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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Opinion | President Biden Just Made His Biggest Blunder

BusinessOpinion | President Biden Just Made His Biggest Blunder

In announcing that the United States will pause delivery of 3,500 bombs to Israel, President Biden has the laudable motive of wanting to spare innocent Palestinians from the military consequences of Hamas using Rafah as its last stronghold in Gaza. Less laudably, but no less understandably, he also needs to shore up support among progressive voters who think that Israel’s use of American weapons implicates us in war crimes.

But motives are not results. And the consequences of Biden’s decision, if not soon reversed, will be the opposite of what he intends. How so? Let me count the ways.

The munitions cutoff helps Hamas.

The tragedy in Gaza is fundamentally the result of Hamas’s decisions: to start the war in the most brutal way possible; to fight it behind and beneath civilians; to attack the border crossings through which humanitarian aid is delivered; and to hold on cruelly to Israel’s 132 remaining hostages, living or dead. Whatever else the arms cutoff might accomplish when it comes to Israel, it is both a propaganda coup and a tactical victory for Hamas that validates its decision to treat its own people as human shields. And it emboldens Hamas to continue playing for time — especially in the hostage negotiations — with the idea that the longer it holds out, the likelier it is to survive.

It doesn’t end the war. It prolongs it.

No Israeli government, even one led by someone more moderate than Benjamin Netanyahu, is going to leave Gaza with Hamas still in control of any part of the territory. If the Biden administration has ideas about how to do that without dislodging it from Rafah, we have yet to hear of them.

That means that, one way or the other, Israel is going in, if not with bombs — and the administration is also considering barring precision-guidance kits — then with far-less accurate 120-millimeter tank shells and 5.56-millimeter bullets. Other than putting Israeli troops at greater risk, does the Biden administration really think the toll for Palestinians will be less after weeks or months of house-to-house combat?

It diminishes Israel’s deterrent power and is a recipe for a wider war.

One of the reasons Israel isn’t yet fighting a full-blown war to its north is that Hezbollah has so far been deterred from a full-scale attack, not least from fears of having its arsenal of an estimated 150,000 rockets and missiles decimated by the Israeli Air Force. But what if the Lebanese terrorist group looks at reports of Israeli munitions’ shortages and decides that now would be an opportune time to strike?

If that were to happen, the loss of civilian life in Tel Aviv, Haifa and other Israeli cities could be immense. Biden would have no choice but to authorize a massive airlift of munitions to Israel — reversing this week’s decision. And the United States might have to even more directly support Israel militarily.

There will be unintended foreign-policy consequences.

Israeli doubts about America’s reliability as an ally won’t lead to Israeli pliancy. Instead, it will strengthen its determination to become far more independent of Washington’s influence in ways we may not like. State-of-the-art Israeli cybertech for Beijing? Closer Israeli ties with Moscow? Americans who accuse Israel of freeloading off U.S. power will like it even less when it becomes a foreign-policy freelancer — something Biden ought to have learned when he tried to turn Saudi Arabia into a global pariah only to learn, to his own humiliation, the kingdom had other strategic options.

Worse: Rather than weaken Netanyahu and his political partners on the Israeli far-right, it will strengthen them. They will make the case that only they have the fortitude to stand up to a liberal president who folds to pressure from Israel-hating campus protesters.

It’s a political gift to Donald Trump.

Though the anti-Israel chants on college campuses may be loud, they aren’t especially influential: Few voters, including young ones, put the war in Gaza anywhere near the top of their list of political priorities. But a clear majority of Americans back the current level of support for Israel or even want to increase it, according to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll. The cutoff will further alienate pro-Israel voters and will only partly mollify anti-Israel ones, who will now pressure the president to go much further.

In other words, it’s a classic case of falling between stools. It also plays into the perception that Biden is weak — unable to stand up to the left flank of his party, and a feckless ally to our embattled friends. The last time the United States bailed on an ally, in Afghanistan, the result was a political debacle from which the president’s approval rating never recovered. Why would the White House want to put voters in mind of that episode?

There is still time for the president to reverse this ill-judged decision. Netanyahu and his ministers can help by demonstrating that they are taking immediate, visible, meaningful steps to move Palestinian civilians out of harm’s way. But an arms cutoff that weakens Israel as it faces enemies on multiple fronts is unworthy of a president whose clear and stalwart support for the Jewish state at its lowest moment was — and should remain — his finest hour.

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