Is Biden’s support for Israel unconditional or are there strings attached?
In President Biden’s upcoming visit to Israel on Wednesday, it wouldn’t be surprising if he reiterates his ‘unconditional’ support while also placing veiled conditions on the Gaza operation. Statements by Secretary of State Blinken during his shuttle diplomacy in the region highlighted how uncomfortable regional countries are with Israel’s attacks. Biden’s meetings with King Abdullah of Jordan, President Sisi of Egypt, and Palestinian leader Abbas indicate his reluctance to provide Israel with unwavering, unconditional support and his consideration of regional dynamics. Despite his initial statement of unconditional support for Israel, it could be argued that he insists on the condition that it does not escalate into a regional conflict.
THE OCCUPATION OF GAZA WOULD BE A ‘MISTAKE’
The Biden administration, which sent an aircraft carrier to the region immediately after the Hamas attack, was forced to issue a warning against Israel’s Gazza operation that left no choice for civilians. Protests in major U.S. cities were the reflections of the reaction created by Israel’s operations worldwide. Biden faced criticism from Republicans due to the lack of strong support for Israel domestically and from the progressive left within his own party for providing unconditional support. Biden, who has yet to achieve results in the evacuation of around 500-600 American citizens from Gaza and the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, voiced concerns about Israel’s operations by stating that the occupation of Gaza would be a ‘mistake.’
The delay in Israel’s ground operation in Gaza, in addition to tactical and strategic reasons, is also influenced by U.S. pressure. It is not far-fetched for the Israeli army to suffer heavy losses in Gaza and to be stuck for a long time. If it focuses its energy on this region, it may face difficulties if Hezbollah opens a second front from the north. When looking at the statements revealed by Secretary of State Blinken’s meetings, it is understood that the United States is insistent on setting clear strategic objectives for the Gaza operation and does not want to engage in a conflict due to an Israel operation with unclear objectives.
POSSIBILITY OF REGIONAL CONFLICT AND GLOBAL POWER STRUGGLE
A regional conflict that would eventually involve Hezbollah and Iran would be a nightmare scenario for Biden, who is entering an election year. The possibility of the United States being dragged into a conflict where its goals in the Middle East are not self-determined and it is practically forced into it will also strain relations between Washington and Israel. In this respect, keeping Netanyahu away from an adventure that would harm U.S.-Israel relations appears to be a priority for Biden. Biden has been trying to send the message for a while that Iran and Hezbollah should not take advantage of the $6 billion given as part of the prisoner exchange. Iran, holding the cards of Hezbollah and regional conflict after Hamas’s victory, is in a position to benefit from the escalation of the conflict. Despite pressure from Republicans who are in favor of a tough response to Iran, Biden is forced to exert pressure on Israel to keep the situation under control.
The fact that major powers like Russia and China are trying to benefit from the current situation intensifies the efforts of the Biden administration. Russia has submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council, which is clearly aimed at recording the U.S. support for Israel. China is also trying to show that Western support for Israel is waning by stating that Israel’s operations go beyond legitimate defense. Russia and China are glad to see that the Ukrainian and Taiwanese issues are being pushed into the background due to Biden’s attention to Gaza. Despite their differences, Russia, China, and Iran can be said to be on the same page in thwarting Western policies led by the United States. For these three countries, the prospect of the United States being dragged into military conflict in the Middle East is a strategic gain. It is essential to remember that these global power struggles also place critical constraints on Biden’s support for Israel.
President Biden will likely reiterate the rhetoric of unconditional support during his visit to Israel, but it is important to note that this support will largely remain in the realm of rhetoric and fall behind Trump’s Israel-centered Middle East policy. Biden is not enthusiastic about showing commitment to Netanyahu’s promised goal of a ‘new Middle East.’ He is well aware that his support for Israel is inevitably conditional due to domestic political balances, pressure from regional allies, and the strategic moves of global powers.