is a POS, full stop. But our international partners are often unreliable, and we in turn are unreliable. Ask ex-ARVN and former Afghan interpreters. With Trump leading the GOP into outright fascism, explicitly threatening NATO, and cutting off Ukraine, I’m not sure why any country would trust us.

    (TLDR: exactly what is happening now.)

    Yep, but not proof that a different path would have worked out any better.

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  12. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    One presumes that Israel just isn’t coughing up the “ten percent for the Big Guy” like Ukraine does.

    Provide evidence or STFU.

    And are you actually objecting to the fact that Israel spends its weapons dollars back here in the US, providing jobs? You’d prefer they buy from the French? Or is it money for Putin you’re looking for. Too bad Trump’s BFF has shit weapons.

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  13. DK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I hope the Biden campaign has some encouraging internals on this because the college kids are going home

    The Biden camp’s read is most college kids — like most Americans — are not basing their votes on an intractable ethnoreligious conflict with unsympathetic MidEast actors + no US troops.

    Economist/YouGov poll (5 May – 7 May), voters age 18-29:
    Biden 48 (+21)
    Trump 27%
    Kennedy 4%
    West 1%
    Stein 1%

    Generation Lab poll (3 May – 6 May) — Issues college students say are most important to them:
    • Healthcare reform: 40%
    • Educational funding: 38%
    • Economic opportunity: 37%
    • Racial justice: 36%
    • Climate change: 35%
    • Gun control: 32%
    • Middle-East conflict: 13%

    Only a small minority (8%) of college students have participated in either side of the protests, the survey of 1,250 college students found…

    Some 34% blame Hamas, while 19% blame Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 12% blame the Israeli people and 12% blame Biden…

    67% say occupying campus buildings is unacceptable and 58% say it’s not acceptable to refuse a university’s order to disperse.

    If you’re a Twitter/Substack news junkie who reads OTB, you’d think Israel-Palestine was voters’ Most Important Thing based on the disproportionate attention. But Twitter is still not real life and, most Americans are not news addicts.

    Biden understood this in 2022, honing in on antidemocratic rightwing extremism as a salient issue while our out-of-touch press, per usual, parroted Republican propaganda that only inflation and crime mattered. Biden’s team understands now that outside of the loudest 2% and the sensationalist media consumed by the news junkie fringe, most Americans are not divided into warring pro-Israel and pro-Palestine tribes. Most Americans are sick of them both. And, no, our colleges are not going up in flames over Gaza, nor are they hotbeds of antisemitism fueled by something something woke DEI police.

    Biden has little to lose signaling dislike of both Hamas and Netanyahu. The rest of us should go out and touch grass, rather than falling for Twitter-brained sensationalism and extremely-online tribalism.

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  14. Kathy says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Provide evidence or STFU.

    I wonder: is an alternative between two impossibilities a choice at all? 😀

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  15. Gustopher says:

    I don’t think this will completely halt Israel’s ability to continue to attack civilians, although it will have some effect (otherwise, why would they want these weapons? is it just that they want to make sure we have blood on our hands? is it weird kink play? no, they just need lots of weapons, and will have to decide whether attacking Rafah is worth depleting that weapons supply and whether it leaves them vulnerable in the future).

    This also moves the US past the “sternly worded letter” phase, and attaches real consequences to their actions, with respect to their relationship with the US. I think that’s actually more important. We are their veto on the Security Council, after all, and to the limited extent that the UN matters, distance between the US and Israel will put them in an awkward spot.

    It’s also just the right thing to do. Or a step towards the right thing, anyway.

    And, perhaps most importantly of all, it seems to annoy JKB and send his brain worms into overdrive churning out conspiracy theories.

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  16. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It frees Netanyahu to say, ‘the whole world is against us, so we’ll do it our way.’ If I were Gazan, that’s what I would worry about.

    There’s a real strong current of appeasing the abusive husband in this argument you keep making. If we don’t actively help him, he’ll really get angry and then we’ll be sorry. Our help is soothing him.

    The dude is already committing war crimes. If this was happening in the genocide region of Bavaria, we would be calling it genocide, but it’s at least sparkling mass slaughter of civilian populations.

    He’s herded most of the civilian population of Gaza into a tiny area and is shelling it, and preparing for a full attack. To the extent that we have influence, and our unwavering support until now has bolstered our influence, this is when we should be using that influence.

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  17. MarkedMan says:

    @DK: I think you are right on this. And I also think that Biden is not looking at this through the lens of his re-election. He remembers the arc of South Africa and sees the similarities with Israel, and is positioning the US to not get caught flat footed. This distancing from Israel is a long term positioning. And yes, we still have a few important strategic areas in common, as we do with Saudi Arabia, but Biden gave Israel its last chance warning and is now embarked on the slow path to acknowledging that Israel is outside of Western values. Note that he never says “Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East”, long the go to for those who defended it.

    (Anyone remember the fun times when apologists for South Africa seriously defended it as the only true democracy in Southern Africa?)

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  18. JohnSF says:

    @JKB:

    $13B goes to the Pentagon and Arab states for “Defensive Activities” in the region

    Recall the recent Iranian missile attacks on Israel, in which Jordan (and likely other regional states) and European allies forces and facilities played a significant role?
    Try thinking about that for a minute or two before further comment on this subject.

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  19. JKB says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Biden’s taste has nothing to do with the Obama requirement that Israel buy at the US military-Industrial company store.

    But Israel now knows to accelerate weaning themselves off American munitions. The real value of the agreement was strategic in signaling US support, but what value is that appearance now? We shall see as the MOU signed in 2016 runs 10 years so will be up in the middle of the next administration.

    Micheal Oren on an Econtalk podcast in February.

    But in 2014, during an earlier war with Hamas, President Obama denied us the keys for certain forms of ammunition because, quote-unquote, “We were killing too many Palestinians.”

    And, so that makes us dependent on American munitions.

    I can give you one case in the Second Lebanon War. And I remember this very succinctly because I was there. In the army we were using American cluster bombs and the United States was criticizing us harshly for using cluster bombs. And so, after the war, we developed our own cluster bombs, and we became independent in terms of cluster bombs, which were an important part of munitions for fighting a deeply embedded enemy like Hamas. We’re going to have to do that. We’re going to have to do that with 105 millimeter tank munitions. We’re going to have to do that with 155 millimeter artillery. And, most important, we’re going to have to do that with missile–with jet-fired air-to-ground missiles known as JDAMs [Joint Direct Attack Munitions].

    Those are some of the things being embargoed now. But physically it mostly means that the US forward positioning warehouses in Israel might not be replenished but Israel was already working on plans to deal with US “embargoes”. But in reality, after Rafah is out of the news, the shipments will likely proceed, quietly. Old Joe just needed a PR stunt.

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  20. JohnSF says:

    @JKB:
    @Gustopher:
    Regarding Israeli weapons sources, Israel is actually a major weapons exporter.
    Of its imports, about a third comes from Germany, and around 15 to 20% from Italy.

    The weapons President Biden has halted appear to be a specific type of very heavy guided bomb, so this more a signal of displeasure and diplomatic distancing than anything else.

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  21. JohnSF says:

    @JKB:
    And what evidence is there of President Biden’s “taste” regarding Ukraine?
    Is the evidence on Hunters’ laptop, or from Rudy Giuliani’s fishing trips?
    Or maybe in Hilary’s emails?
    Or the revelations of the holy Q-Anon?

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  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @DK:
    I’m not on Twitter. Haven’t been since Elon bought it. Also not on Facebook or Insta. Might go on Threads since fans are nagging me, but I’ve resisted so far.

    @Gustopher:
    You lack imagination. What we are seeing is not the worst, not by a mile.

    And we can arrest abusive husbands, so that analogy is irrelevant. A better comparison might be to North Korea, Iran or Russia, three extremely abusive nations we are careful not to push into worse behavior. Are we enabling them like abusive husbands?

    @MarkedMan:
    I’m not sure SA is an encouraging example. We contributed in a small way to ending apartheid, then there was the Mandela era, but now SA has a big pile of problems – foreign direct investment is down to a trickle, unemployment is massive, most of the population is below the poverty line, they have the highest inequality in the world, crime is out of control, and they’re having a hell of a time just keeping the power on with frequent brownouts and power cuts.

    If anything SA makes my case that a Palestinian state is unlikely to succeed – after all, SA has developed industries and great mineral wealth, the West Bank has squat, it will be a charity case from day one, and given the KSA’s own issues, I don’t put all that much faith in their charity over the long haul.

    Have US sanctions generally resulted in a better life for the people of the affected country? In SA, yes, at least by some metrics. In Cuba? Iran? NK? Venezuela? Russia?

    We may get to a Palestinian State, but it will be a failing state from the get-go. And when this Palestinian State sinks into poverty and despair and launches another intifada? Or when civil war breaks out between Hamas and the PA? What then? What would you expect Israel to do then?

    A Palestinian State is no panacea. Economic life for Palestinians will likely get worse under a government born out of the corrupt PA and the corrupt and murderous Hamas.

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  23. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    Biden’s taste

    Is a Q fantasy, a lie you’re trying to pass off as true. You have zero evidence. But then you people never do.

    And you don’t seem to understand the obvious fact that we want Israel to spend on US arms rather than giving those jobs to other countries. See, that way, if we give them a dollar we get it right back. It’s a feature, not a bug. Thank you Obama.

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  24. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    We contributed in a small way to ending apartheid

    From a foreign policy perspective, this was not the goal. SA was a mess and is a mess. We used to be closely supportive of the Apartheid regime, mostly due to a) there were all kinds of powerful people in the US who saw them as “us” rather than “them” and b) anti-communism. But at some point we understood both those ships had sailed and we spent a decade cutting SA off, while continuing to cooperate with them on the anti-communist front. Anyone who thinks we can help with the cesspool that is Israel/Palestine absent power brokers on both sides that want a joint solution is just kidding themselves. The fact that this tragedy will continue to get worse no matter what we do is not a reason to keep treating Israel as something we wish it were rather than what it is. Israel is not our ally but rather a country we have limited shared objectives with. Furthermore, for decades they have demonstrated that, as a country, they do not share Western ideals. Pretending otherwise is not in our interests.

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  25. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    A better comparison might be to North Korea, Iran or Russia

    We don’t give those countries weapons.

    Your comparison is baffling. We don’t give those countries anything of note.

    ——
    Ok, Russia is getting some US weapons, via the Ukrainians, but they are getting them pointy end first.

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  26. DK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Might go on Threads since fans are nagging me, but I’ve resisted so far.

    Threads is pretty cool. You should give it a go. It’s as rowdy as Twitter, but far far less sleazy.

    I think you might need an Instagram account to use it tho. Instagram is a pretty good marketing tool for authors.

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  27. Andy says:

    I don’t really want to get dragged into another Gaza thread, but I think Biden is making a mistake here, both from a domestic politics POV and on the merits.

    On the merits, holding weapons back didn’t have the intended effect of preventing an offensive in Rafah, and the international optics will strengthen Hamas at the bargaining table at Israel’s expense. It’s hard to see how this positively affects real-world outcomes in the conflict unless one is a Hamas supporter.

    On the domestic side, it certainly pleases the left-wing anti-Israel base, but it’s probably going to piss most everyone else off – which is to say, many more people – because it looks like, and will be played up as, abandoning an ally in the middle of a war. And while it’s unlikely that Israel is critically short of them, holding back things like JDAM kits that allow for precision strikes just lets critics argue that Israel will have to use imprecise weapons that will result in killing more civilians.

    Regardless, is this going to really be enough to please the #genocidejoe crowd? I think it risks being the kind of half-measure that just ends up being a net negative.

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  28. Gustopher says:

    @Andy:

    international optics will strengthen Hamas at the bargaining table at Israel’s expense. It’s hard to see how this positively affects real-world outcomes in the conflict unless one is a Hamas supporter.

    You didn’t mention someone rather important. The Palestinians.

    The cease fire that Hamas signed onto (knowing that Israel would not, so it was a freebie) has a lot of things in it about rebuilding Gaza. And the release of a lot of prisoners (Israel is not known for giving Palestinians fair trials, so whatever these people are “convicted” of is kind of irrelevant).

    Strengthening Hamas in negotiations begins to frame the discussion of what the next status quo for Israel/Palestine will be. It may also pressure Israel to actually state what they think the next status quo should be.

    Without a vision for a post-war Gaza (and West Bank, for that matter), then a brutal war upon civilian populations isn’t a means to an end, it’s just the end. There can be no negotiated settlement.

    Ideally, someone would kill the Hamas leadership shortly and get rid of Netanyahu* a before they move to real negotiations.

    *: kill, jail, force him out of government permanently, whatever. His existence is a problem in seeking a stable status quo, since he has ruled out anything that could lead to stability. Sure, everyone behind him agrees with him right how, but get rid of him and that can change.

    ETA: I’m not saying that Hamas has the interests of Palestinians in their real goals. But right now, they are pretending to for the international audience, and trying to make that pretense a reality is better than what Israel is offering, which is just killing civilians with no endgame.

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  29. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: I suspect that the reason we differ so strongly on this is that your view of Israel is very different than mine. So let me pose a hypothetical that removes Israel from the equation.

    Saudi Arabia is a country who is existentially threatened by Iran and who in fact is often attacked by Iranian proxies, who are bloodthirsty and nihilistic and don’t care about their own people. In fact, they subjugate them and hide behind them. Let’s suppose that there is a major bombing in Riyadh that kills thousands, known to be perpetrated by the Houthis, and Saudi Arabia wages all out war against them in Yemen. As part of this war, a million Yemeni civilians retreat into a single city and the Houthi fighters hide amongst them, and kill anyone who speaks out. Saudi Arabia decides to go in without regard to civilian losses. They will hunt down the Houthis even if it means killing tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of civilians. The Saudis have the city surrounded but make no plans to filter and evacuate the non-combatants, but rather will go in heavily bombing civilian areas with no discrimination and little to no warning. The Biden administration believes this is counterproductive and will only result in galvanizing people against the Saudis and their supporters, including the US. Because of this, the administration publicly forbids the use of American supplied bombs and withholds the next shipment of those bombs.

    Would you support that?

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  30. Andy says:

    @Gustopher:

    Both sides have had many proposals they’ve “signed onto.” The one loudly announced by Hamas to everyone’s surprise with no details three days ago was pretty much vaporware – one of a number of previous maximalist proposals that Hamas has agreed to in the past that came and went. If you want Israel to simply capitulate and accept such terms, which would represent a complete and utter defeat for Israel, then you’re entitled to your opinion, but that’s not how these things go, and it’s not something the Israeli public would stand for, it’s not remotely realistic and isn’t something that should be taken very seriously.

    As for prisoners, everyone knows that a final agreement will have a prisoner-hostage exchange, and these have always been and always will be unfavorable to Israel. That is already baked into the cake. The devil is in the details and has been the sticking point in recent weeks in the actual negotiations between the two parties.

    These negotiations have been at an impasse, with Hamas actually hardening its position and even reportedly backtracking in some cases as it sees its hand getting stronger. A big part of why Israel is going into Rafah despite Biden’s opposition is not to kill civilians, as you seem to be claiming, but to put pressure on Hamas and force them into further compromises.

    So again, it’s not clear how Biden’s actions helped the situation. It didn’t dissuade Israel and may have done the opposite. Making Hamas’ hand stronger isn’t going to make negotiation more likely, it’s going to make it less likely because unlike Hamas leadership, Israel’s leaders (which is not just Bibi, as a reminder), have democratic accountability and have to be able to make a deal the Israeli people will accept. And a deal where Hamas is rewarded for the worst butchering of Jews since WW2 won’t be accepted by the Israeli public.

    Therefore, in my view, the way for the US to end the war more quickly is to do whatever we can to advantage the Israeli side and get Hamas to compromise on a deal. I have no idea what’s going on behind closed doors, but in terms of public diplomacy, we are not doing that.

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  31. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I don’t think your analogy is at all accurate. If you see your hypothetical as equivalent, then yes, you and I see the situations very, very differently.

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  32. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: I do see them as roughly equivalent. Where do you think the analogy breaks down?

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  33. DrDaveT says:

    @Andy:

    A big part of why Israel is going into Rafah despite Biden’s opposition is not to kill civilians, as you seem to be claiming, but to put pressure on Hamas and force them into further compromises.

    How, exactly, do you think an assault on Rafah would “put pressure on Hamas” that isn’t already being applied? It’s a serious question — I genuinely have no idea what you mean.

    Another serious question: by your rough estimate, what fraction of Palestinian civilians in Gaza are actually Hamas militans, as opposed to being actual civilians? 1%? 10% 50% More?

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  34. Modulo Myself says:

    From what I can tell, Israel’s objections to the ceasefire Hamas agreed to come down to troop withdrawal and its permanence. The first makes sense in a short-term way. The second, though, seems to me not to be negotiable. You can’t negotiate with somebody and expect them to come around and consent to their total destruction, or else. What’s the point?

    The big problem for Israel is that they have no plan, not even in an aspirational Heritage interns Iraq 2003 way, to explain away this predicament. Like, they can’t even put that shit together and punch 3 holes in an unproofed draft and offer it up with coffee stains on the table of contents. There’s no table, no contents, no 3-hole punch.

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  35. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The circumstances of your scenario are materially different in significant and I would think obvious ways and scope from the circumstances in Gaza.

    There was actually war – still kinda ongoing – in Yemen from 2014-2021 in which we activity participated in a supporting role (not just supplying weapons, but refueling planes, blockading with our Navy, providing targeting intelligence support) primarily for Saudi but also the Gulf States. Over the course of that a few hundred thousand people died and we eventually stopped and ended some weapons transfers to Saudi as a result.

    But the thing is, the opposition didn’t even really start here in the US until the Khashoggi assassination, after which everyone started going, huh, those Saudis don’t seem like nice people. Even after that, the war never received a thousandth of the scrutiny of Gaza despite years of active US involvement and levels of misery in Yemen that dwarf what is happening in Gaza.

    If you go back and read the very few threads at OTB about Yemen (again, it was a war pretty much no one cared about), you won’t find me supporting that one. Not all wars are just or justified, and that one wasn’t from the get-go.

    @DrDaveT:

    How, exactly, do you think an assault on Rafah would “put pressure on Hamas” that isn’t already being applied? It’s a serious question — I genuinely have no idea what you mean.

    A couple of ways:
    – First is the traditional goal of fighting a war – you impose costs on the enemy by breaking their forces, will, or means to fight. In this case, it’s losses of Hamas fighters, leadership, and infrastructure plus the threat of more with a larger operation. How much can Hamas afford to lose? How much damage can Israel do before international pressure forces it to stop?
    – Secondly is control of the Rafah crossing. This has long been Hamas’s lifeline for weapons and supplies, and its control over this access point gave it power over much of Gaza by controlling who does and doesn’t get the aid that flows through it. Now that Israel has taken control of it, it becomes a bargaining chip and weakens Hamas’ system of patronage and control, especially over the long run.

    Another serious question: by your rough estimate, what fraction of Palestinian civilians in Gaza are actually civilians, as opposed to being Hamas militants? 1%? 10% 50% More?

    It would depend on exactly what you mean by “militant” and “actually civilians.”

    Hamas’ core leadership and the military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades are not civilians by any definition, nor any of the partially trained auxiliaries who take up arms. Those who take up arms in a war zone, not a civilian. The problem is, no one knows how many might be in those last two categories, especially now after months of fighting. There are probably some number of volunteers who saw their family die and now want to fight the IDF. There’s certainly a lot of well-documented evidence of indoctrination by Hamas in its efforts to promote martyrdom, so maybe more people are willing to pick up a gun. Hard to say. Plus, let’s be real: Palestinians and Arabs, in general, hate Jews and vice versa.

    That said, I have no idea what the total would be. If we’re just talking about the Al-Qassam Brigades, it’s 1-2% – or was before the war started, probably less than 1% now. If you add in various volunteers, stupid boys with a death wish, militia, new volunteers, and other groups like PiJ, then I’d guess 3-4%. That’s a guess; I have very low confidence in that. We do not have any good data that I’m aware of for your question about Gaza.

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  36. JohnSF says:

    Regarding the current cease-fire proposal “accepted” by Hamas, one item is that in the exchange of Israeli hostages, is that they will be released in small numbers over a prolonged period.
    And that dead hostages are as valid for the exchange process as living ones.
    Anyone spot the small problem the Israeli’s might have with that suggestion?

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  37. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: If you’re still monitoring this thread, I’d like to continue the conversation. Respectfully, you didn’t really answer my hypothetical. You said “The circumstances of your scenario are materially different in significant and I would think obvious ways and scope from the circumstances in Gaza” and TBH I don’t really see any obvious differences. Of course, no analogy is perfect but I think this one presents similar moral and foreign policy considerations to the current Israeli/Palestinian crisis.

    You did mention that the Saudi’s have been at war with the Houthi’s for some time, but I’m not sure what the relevancy is of that. You also mention that you didn’t support the Saudi position, but yet you do support the Israeli one.

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  38. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    It would take a lot of words to explain why I think your hypothetical is not at all directly comparable to the current conflict in Gaza. But here’s the main points in bullet form:
    – The geostrategic reality and history between Saudi and Yemen is much different, especially the geography. Israel and Gaza being two small and geographically vulnerable states matters a great deal. Neither has strategic depth that large states like Yemen and Saudi have. For instance:
    – Yemen is a big country, and the aspect of the scenario being confined to one city is not realistic. And unlike in Gaza, civilians would be able to flee the city. Geography matters. As I’ve been pointing out, one of the key reasons that civilians are so vulnerable in Gaza is that the entire international community is conspiring to keep them trapped there. That would not be the case in your scenario.
    – So the notion that Saudi forces somehow trap all the civilians in the city and allow none to leave, only to indiscriminately kill them, is just absurd. Nor would Houthi forces give up all the terrain advantages Yemen offers to hole up in a single city.
    – Fundamentally, a war between two relatively large countries that share a huge and long border is going to be very different from a war between two small states, one of which is effectively a tiny city-state where the government of that territory only has urban terrain to defend and has spent two decades building infrastructure to defend that tiny bit of terrain. There’s no reason to believe that the Houthis in your scenario would have spent two decades doing the same in whatever city they holed up in.
    – Your characterization of the Saudis going into the city with zero care whatsoever for civilians and indiscriminately killing them does not describe what Israel is doing or has done and, therefore, isn’t comparable to how Israel has conducted the war.

    But if you want an answer, I think your scenario is a complete fantasy, but in that fantasy world, I do not think any US government would or should support the Saudis. The problem is that your scenario does not compare to the situation in Gaza, and an answer in your scenario doesn’t transfer over.

    Similarly, I didn’t support the Saudi position in the actual war in Yemen because the circumstances of that war are far different than the circumstances of the current war in Gaza.

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  39. KM says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    2) If Israel backs off, it sets Netanyahu up to blame us for whatever Hamas does next

    This is like the MAGA logic of “They called me a fascist so I’m gonna vote for one to show ’em!” You were always gonna do it but now that you have a “reason” to blame someone else, it somehow changes things? Pfft. He was always going to divert blame onto us. Who’s in the “us” is what’s going to change. Right now its been heaped on the protesters with Bibi saying they need to be “controlled”, implying that the US isn’t doing all it should because it’s heading these wacky college nuts. Now the “us” will be all of us, the whole US and it won’t change a thing because he’ll never take the blame.

    Much like Trump, Netanyahu can never fail, only be failed. So I don’t particularly care who he says is at fault when damn near everybody is aware it’s him.

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  40. KM says:

    @JohnSF:
    Question: is it phrased that way (implying live hostages may not stay that way and the deal’s still good) or its it an offer to return the bodies of loved ones for proper burial for a person that got translated or reported wrong? It makes a difference in it being in good faith or not

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  41. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: Thanks. I understand your points and agree they are valid insofar as they go. But I still don’t see why we should actively support Israel any more or less than we support the Saudis. But you seem to feel differently. You feel that we should take sides in this, beyond the amount we would take the sides of the Saudis which recently has been limited to the equations surrounding the fact that the Houthis (Hamas) are bloodthirsty religious fanatics and terrorists and, more importantly from a FP perspective, are also proxies used to promote Iran’s expansionist agenda. What is the difference between Israel/Hamas and Saudi Arabia/Houthis, or the strategic FP environment around them, that cause you to feel that way? Or is it simply that the military tactical situation is so different, and you discount the concerns about the civilian deaths cementing further generations into the cycle of violence?

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  42. JohnSF says:

    @KM:
    The reports I have seen indicate it’s phrased in exactly that way.

    “During the first phase, Hamas shall release 33 Israeli captives (alive or dead)”

    There is some doubt about the document, regarding whether it was a translation, if so by whom and how accurate.
    But to me, assuming accuracy, it stinks like a week-old kipper, so I doubt the Israeli’s think much better of it.

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