The Limits Of The Biden-Netanyahu ‘Dispute’ – OpEd


By Eyad Abu Shakra

I am still uncertain about the implications of US President Joe Biden’s decision to suspend “advanced weapons” to Israel in response to the defiance of Benjamin Netanyahu and his war Cabinet, who have ignored Washington’s requests that they refrain from invading the city of Rafah.

Frankly, I am not sure that President Biden has finally “toughened up” after running out of patience with Israel’s blatant disregard for Washington’s interests, and I am not saying its feelings. Netanyahu’s intransigence and arrogance have impelled him to perpetuate the displacement and genocide and push it all the way to the edge of the Gaza Strip.

I say this because I am very well aware of the kind of administration Biden leads. I have no doubt that the Israel lobby dominates the bodies, figures and networks of influence and funding over the Democratic and Republican parties.

Accordingly, I believe it is highly unlikely that the White House has not received advice from several key figures tied to the administration justifying Israel’s crimes since the start of this displacement war. In my opinion, they have certainly warned Biden that he is dealing with an influential force. It exercises near-total control over both chambers of Congress, meaning that it would be crazy to clash with it — or even criticize it — in the year of a presidential election.

Indeed, I have heard and read, as others have, Netanyahu’s recent statement. With typical overbearing arrogance, he challenged the decision to suspend arms shipments, declaring that it would change nothing. “If we have to stand alone, we will stand alone. If we need to, we will fight with our fingernails,” he said. We also heard John Bolton, a veteran conservative right-wing hawk, claim that Biden’s decision to suspend arms shipments could cost him the presidential election in November.

Thus, I believe that a few factors may have encouraged the American president to take the risk of adopting this kind of stance at this time — which, in my estimation, will have no impact — the most prominent of which are the following.

First is the willingness of Republican politicians to outbid him. No matter how excessive President Biden’s defense of Israel becomes, Donald Trump and other Republican Party leaders have not hesitated and will never hesitate to outbid him. This is apparent not only because of the policies of Trump, which reflected Likud’s dreams during his presidency, but also from the statements made by the former president and several of those aspiring to work with him (or replace him if he were unable to run in November).

Secondly, the student uprisings on university campuses all across the US, from coast to coast, have challenged the stagnation. This “intifada” has effectively shaken the Israeli narrative that had monopolized the political arena for a long time, especially as the scenes of massacres and terrible destruction have been streamed daily, hour by hour, reaching every home in the US and the West.

Thirdly, the Israeli far-right has regurgitated increasingly aggressive, brazen and racist speeches since October. Extremist ministers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, as well as the rabid settler leaders, have made provocative statements that have alienated all neutral or moderate observers. This has had a real negative impact on many in the West (both in the US and Europe), who refuse to blindly endorse the lie of “Israel’s right to defend itself,” which has been promoted by Israel’s propaganda and its psychological warfare campaign. Israel has entrusted its defense to a network of organizations it controls, some of which are bodies of major political parties and media institutions.

Lastly, the Arab and regional considerations in the Middle East. Here, observers find a direct conflict of interest between two allies. The superpower, the US, has multifaceted considerations, friendships and hostilities in this extremely sensitive region. Its calculus has been further complicated by the expansion of Chinese and Indian interests across the Middle East and the geopolitical reality that Russia has created in the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains. Meanwhile, the regional power, Israel, has a lot of influence within the American establishment and it could not care less about undermining Washington’s interests with the other regional players — the Arabs, Turkiye and Iran. On the contrary, Israel’s objective is to monopolize having a special relationship with Washington and then exploit it at will to attack all its neighbors and regional rivals.

In any case, this state of affairs certainly creates risks. However, conditions in the Middle East have become so bad that there may not be time to wait for the right circumstances to present a comprehensive vision for this region, which has one map today but could wake up to another tomorrow.

It is a region where problems have become intertwined, hostilities have arisen, mistakes have piled up and the components of modern statehood and civil society have collapsed in many polities.

Even the Israeli right, with its religious nationalists, opportunists and militarists, may not yet fully understand the implications of the unbridled chaos that will result from killing all opportunities for coexistence and people’s futures.

Moreover, the West has problems of its own that it often seems to lack the courage to acknowledge. The US presidential election in November may be the juncture at which the conundrum of withering partisan life, the growth of religious and racial fanaticism and the decline of youth’s confidence in establishment parties are revealed.

As for Western Europe, some of its countries find themselves in a much worse situation. Local and continental factors explain why this is the case, including the migrant crisis, which directly contributed to the rise of the neo-fascist belligerent right in several democratic countries. Indeed, neo-fascists have become the only (alternative) force capable of challenging the ruling consensus parties. They threaten the identity of the EU and its common interests, to say nothing of its international ties.

And last but not least, there is the old-new obsession: Russia.

In my mind, there is only one thing more dangerous to Europe than a reassured Russia … and that is a Russia that feels besieged and targeted.

  • Eyad Abu Shakra is managing editor of Asharq Al-Awsat. X: @eyad1949

Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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