Biden flew to Israel. This is the second time the U.S. president has gone “to the front lines” since his visit to Kyiv in February. However, accepting Netanyahu’s invitation is a gamble with a more uncertain outcome than his trip to Ukraine. In a region up in arms, Biden is staking his own reputation and that of the United States as a hegemonic power – or, at least, one that’s supposed to have sufficient residual influence to defuse the conflict.
Biden’s visit followed those of Romanian Prime Minister Ciolacu and German Chancellor Scholtz, but it had extra weight on account of Biden’s promised military aid package ($2 billion worth of munitions, for Israel and Ukraine), a deterrent contingent of marines and two aircraft carriers en route to the eastern Mediterranean.
He was supposed to also travel to Amman to meet with King Abdullah II, who was in Cairo for talks with al-Sisi, and with Palestinian National Authority president Mahmoud Abbas; it was also planned to activate Chinese and Qatari communication channels with the Iranians, with a view to preventing regional widening of the conflict. However, after the Gaza hospital tragedy, Abbas said on Tuesday that he would no longer meet with the American president. Later on, the Kingdom of Jordan canceled Biden’s planned summit with Abbas, Al Sisi and King Abdullah II, declaring three days of national mourning for the Gaza victims.
The trip was prepared by the shuttle diplomacy of Secretary of State Blinken, whose frequent trips between Cairo, Jerusalem and other regional capitals in recent days recalled those of Henry Kissinger during the Yom Kippur conflict, exactly 50 years ago.
Back then, the occupant of the Oval Office was a disinterested Richard Nixon, engulfed by the Watergate scandal that would shortly lead him to resign. Kissinger would be the main architect of the negotiations between Golda Meir, Anwar Sadat, the Arab states and their Russian sponsors to end hostilities. In this new iteration of conflict in the region – even more volatile than 50 years ago, if that’s even possible – and with the world on the brink of an uncertain precipice as a result, Biden is putting himself out there more than any American president has.
For the U.S., which immediately sided unconditionally with its historic ally Israel, this is a minefield – first of all because its ally’s military operation has left more than 3,000 dead and 10,000 wounded in the besieged strip, where more than 3,700 buildings have been razed by bombs to date. A primary goal would be to open humanitarian corridors for the displaced civilian population, pushed to its limits, without food, water and electricity.
Blinken’s announcement of an initial agreement to this effect has not been followed by concrete action so far. Israel maintains an absolute blockade of supplies and crossings, including the Rafah crossing into Egypt, where even Palestinians of American nationality attempting to leave the Strip are stuck.
Biden could use his declared “unconditional” support to push Netanyahu to moderate the “all-out” attack on what’s left of Gaza; perhaps even to forego the much-announced ground invasion. In an interview with CBS on Sunday, Biden had said he thought a new occupation would be “a big mistake.” And in the end, the presidential initiative was certainly also influenced by calculations aiming at solidifying the support of the Jewish lobby, crucial for any Democrat aspiring to return to the White House.
The problem for Biden is that the outcome is far from assured, and the risks of failure are proportional with the uncertainty. The Republican opposition never ceases to blame the “weak and ineffective” president for the conflict that has broken out in the powder keg of the Middle East. Any failure could mean paying a price at the polls.
Meanwhile, the psychosis of Islamic terrorism is rampant once again, and the first victim of hatred on American soil was a 6-year-old Palestinian boy from Chicago stabbed by a fanatic of the new right wing. Even against this backdrop, there are glimmers of resistance, such as the demonstration by Jewish groups advocating for peace that surrounded the White House on Tuesday demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
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