President Joe Biden Conditions Arms Shipments to Israel Amid Gaza Conflict

Biden Halts Certain U.S. Weapons to Israel Following Civilian Casualties

by Faruk Imamovic
President Joe Biden Conditions Arms Shipments to Israel Amid Gaza Conflict
© Getty Images/Scott Olson

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday his intention to halt certain arms shipments to Israel, specifically those that have been used in actions resulting in civilian casualties in Gaza. This announcement came during an exclusive interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett on the show "Erin Burnett OutFront." Biden's statement marks a poignant moment in the ongoing conflict, underscoring a shift in the U.S. stance following intensified scrutiny over the humanitarian impact of its military aid.

"Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers,” Biden stated, referring to the recent pause of shipments involving 2,000-pound bombs. He emphasized his conditional approach to military support: "I made it clear that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities — that deal with that problem."

The Context of Conflict and Diplomacy

The context of Biden's declarations is deeply tied to the broader seven-month conflict between Israel and Hamas, with Rafah—a city in southern Gaza where over a million Palestinian civilians have sought refuge—being a focal point of potential major military operations. The president's comments reflect a nuanced approach to military aid, balancing between ensuring Israel's security and responding to international and domestic pressures over the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Biden’s commitment to limiting certain types of military aid does not signify a complete withdrawal of support for Israel's defense. He confirmed continued support for defensive systems like the Iron Dome and clarified that his administration would maintain aid that supports Israel's ability to respond to attacks. However, the distinction he makes regarding offensive operations in densely populated areas like Rafah is clear. “We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in those areas,” he noted.

Biden and Netanyahu: A Strained Alliance

This policy shift could potentially strain the relationship between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This strain was evident in the backdrop of a recent phone conversation between the two leaders, amidst Israel's military actions near Rafah and calls for civilian evacuations from the area. Biden pointed out that while Israeli military actions had caused regional tensions, particularly with Egypt, they had not yet breached the red line of entering heavily populated zones.

Biden also drew from historical parallels, cautioning Netanyahu against a protracted military engagement in Gaza similar to past U.S. experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq. "I said to Bibi, ‘Don’t make the same mistake we made in America. We wanted to get bin Laden. We’ll help you get Sinwar,'" referring to the Hamas leader in Gaza. This analogy serves as a stark reminder of the complexities and risks involved in urban military engagements.

Biden and Netanyahu
Biden and Netanyahu© Getty Images

Domestic Challenges Amid International Crises

Simultaneously, Biden is navigating significant domestic challenges, particularly around public perception of his economic management. Speaking from Racine, Wisconsin, where he promoted new economic initiatives, Biden addressed criticisms and the persistent skepticism about the national economy despite individual improvements. “We’ve already turned it around," he asserted, challenging the prevailing negative sentiments captured in recent polls.

Biden’s dual focus on international diplomacy and domestic economic issues illustrates the multifaceted responsibilities of his presidency. As he prepares for the upcoming election, maintaining a balance between assertive foreign policy decisions and addressing domestic economic concerns remains critical.

Rising Tensions and Global Reactions

The decision by the United States to condition its military aid to Israel has not only implications for bilateral relations but also resonates across the international community. The global reaction has been varied, with some allies expressing support for Biden's more measured approach to military assistance, while others view it as a weakening of support for a key ally in a volatile region. This delicate balancing act reflects broader shifts in international diplomacy, where the humanitarian impacts of military actions are increasingly coming under scrutiny.

Amidst these geopolitical shifts, protests against U.S. military aid to Israel have intensified both domestically and internationally. Demonstrators have labeled the ongoing support as complicit in the humanitarian crises in conflict zones. Biden’s acknowledgment of civilian casualties in Gaza due to American-made weapons has fueled these protests, prompting a broader debate about the ethics and implications of international arms sales.

Domestic Pressures and Political Calculations

Back home, President Biden faces a complex political landscape as he navigates the backlash from various factions within his own party. Progressive members have long advocated for a more stringent approach to military aid, emphasizing the need for compliance with human rights standards. Biden’s recent statements and policy shifts seem to be a nod to these voices, suggesting a strategic alignment with the more liberal segments of his party as he eyes the upcoming electoral challenges.

However, this stance is not without risks. There is a substantial political faction that views any reduction in support for Israel as detrimental to U.S. interests in the Middle East. This group argues that robust military support for Israel is crucial for regional stability and for countering threats from militant groups and hostile states. Biden’s balancing act between these divergent views within his party and among the American public is a testament to the complex interplay of domestic politics and foreign policy.

In the broader context of U.S. foreign relations, Biden’s approach to Israel and Gaza comes at a time when the U.S. is also engaging in delicate negotiations and confrontations with other global powers. His administration’s strategies towards China and Russia, and its handling of crises in places like Ukraine, are all observed through the lens of its actions in the Middle East. The consistency of U.S. policy across these various arenas is critical to maintaining its credibility and influence on the global stage.

Joe Biden