Biden’s response to Netanyahu means the US-Israeli relationship has changed for good

Biden’s response to Netanyahu means the US-Israeli relationship has changed for good


It’s less than 24 hours since President Joe Biden bluntly told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu there would be consequences if the IDF does not take steps to protect Palestinian civilians and aid workers. And it appears Mr Netanyahu has taken notice.

According to White House officials, Biden used the conversation to unload months of growing frustrations with the Israeli leader. Netanyahu’s intransigent refusal to protect Palestinian civilians and the Israeli military’s callous disregard for the safety of those attempting to provide those same civilians with food and medical care has caused consternation in the White House. The deaths of seven aid workers delivering food to hungry civilians for the nonprofit World Central Kitchen in three targeted airstrikes were the final straw.

National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters on Thursday that Biden had made clear that “absent changes in the protection of civilians on the ground, absent changes to the volume of humanitarian assistance getting in, absent any movement on a ceasefire that will allow hostages to get out and more aid to get in, absent … a calming down, that he will have to reconsider his own policy choices with respect to Gaza”.

“If there’s no changes to [Israeli] policy and their approaches, then there’s going to have to be changes to ours,” Kirby added.

One Biden aide who spoke to The Independent on condition of anonymity said the president was motivated to push Netanyahu to make changes after speaking with Jose Andres, the Washington-based celebrity chef who founded World Central Kitchen. The aide added that Biden considers Andres a personal friend.

For years, Netanyahu has operated with impunity when it comes to how his country treats Palestinians, confident that he has almost unconditional support from American leaders. It’s no secret that being seen as “anti-Israel” in the US political system can be a kiss of death. Republicans in particular have pushed to make support for Israel a partisan issue.

It’s in part because of that toxic dynamic that Biden has been hamstrung in his ability to push Netanayahu into changing course.

But the president may be hamstrung no longer.

Within hours of the call between the US president and the Israeli prime minister, Israeli officials announced the opening of another land crossing into northern Gaza. That opening should allow an influx of aid into a conflict zone that has been on the verge of famine for weeks now.

Additionally, early on Friday, the IDF released the results of a preliminary investigation into how its own highly-trained, professional soldiers could have fired three separate missiles into a trio of vehicles marked with the World Central Kitchen logo. It concluded that the “grave mistake” that took the lives of the aid workers had been “a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the Standard Operating Procedures”.

Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesperson, told reporters in a briefing late Thursday that the attack on the aid convoy was “a tragedy” and “a serious event that we’re responsible for”. He reiterated that it “shouldn’t have happened”.

The Israeli army said military prosecutors would evaluate whether anyone involved in the strikes should face a court-martial. It will also evaluate whether the two officers who were sacked as a result of their involvement in the strikes will be reassigned or dismissed from the service.

Kirby, the National Security Council spokesperson, told reporters on Friday that Israel’s actions over the last 24 hours amounted to a good start. But he stressed that the US is still in a wait-and-see mode when it comes to evaluating Israel’s response to Biden’s demands.

He repeatedly declined to opine on the substance of the Israeli investigation and said it was being reviewed by US officials.

“What is really important to us … is that these changes are verifiable, and they’re sustainable, and that proper steps are taken to make sure that something like the strike that happened to the World Central Kitchen a few days ago can’t happen again,” he said. “And so we’re going to be looking in terms of strike procedures to make sure that they’re doing everything they can to prevent another mistake like that.”

Kirby also told reporters that the US is watching to see if the commitments Israel has made toward increasing humanitarian aid into Gaza remain “sustainable”.

Andres, the World Central Kitchen founder, has said he is thus far unsatisfied with the Israeli-led report and has demanded an external investigation. He may yet get one, depending on how the Biden administration views the Israeli probe, which was conducted by the country’s equivalent of an independent inspector general.

Netanyahu’s government may follow through on their commitments, which, in theory, would mean Biden won’t have reason to change any policy towards Israel or Gaza. But just because there might not be any policy change doesn’t mean there’s been no change at all.

It’s now no longer taboo for the US president to consider conditioning defence assistance on Israel’s behaviour on the battlefield.

Even if that doesn’t happen, the fact that it can now be discussed openly in the White House might be the biggest change to come out of this war.


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