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He presides over a superpower, but Biden can’t make Netanyahu bend

IANS logo Reported By IANS |
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New York, Nov 11 (IANS) As the searing images of Israel’s fury unleashed through the aerial bombing of Gaza roiled the world and even sections of the US, Washington cajoled Prime Minister Netanyahu to agree to a daily four-hour “humanitarian” pause in the fighting.

US President Joe Biden admitted that he had asked for a three-day pause in the fighting – but four hours daily was all that he got.

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He said he had asked for an “even a longer pause”, and getting the pause was “taking a little longer than I had hoped”.

Biden’s request for the pause was motivated by an equally important reason, getting the release of the 240 or so people taken prisoner by Hamas, some of them Americans.

“Far too many Palestinians have been killed, far too many have suffered these past weeks,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in New Delhi on Friday, and “we want to do everything possible to prevent harm to them and to maximise the assistance that gets to them.”

According to the Gaza-based Palestinian Health Ministry, the fatality toll in Gaza since the start of the hostilities on October 7 stands at 11,078, of whom 4,506 are said to be children and 3,027 women.

Visiting the Indian capital for the US-India defence and foreign affairs ministerial meeting after a whirlwind diplomacy in the Middle East, Blinken said: “We’ll be continuing to discuss with Israel the concrete steps to be taken to advance these objectives.”

But his leverage is limited.

For all its status as a superpower – if not the sole superpower the US cannot bend Israel – or Netanyahu – to its will.

As several US officials have said, it is a sovereign country – and it does what it does.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Netanyahu “speaks for a sovereign nation and for a sovereign people” and Israel’s defence forces are “a sovereign military”.

Biden’s leverage with Israel is blunted by a variety of reasons.

Bound by their democratic values and broad strategic outlook, he US needs Israel as a reliable partner in a troubled region.

They share close people-to-people ties, not just among Jews but among a broad swath of the people, with conservative Christians showing greater affinity than even some Jews.

During his visit to Israel after the deadly October 7 Hamas massacre of about 1,200 people in the Jewish nation, Biden mirrored those sentiments saying: “As long as the US stands — and we will stand forever — we will not let you ever be alone.”

Although the US sent $3.3 billion in defence aid to Israel in the 2022 fiscal year, it is equally dependent on Israel for some of its own defence technology.

The country’s strong sentiment for supporting Israel was reflected earlier this month in the Republican-majority House of Representatives passing a bill to provide it with an assistance package of $14.3 billion although it has been held up because the Biden administration and the Senate want to tie it to aid for Ukraine.

Despite qualms about the impact of the civilian toll from Israel’s attacks on Gaza, Biden also shares Netanyahu’s desire for the complete annihilation of Iran-aligned Hamas, which the US has declared an international terrorist organisation.

The leaders in most of the Arab nations in the region also share the sentiment.

Netanyahu’s personality and the conditions he is trapped in are factors in how the situation plays out and how far he is amenable to suggestions.

While he is the prime Minister, he is also a defendant facing several corruption charges in a criminal trial that began in 2020.

For all his attempts to project a tough guy image, the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust took place under his watch.

Blindly hitting out at the people of Gaza, even if the victims include women and children, is his way of getting even with Hamas and he has the backing of many in his country who are shaken by the viciousness of the Hamas attacks that also victimised women and children.

But there is one difference: Civilian victims of Israel’s bombarments are collateral to the hunt for the Hamas cadres, but the Hamas storm-troopers deliberately targeted women and children.

A measure of the temperature of Iraeli sentiments is one of his ministers, Amichay Eliahu, suggesting nuclear bombing Gaza, which Netanyahu, to his credit, quickly condemned and suspended him from the cabinet.

Any strong movement against the impact of the bombings in Gaza has not emerged in Israel so far.

Emerging victorious in the battle against Hamas, whatever the cost, Netanyahu would see as vindication whie he faces the trial and Hamas breaking through during his watch.

Although Biden had pledged solidarity with Israel declaring, “you are not alone”, he is also facing a changed domestic and international scenario that makes him reconsider the blank check he gave Netanyahu but finds it not entirely in his powers.

Vocal Arab and Muslim constituencies joining hands with a radicalised student body that links the Palestine cause to their domestic agenda of the “oppressed” have emerged, bringing tens of thousands to the streets across the country and right up to the periphery of the White House.

Last week, 24 senators, all but two from his party, raised with Biden getting assurances that Israel was “taking all possible measures to protect civilians in Gaza”.

The world is different too.

While the threat of an oil embargo will not affect the US as it did in 1973 after the Yom Kippur War because it is now a net exporter of petroleum, Washington has to contend with the quest for influence by China, Russia and Iran in an unstable region and with numerous hotspots that could export terror and further destabilise the neighbourhood and beyond.

The images of children killed in Israeli bombardments and the toll on civilians is angering people across the Arab world and beyond, and this could lead to challenges from the Arab street to the leaders who stabilise the region and empower radical Islamists.

All these make Biden seek moderation from Netanyahu, which he can seek, but not command.

(Arul Louis can be contacted atarul.l@ians.inand followed at @arulouis)



(This report is auto-generated from IANS news service. 'Main Media' holds no responsibility for its content.)

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