Biden Sidesteps Public Dispute with Netanyahu, Despite US Concerns

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the top of the Small Business Administration (SBA) Women's Business Summit at the White House in Washington, US, March 27, 2023. (Reuters)
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the top of the Small Business Administration (SBA) Women's Business Summit at the White House in Washington, US, March 27, 2023. (Reuters)
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Biden Sidesteps Public Dispute with Netanyahu, Despite US Concerns

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the top of the Small Business Administration (SBA) Women's Business Summit at the White House in Washington, US, March 27, 2023. (Reuters)
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the top of the Small Business Administration (SBA) Women's Business Summit at the White House in Washington, US, March 27, 2023. (Reuters)

Despite tensions between them, President Joe Biden has so far avoided an acrimonious public confrontation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while trying to make clear he opposes a judicial overhaul that has shaken the close US ally.

In the last three months, Biden and senior members of his team have expressed alarm about Israeli plans for settlement expansion on the West Bank and about violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

Most troubling for the White House, however, was Netanyahu's plan to reshape the Israeli judiciary system to give the government greater control over appointments to the Supreme Court. The decision propelled Israel into a national crisis with massive protests that forced Netanyahu to delay the move on Monday.

Biden, who has known Netanyahu for about 40 years, has been direct with him in private phone calls, aides say, while publicly expressing support for Israel, the strongest US ally in the Middle East.

"The main operating premise toward this Israeli government is to avoid whenever and wherever they can any sustained public confrontation with Netanyahu," said Aaron David Miller, a Middle East analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank.

"They don't want a fight. It's bad politics and its bad policy. It's messy and awkward," he said.

US administrations have long been wary of criticizing Israel in part due to the power of pro-Israel lobby groups in Washington, its role as a close ally and the support the country enjoys among ordinary Americans.

The US population largely has favorable views of Israel, home of major religious sites for Christians, Jews and Muslims.

A Gallup poll earlier this month showed that consistent with prior years, Americans view Israel much more favorably than they do the Palestinian Authority, 68% versus 26%.

Emblematic of the Biden approach was a White House statement issued on Sunday night urging "Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible" as the protests there grew.

"We haven't taken a hands-off approach," said a senior administration official. "We understand that there’s a domestic political process that's playing out. So we’ve been very clear that we have concerns over this reform legislation and we’ve also said very clearly that we want there to be a compromise found. So we’re watching this very closely."

Dennis Ross, a veteran US peace negotiator between Israelis and Arabs, said the Biden administration had expressed its misgivings about Israel’s judicial proposals but had done so privately where possible.

Ross, who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank, said he thought that approach of largely making the case in private was the proper one.

Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said the way the Biden administration has handled this crisis thus far is in keeping with Biden's commitment to the US-Israel partnership.

"And sometimes friends are most honest with each other behind closed doors, and it appears that that is what is happening here," she said.

But, keeping a distance from Netanyahu, Biden has yet to invite him to visit the White House since the Israeli began his sixth term as prime minister in December.

A senior administration official said on Tuesday there is no plan as of yet for Netanyahu to visit but "Israeli leaders have a long tradition of visiting Washington, and Prime Minister Netanyahu will likely visit at some point."

On the other hand, there have been no administration threats to limit US funding to Israel which, according to a March 1 Congressional Research Service report, is the largest cumulative recipient of US foreign assistance since World War II.

There is historically little appetite in the US Congress to take such a step and the United States depends on Israel in a region where Western concerns about Iran have been growing.



What Are the Challenges Faced by Hezbollah after 8 Months of Fighting Israel?

People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
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What Are the Challenges Faced by Hezbollah after 8 Months of Fighting Israel?

People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)
People inspect the destruction outside a charred building hit by an Israeli airstrike in the southern Lebanese town of Wadi Jilo, east of Tyre, on June 6, 2024. (AFP)

Hezbollah is facing mounting challenges in its eight-month long conflict with Israel in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah, which unilaterally launched the fight in the South, believed that its war in support of Gaza would last a few days or week.

However, the Iran-backed party is now confronted with an open conflict that has transformed into a war of attrition of its forces and no one knows when the fight will end or whether it will develop into a wide-scale conflict against Hezbollah throughout Lebanon.

Experts said the greatest challenge Hezbollah is contending with is Israel’s ongoing assassination of its top commanders.

Political activist and Hezbollah critic Ali al-Amine said another challenge is the possibility that the conflict may spiral into a wide-scale war that the party does not want.

Such a war will lead to unpredictable changes and consequences, he told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Another challenge is the extent to which Hezbollah’s security has been compromised given Israel’s “unprecedented ability in killing several of the party’s top security, military and technical officials.”

“No one predicted that it would be this compromised,” he added.

Another challenge is related to morale and politics. The party will need to regain the trust of its supporters, who believed that it was capable of deterring any Israeli assault on border towns and villages, which have been devastated during the war, al-Amine remarked.

The destruction has prompted several supporters to reconsider whether they would invest in the South - a Hezbollah stronghold - after the war is over, he noted.

04 June 2024, Lebanon, Naqoura: A Hezbollah flag is seen hanged on rubble of destroyed houses caused by Israeli air raids in the Lebanese southern village of Naqoura, located at the Lebanese-Israeli border. (Marwan Naamani/dpa)

Political and strategic affairs researcher retired general Khalil al-Helou said the greatest challenge faced by Hezbollah is the incessant assassination of its top commanders and Israel’s targeted strikes against its positions in the South.

The continuation of the fight will turn the war into one of attrition against the party, he told Asharq Al-Awsat, while dismissing Hezbollah’s shooting down of four Israeli drones.

Another challenge is that Hezbollah is greatly outgunned by Israel, especially in terms of the artillery at the country’s disposal and its air power. Hezbollah doesn’t possess artillery that can rival Israel’s.

Israel also boasts drones that can carry out precise hits, while the party has suicide drones, which can be effective, but it is unknown if they are successful in hitting their targets, Helou said.

Head of the Middle East Center for Studies and Political Research retired general Hisham Jaber said the greatest threat faced by Hezbollah is the possibility that Israel could invade Lebanon.

Hezbollah will definitely not instigate such a war, he told Asharq al-Awsat, but Israel prefers such a scenario.

Should a large-scale war happen, the destruction and casualties will be immense, and Hezbollah will be held responsible for this by internal Lebanese parties, he explained.

“Yes, Israel is being depleted and it is more in crisis than Lebanon, but the attrition is also affecting Hezbollah on all levels,” he added.

“Despite the challenges, Hezbollah cannot stop the war, because it will appear defeated. So, the war will continue and expand in the coming months, but it will not cross a certain line because ultimately a wide-scale war will lead to Iran and the United States’ involvement and they both don’t want that,” he stated.