Biden Looks To Pressure Netanyahu
The Biden administration is discussing using U.S. weaponry sales to Israel as leverage to urge the Israeli government to heed U.S. calls for a scaleback of the ongoing military assault in the Gaza Strip, according to four current and former U.S. officials.
While no decisions have been made yet, the administration is considering slowing or pausing the delivery of certain military equipment requested by Israel, in hopes that this would pressure them to take action, such as opening humanitarian corridors for Palestinian civilians.
The sources also revealed that the U.S. has been reviewing what weaponry Israel has requested, and among those that have been considered as leverage are 155 mm artillery rounds and joint direct attack munitions (JDAMs), which are guidance kits that convert dumb bombs into precision-guided munitions.
The administration is also looking into ways to offer Israel more of the requested weapons as an incentive to take steps toward de-escalation. They are unlikely to slow the delivery of air defenses and other systems that can protect Israeli civilians from attacks.
These efforts come after weeks of President Joe Biden and his national security team failing to convince Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change tactics in Gaza and to minimize civilian casualties. While the administration has been applying rhetorical pressure, it has not yet taken any concrete action, leading to criticism from some Democrats in Congress. The current move marks a potential shift in Biden's approach, from purely rhetorical to tangible policy changes aimed at getting Israel to act.
A spokesperson for the National Security Council defended the administration's stance, stating that the president believes the approach he has pursued has been effective. However, the spokesperson added that the U.S. remains committed to supporting Israel in its fight against Hamas while also abiding by international humanitarian law and protecting civilian lives. The spokesperson also noted that there has been no change in policy since the beginning of the conflict.
According to sources, the senior Biden administration officials are frustrated that Israel has often disregarded their calls for minimizing harm to Palestinian civilians. The deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Khan Younis have been cited as the most recent example. This frustration has recently escalated within the Pentagon, while President Biden and other White House officials have long been privately exasperated with Netanyahu's handling of the war.
In response to calls for a cease-fire by protesters, Biden had stated on Jan 8 that he has been working quietly with the Israeli government to reduce the situation in Gaza. White House officials maintain that Biden has had some success in convincing Israel to change its military tactics, but they admit that the Israeli government has not gone as far as the president wanted them to.
A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, expressed frustration with Israeli officials, stating that there is still a lot more that needs to be done and that they need to be more careful.
As the conflict continues to escalate, all eyes are on the Biden administration to see if they will follow through on their discussion of using weaponry sales as leverage to push for a de-escalation of the conflict in the Gaza Strip.