Washington, D.C. – As the conflict in Gaza nears the end of its second week, US President Joe Biden is behaving increasingly like a war leader, offering a “performative” show of strength and support for Israel, analysts say.
Biden visited Israel on Wednesday to support its military campaign in Gaza despite growing calls for a ceasefire.
“I am here to tell you that terrorists will not win. Freedom will prevail,” Biden said in remarks reminiscent of former President George W. Bush’s speeches after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Experts say Biden is trying to appeal to his domestic audience ahead of the 2024 election and dodge Republican criticism that would label him “weak.”
George Bisharat, a professor at the University of California College of the Law in San Francisco, said Biden’s approach to the Gaza war – including the visit to Israel – had an “element of political achievement.”
“This is ‘Sleepy Joe’ proving that he is awake, that he is a foreign policy expert,” Bisharat told Al Jazeera, invoking former President Donald Trump’s nickname for Biden.
“Of course, most of the time American voters don’t really care about foreign policy; They are not voting for foreign policy reasons. But wartime is an exception. This is, in some ways, an opportunity to flex muscle without the real cost, particularly to American soldiers.”
The conflict in Gaza began on October 7 when Hamas launched a surprise attack against Israel from the besieged Palestinian territory, killing more than 1,300 people and capturing dozens.
Israel responded the following day with a declaration of war. Since then, it has carried out a continuous bombing campaign that has killed at least 3,785 Palestinians, including hundreds of children in the Gaza Strip.
Analysts say Biden’s vocal solidarity with Israel is also based on his personal affinity for the US ally. The president describes himself as a Zionist and is a lifelong supporter of Israel.
But Biden’s decision to support Israel’s military operation in Gaza has raised questions about previous pledges he made to include human rights in his foreign policy agenda.
“Theatre” of war
Washington has sent two aircraft carrier strike groups to the region to “deter” a larger conflict if forces such as Iran and the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah consider intervening.
The US president also said in an interview with CBS News last week that Hamas must be eliminated and promised to give Israel the military aid it needs to carry out its war.
Experts say an Israeli ground invasion to drive Hamas out of Gaza would impose enormous costs on all involved, especially Palestinian civilians.
And while it may be technically possible to defeat Hamas’ military wing, it is much harder to wipe out the group’s political movement.
“What does that mean? How would you actually destroy Hamas? Can you?” said Osamah Khalil, a history professor at Syracuse University, expressing doubt about that prospect.
Khalil explained that door-to-door fighting in Gaza’s densely populated urban areas would not be easy for Israel if it attacked Hamas with a ground invasion.
As analogies, he pointed to the setbacks Israel suffered during its 2006 ground offensive in Lebanon, as well as the slow progress Russia has made in Ukraine since its invasion in 2022.
“You can see what Russia is struggling with in Ukraine, and they have a much larger military,” he said.
William Astore, a historian and retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, also highlighted the challenges associated with the destruction of the Palestinian group.
“You can reduce Hamas. I suppose you can kill as many soldiers as you can find,” Astore told Al Jazeera.
“The question is always, at what cost? And no, you can’t kill Hamas, because Hamas is more of an ideology. It’s not just a military force.”
So where is the US policy of unlimited support for Israel?
For Khalil, there must be an “exit” to end the fighting, but he said the bombing of Gaza will continue in the near future – with Biden’s approval.
Analysts like Khalil emphasize that US foreign policy cannot be separated from its domestic policy. Biden is already being accused by Republicans of being too soft on Iran, Hamas’ ally.
Therefore, the White House is pushing to reclaim the narrative and position Biden as a champion of Israel in times of need.
Photos released publicly show Biden meeting with his top security officials to discuss the conflict, including in the Situation Room, an intelligence center in the White House.
.@VP and I sat down with our teams to get an update on the terrorist attack in Israel and determine next steps.
We met with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss coordination to support Israel, deter hostile actors and protect innocent people. pic.twitter.com/u4xOHMeMqw
– President Biden (@POTUS) October 10, 2023
“If you focus your re-election on Ukraine as a foreign policy issue and then on ‘war and terrorism and supporting and saving Israel,’ then you want to show this active, vital president who is making decisions and acting in full-fledged commander-in-chief mode,” said Khalil.
Astore, the historian, echoed this view.
“It’s theater. I would say the main audience is domestic, here in the United States,” Astore said.
“We know, of course, that President Biden faces re-election next year and that his opponent could be Donald Trump. “So Biden is trying to show that Israel has no better friend than Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.”
Whatever Biden’s calculations, supporters say his refusal to call for a ceasefire is a sign of leadership failure. On Wednesday, Washington vetoed a Security Council proposal that would have called for a humanitarian pause in the war.
Phyllis Bennis, director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, called Biden’s recent visit to Israel a missed opportunity.
“Any visit that did not include a public call for a ceasefire essentially amounts to an endorsement of the ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza,” she said.
Bennis added that the US president’s “bear hug diplomacy” with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu undermines his vague references to international law.
“You don’t live by the terrorists’ rules. They live according to the rule of law. And when conflicts flare up, you live by the law of war,” Biden said in an address to Israelis on Wednesday.
A day later, United Nations experts warned that Israel was violating international law by cutting off water supplies to Gaza and targeting civilian infrastructure.
“We sound the alarm: there is an ongoing campaign by Israel leading to crimes against humanity in Gaza,” the experts said.
“Given the statements made by Israeli political leaders and their allies, accompanied by military action in Gaza and the escalation of arrests and killings in the West Bank, there is also a risk of genocide against the Palestinian people.”
But Biden has sought to distance the current war from the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict and avoid public comments on the history of violence and displacement that Palestinians have faced. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have accused Israel of imposing apartheid on Palestinians.
And while in Israel, Biden promised to advance efforts to establish ties between Israel and Arab states regardless of the Palestinian issue.
“I think US policy right now is to support whatever Israel is trying to achieve, no matter how realistic or unrealistic that may be,” Bennis told Al Jazeera.
Source : www.aljazeera.com