Netanyahu wants Biden out and Trump back in power

On 18 June, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in a short video that created quite a stir. Speaking in English, he complained about the Biden administration allegedly withholding arms to Israel.

Blaming “bottlenecks” in weapons transfers from the US for the Israeli military’s operations in Rafah, Netanyahu called on Washington to “give us the tools” so Israel can “finish the job a lot faster”.

This video baffled officials in the Biden administration, who responded by claiming not to know what the prime minister was talking about while reaffirming how much ironclad support the White House has given Israel amid its war on Gaza.

In reality, the Biden administration has only once halted a weapons transfer to Israel since its war on Gaza began last year. This was last month, when the White House paused the delivery of 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs in response to Israel’s plans for an all-out assault on Rafah despite Biden telling Tel Aviv that such a move would cross his “red line”.

“Netanyahu is behaving like a spoiled child who is used to getting 100 percent of everything that he wants from the United States,” said Dr Nader Hashemi, director of the Prince Alwaleed Centre for Christian-Muslim Understanding at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, in an interview with The New Arab.

“When the United States shifts policy slightly and gives Netanyahu 99 percent of what he wants, he throws a temper tantrum.”

Domestic factors in Israel and the US

It is important to understand this politically calculated “temper tantrum” within the context of domestic politics both in Israel and the US.

Dr Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, told TNA that Israel’s prime minister is focused on “being tough and nationalist” when addressing his domestic audience at home.

Netanyahu is positioning himself as the “shield” against any criticism from Washington while also “playing the classical populist card designed to strengthen his political stature as an opponent of foreign meddling,” added Dr Landis.

“For now, Netanyahu is determined to drag out the war on Gaza until Trump might return to the Oval Office for a second term”

Shifting blame

Dr Assal Rad, a Middle East scholar, believes that there could be some element of scapegoating. In a TNA interview, she explained that this video of him complaining about the Biden administration’s decision to freeze the shipment of heavy bombs last month “may serve his own domestic audience by shifting blame for the continuation of war to the United States for not providing Israel with the tools it needs to ‘finish the job,’ as Netanyahu said”.

Other experts share this assessment. “Netanyahu’s ‘Greatest Achievement’ is not ending Hamas, nor bringing hostages home, but the killing of civilians. He needs the war, he needs to extend it to stay in power, and he needs someone to blame before someone blames him,” Ghada Oueiss, a Lebanese journalist, told TNA.

Dr Mouin Rabbani, a political analyst and co-editor of Jadaliyya, said Netanyahu seeks to shift blame from the Israeli military to Washington. “His attempts to blame the Israeli military for its poor performance and failure to defeat Hamas haven’t gone down well with the Israeli public,” he told TNA.

“And he and his fellow cabinet ministers of course reject, as a matter of principle, accepting any responsibility themselves. Blaming the nasty foreigners who hate Israel because they hate Jews by contrast works every time, even when the bogeyman is Biden, Israel’s most fanatical supporter since 1948,” added Rabbani.

Netanyahu’s relationship with Biden has gone from being complicated to being disrespectful. [Getty]

Working with Republicans: An old game

Netanyahu is taking advantage of dynamics in America’s domestic political arena to advance his own interests, which is nothing new. On 24 July, the prime minister will be in Washington addressing a joint session of Congress. This is history repeating itself.

In 1996, right after becoming Israel’s prime minister for the first time, Netanyahu came to Washington and addressed both chambers of Congress. This was at the invitation of then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich during Bill Clinton’s first term in office.

Blasting the Clinton administration’s efforts to advance the Oslo peace process, which ran through much of the 1990s and was purportedly premised on the idea of a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, Netanyahu hailed the “unity” of Jerusalem under Israeli control since 1967.

In that speech, he condemned “efforts to re-divide this city by those who claim that peace can come through division”, which he condemned as a “groundless and dangerous assumption” and pledged that there “will never be such a re-division of Jerusalem”.

In 2015, then-House Speaker John Boehner broke protocol by inviting Netanyahu to address another joint session of Congress without consulting the White House. While speaking before US lawmakers, Netanyahu harshly criticised the Obama administration’s efforts to negotiate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JPCOA), which passed several months later, telling members of Congress that it was a “very bad deal”.

Put simply, it was Netanyahu’s attempt to play off US domestic politics to undermine an American president’s attempts at diplomacy with Tehran.

During this election year, Netanyahu is aware that Biden has lost support from younger and more progressive elements within his party’s base because he is supporting Israel’s war on Gaza while Republicans accuse him of failing to do enough to back Israel.

“Netanyahu knows that the Biden administration is anxious about his upcoming address to Congress. He is taking advantage of the Republicans’ criticism of Biden for not going far enough in supporting Israel,” commented Oueiss.  

“Netanyahu is deliberately trying to damage Biden with Israel supporters by making the false claim that the administration isn’t providing him arms. He has often more or less campaigned for Republican presidents in the past”

“At the same time, he knows that Biden is accused of complicity in the Gaza genocide. With the wave of protests on American college campuses, Biden now has a serious problem with young voters. Netanyahu’s relationship with Biden has gone from being complicated to being disrespectful,” she added.

Releasing this video the month before coming to Washington to address American lawmakers fits into Netanyahu’s plans to increase pressure on Biden to cater to the most fanatical supporters of Israel in the US.

The key dynamic in play here is Netanyahu’s quest to weaken Biden politically and contribute to conditions that lead to a second Trump presidency. For now, Netanyahu is determined to drag out the war on Gaza until Trump might return to the Oval Office for a second term.

“I believe that Netanyahu is deliberately trying to damage Biden with Israel supporters by making the false claim that the administration isn’t providing him arms. He has often more or less campaigned for Republican presidents in the past,” explained Dr Juan Cole, a Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the University of Michigan, in a TNA interview.

“It is clear Netanyahu will take advantage of any situation, be it in the US or Israel, to protect his own hold on power and advance policies to expand Israel’s occupation and oppression of Palestinians. He has shown his willingness to embrace the most right-wing extremists in Israel and the United States in order to pursue his political agenda,” Dr Rad told TNA.

Netanyahu addressed the US Congress in 2015 and is due to do so again on 24 July. [Getty]

“Netanyahu is the undisputed master of American politics. He has outflanked numerous presidents, by going to Congress and appealing directly to the American public. He thwarted Oslo, boxed in Obama, and outfoxed Bush. Trump has been his biggest supporter,” explained Dr Landis.

In terms of his message to his American audience in Washington, Netanyahu is obviously playing to Trump and the Republicans while also telling pro-Israel Americans to give their campaign donations and votes to Trump, not Biden.

Describing Netanyahu as the “consummate political warrior,” Dr Landis said the prime minister now seeks revenge for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s remarks in March. At that time, Schumer voiced his opinion that Netanyahu had “lost his way”, Israel risks becoming a “pariah”, and “Netanyahu’s coalition no longer fits the needs of Israel after October 7”.

Preparing for a possible war against Hezbollah

Amid this current period of intensifying hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the international community has valid concerns about a major expansion of the Gaza war into Lebanon.

While the Biden administration has its concerns about Israel’s war on Gaza spilling more into Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East, the White House has given Israel basically all the matches and gasoline it needs to start a new fire that engulfs Lebanon and could very easily spread from the small Eastern Mediterranean country into other parts of the region in an extremely short span of time. However, this is not enough for Netanyahu.

If Israel wages an all-out war against the most heavily armed and disciplined faction in Lebanon, Netanyahu’s government will want everything it can possibly obtain from Washington. Israeli policymakers are not naïve about how much more powerful Hezbollah is than Hamas, and the fact that Lebanon is a country with strategic depth as opposed to a besieged concentration camp like Gaza.

“There is a lot of discussion that there might be an Israel-Lebanon war. Netanyahu wants full support from the United States for that war and the Biden administration is very reluctant to support an expansion of the Gaza war into Lebanon,” Dr Hashemi told TNA.

“So, he’s upset, and Netanyahu is hoping to pressure the Biden Administration by releasing the video, hoping that his strongest supporters in the United States from the Republican Party will pressure the Biden administration to give Netanyahu everything and anything that he wants when he asks for it.”

Biden won’t stand up to Netanyahu

Although it is clear to officials in the Biden administration what Netanyahu is doing, there is no reason to expect Team Biden to engage Netanyahu any differently, even if officials in his administration are frustrated with the prime minister for such behaviour.

“The Biden administration remains convinced it is assisting Israel as a state rather than Netanyahu as a leader or Netanyahu and his partners Ben-Gvir and Smotrich as a project,” said Dr Rabbani. “Their defensive and almost apologetic response to Netanyahu’s attacks demonstrate this.”

As Dr Landis sees it, Biden and his political allies in the US are under pressure from wealthy pro-Israel donors to avoid any rift with Netanyahu’s government. The fear is that these individuals would in increasing numbers shift their support to Trump if Biden’s criticisms of Israel go any further.

“Netanyahu is the undisputed master of American politics. He has outflanked numerous presidents, by going to congress and appealing directly to the American public”

“It is too late for President Biden to distance himself from Israel and Netanyahu today. Should he try to, Trump will be the happy beneficiary. Billionaire donors, such as Blackstone’s Stephen A. Schwarzman and Hedge fund manager, William Ackman have already declared that they are switching to Trump from Biden because of Biden’s ‘abandonment’ of Israel. Miriam Adelson and a number of other…billionaires have long since found Trump to be better on Israel, than the alternatives,” said Dr Landis.

Dr Rad shares this view that Netanyahu’s behaviour toward Biden is unlikely to lead to any decrease in support from the administration for Israel. “Based on what we have seen in the last eight months it seems quite doubtful that this will have any impact on US policy vis-à-vis Israel,” she told TNA.

“In fact, Biden officials acted quickly to clear the record to assure that weapons are indeed flowing to Israel. There have been many stories over these months that claim President Biden is ‘frustrated’ with Israel, yet the administration continues to unconditionally support the actions of the Israeli government in violation of international and US domestic law,” added Dr Rad.

The American president has made it clear that Israel’s prime minister will suffer “no consequences no matter what he does,” giving Netanyahu the perceived freedom to “stab his patron in the back with impunity,” Dr Cole told TNA. “How Biden became afflicted with so serious a case of masochism is the only mystery.”

Giorgio Cafiero is the CEO of Gulf State Analytics.

Follow him on Twitter: @GiorgioCafiero

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