Israel risks paying the price when confronting the US over the Gaza war
President Joe Biden (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: AP

Mr. Netanyahu increasingly shows a tough confrontation with the US over the Gaza war, causing Israel to risk paying the price as relations with its ally plummet.

On March 25, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution “demanding an immediate ceasefire” in the Gaza Strip with 14 votes in favor and the United States abstaining. The US’s abstaining vote was considered a turning point for the resolution to be passed because Washington had previously always vetoed Security Council proposals related to a ceasefire in Gaza, saying they had unfavorable terms for Tel Aviv.

This development shows that US-Israel relations have reached their lowest point since the Gaza war broke out in October 2023. The US is Israel’s closest ally in the Gaza war, but Washington and Tel Aviv seem to be increasingly at odds, especially over plans to attack the city of Rafah in the south of the strip.

Immediately afterward, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suddenly announced the cancellation of the visit of this country’s high-ranking delegation to the US. According to the original plan, the Israeli delegation and US officials would discuss Tel Aviv’s plan to attack Rafah. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US was very disappointed with this decision.

Suspension of the meeting means creating more obstacles for US efforts to convince Israel to find another option instead of attacking Rafah, the last safe haven for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the fighting.

“The move shows that trust between the Biden administration and Mr. Netanyahu is breaking,” Aaron David Miller, former US negotiator on the Middle East, told Reuters. “If the crisis is not resolved properly, the situation will continue to deteriorate.”

Israel is determined to attack Rafah despite warnings from its allies and the international community, raising concerns that Washington may limit military aid to Tel Aviv. Observers believe that the abstention at the Security Council partly reflects US disappointment with Israeli leadership.

President Biden not only faces pressure from allied countries but also from within the Democratic Party on the Gaza issue. The re-election effort is limiting Mr. Biden’s options. He needs to avoid creating opportunities for Republicans to attract voters to support Israel, but at the same time, not support Israel too much so as not to alienate the progressive faction in the Democratic Party.

In an interview in early March, President Biden said he considered Rafah a “red line”, but also thought protecting Israel was “important”.

Mr. Netanyahu also faces challenges from within the country. Far-right members of the ruling coalition want Israel to take a tougher stance against the Palestinians. He needs to convince his children’s families to believe that Israel will do everything to rescue them while facing protests calling for his resignation.

Mr. Netanyahu believes most Israelis, still traumatized by Hamas’s high-casualty raid, will support continuing the campaign in Gaza. Therefore, the Israeli Prime Minister is ready to test the patience of the US.

According to analysts, the challenge for Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu is to keep differences from escalating out of control.

White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said on March 27 that Israeli officials had asked the US to reschedule the canceled meeting on Rafah and that the two sides were choosing a suitable date. According to an Israeli official in Washington, Mr. Netanyahu could send a delegation to the US as early as next week.

Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Washington, said there was no reason for this to become a “fatal blow” to bilateral relations. “Therefore, I don’t think the door is closed,” said Mr. Alterman.

Mr. Netanyahu has upset American presidents, mostly Democrats. During a meeting at the White House in 1996, he lectured on the Arab-Israeli conflict to President Bill Clinton. This made Mr. Clinton feel dissatisfied and complain to his assistants: “Who does he think he is? Who is the power here?”.

In May 2011, a similar situation happened with US President Barack Obama. Mr. Netanyahu spent more than 6 minutes during their meeting talking about Israel’s need for peace. Mr. Obama still listened but looked uncomfortable.

Former CBS News reporter Dan Raviv and security and defense analyst Yossi Melman of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz said that Prime Minister Netanyahu believes he can always escape danger when confronting US presidents.

Mr. Netanyahu does not appreciate support from Washington and believes that the Protestant and Jewish communities in America will ensure that Israel is always loved, provided with weapons and forgiven for any mistakes, the two authors said. Wrote in Time magazine. Even now, after President Biden and his deputy Kamala Harris warned Israel that the indiscriminate bombing campaign on Gaza was excessive, Mr. Netanyahu still thinks he can anger the White House boss.

The Israeli Prime Minister is taking a risk and seems to expect that Mr. Donald Trump, who has always supported him, will be elected in November. Mr. Netanyahu and the right-wing faction in the Israeli government believe that if he returns to the White House, Mr. Trump will let Israel do whatever it wants, like annexing the West Bank or building more settlements in Gaza. And if the Republicans control both chambers, Israel’s wish may come true.

Jewish newspaper Ma’ariv reporter Ben Caspit described Netanyahu’s approach as “delusional and scary,” adding that the leader “is betting on the strategic alliance that is the foundation of security.” nation of Israel.”

Haaretz, Israel’s leading newspaper, also had an editorial describing Mr. Netanyahu as someone who is becoming a “burden to the country” by resolutely rejecting US proposals to cool down the war in Gaza.

“He is exposing the country to strategic risks that could have very heavy costs. For his own political gain, he is willing to harm the Israeli people. Netanyahu must resign and give Israel the opportunity to escape the damage he has caused,” the editorial wrote.