Israel News

March 14, 2024

Rising Tensions Between US and Israel Over War Strategy

Tensions have deepened between President Joe Biden and Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu as hopes of striking a deal to pause fighting before the start of Ramadan crumbled and a US military ship set sail to ease the flow of aid into Gaza.

Biden warned last weekend that an Israeli incursion into the southern Gaza city of Rafah would cross a “red line” if it caused extensive civilian casualties. He added that Netanyahu is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel.”

On Sunday, in an interview with Politico, Netanyahu responded, saying, “I don’t know exactly what the president meant, but if he meant that I’m pursuing private policies against the wish of the majority of Israelis, and that this is hurting the interests of Israel, then he’s wrong on both counts.”

A ship left from Virginia carrying personnel and equipment to build a temporary pier the Biden administration hopes will help get aid into Gaza, even as the security and logistical challenges to such an operation become clearer. The General Frank S. Besson, a logistical-support vessel, departed from Joint Base Langley-Eustis on Saturday, US Central Command, which oversees US military operations in the Middle East, said on Sunday.

Biden said in his State of the Union speech that the US military would install the pier off the coast of the Gaza Strip for cargo ships to unload emergency supplies. Biden ordered the project in the hopes of easing shortages of food, water, shelter, and medical services for Gaza’s 2.2 million residents.

On Sunday, the US military said it, along with Jordan’s Royal Air Force, dropped 11,500 meals and other food staples into Gaza, the fifth such drop in just over a week. But the amount of food that can be dropped from the sky is too little to adequately feed Gazans.

Meanwhile, Hamas leaders are betting that the month of Ramadan can turn the momentum of the war in Gaza in their favor, heaping diplomatic pressure on Israel to stop its offensive and help secure the terrorist group’s survival. 

Hamas’s chief in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, is also calculating that Ramadan, which began on Sunday night, could spark violence at the Har HaBayis, expanding the conflict beyond Gaza and drawing Iran and Hezbollah deeper and more directly into his war against Israel, according to political analysts.

Coup Being Planned? 

A US global intelligence assessment released Monday says that Netanyahu’s hold on office “may be in jeopardy” and suggests Israel will fail to achieve its aim of completely eliminating Hamas.

While challenges to Netanyahu’s continuation in power have been widely discussed since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, it appeared unusual for American spy agencies to offer their analysis of an allied leader’s political prospects in an unclassified document.

“Netanyahu’s viability as leader as well as his governing coalition of far-right and ultraorthodox parties that pursued hardline policies on Palestinian and security issues may be in jeopardy,” said the assessment, part of a 40-page report on global threats from Gaza and Ukraine to terrorism and cyberspace that was released Monday.

“Distrust of Netanyahu’s ability to rule has deepened and broadened across the public from its already high levels before the war, and we expect large protests demanding his resignation and new elections,” it continued. “A different, more moderate government is a possibility.”

The 74-year-old Netanyahu became the country’s longest-serving leader by focusing on security, but he oversaw Israel’s worst-ever security failure on October 7, when major lapses allowed Hamas to attack southern Israel and kill 1,200 people.

Public opinion has turned sharply against him, and large-scale protests calling for his ouster have occurred in Israel. Netanyahu’s rule depends on avoiding snap elections and keeping his narrow parliamentary majority intact. He has vowed to stay on until he has led Israel to “total victory” over Hamas. Netanyahu’s hope, analysts say, is a visible victory, such as killing the group’s top leaders in Gaza, that could help his popularity bounce back.

He is also under pressure from within Israel’s three-member war cabinet, which includes his two major rivals, Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity Party, and defense minister Yoav Gallant.

If elections were held now, polls say Gantz would easily defeat Netanyahu’s Likud. Gantz hasn’t ruled out working with the Palestinian Authority after the Gaza war and working toward a Palestinian state. Netanyahu is at odds on the issues with the White House, which favors a Palestinian Authority role in postwar Gaza and renewed diplomatic discussion on an independent Palestinian state.

The US intelligence report, called the Annual Threat Assessment, comprises the views of all American spy agencies.

It suggests that Israel will have difficulty vanquishing Hamas. Israel “remains focused on destroying Hamas, which its population broadly supports,” it states. However, “Israel probably will face lingering armed resistance from Hamas for years to come, and the military will struggle to neutralize Hamas’s underground infrastructure, which allows insurgents to hide, regain strength, and surprise Israeli forces,” it adds.

Leaders of US intelligence agencies, including CIA director William Burns and National Intelligence director Avril Haines, testified about the report Monday before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Senators didn’t ask about the section covering Netanyahu’s political future during the hearing, which was interrupted several times by protesters denouncing US support for Israel.

Burns told the senators he was continuing to negotiate, along with Israeli, Egyptian, and Qatari counterparts, a three-part diplomatic plan that would see some Hamas hostages released in return for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel; a six-week cease-fire; and a surge in humanitarian assistance. Hamas has yet to agree to the plan.

“We’re going to continue to work hard at this,” Burns said. “I don’t think anybody can guarantee success.”