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The Evolution of Joe Biden’s Israel Policy: From a ‘Parlor Game’ to a Murky Milestone

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President Joe Biden has drawn a red line when it comes to providing certain American weapons to Israel, but the specifics of where that line rests remain somewhat elusive. Biden’s comments suggest that there are actions Israel could take that would trigger a new approach from the United States, such as a full-scale invasion of Rafah. However, he has been vague about how he will quantify such a decision, leading to frustrations and confusion about his stance among Democrats and foreign leaders.

Throughout the conflict prompted by Hamas’ attack on Israel, Biden and his team have been wary of setting parameters on Israel’s response. While Biden has warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the need to protect civilians and calibrate military operations, he has not drawn a clear red line. The rift between Biden and Netanyahu widened as the Israeli plans for a major operation in Rafah raised concerns about a humanitarian disaster.

By May 8, Biden had paused a shipment of heavy bombs out of fear they could be used in densely populated areas like Rafah. He stated that he would withhold certain types of weapons if Israel were to move on Rafah, marking the first time he had been clear on limiting US support. However, the definition of “go into Rafah” remained unclear, and White House aides insisted that a “major military operation” would be obvious, even as qualitative criteria were not offered.

After a deadly strike in Rafah that resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilian Palestinians, many women and children, the White House called the images “heartbreaking.” However, the episode did not meet Biden’s bar for stopping certain weapons shipments. The administration believed that a major ground invasion would be obvious should it begin, with large units and thousands of troops moving in a coordinated manner. Despite the tragic events in Rafah, Israel’s attacks were believed to be precise enough to avoid triggering a change in US support.

Overall, President Joe Biden’s stance on providing certain American weapons to Israel remains somewhat unclear, with the specifics of his red line lacking clarity. The rift between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu widened as concerns grew over a potential humanitarian disaster in Rafah. Despite the tragic events that occurred in the displacement camp in Rafah, the White House did not believe they met the threshold for stopping certain weapons shipments. Moving forward, the Biden administration will continue to monitor the situation and make judgments based on a totality of factors.

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