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It was rather amusing to see President Joe Biden hugging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon his arrival in Israel. Biden certainly was not hugging Netanyahu out of love for the man; it is doubtful that their relationship remains anything but formal, if not frosty. The hug, like the trip Biden courageously undertook despite serious personal risk, was more a demonstration of his concern for the welfare of the Jewish State, to which he long has been deeply committed.

But Biden did not just come to cheerlead for Israel, much less for Netanyahu. He also came with a critical message: While America has Israel’s back, Israel must also ease up on ordinary Gazans caught in the midst of yet another deadly war with Hamas. Israel had previously choked off the crowded strip even as it was urging over a million Palestinians to move to southern Gaza. No doubt Biden made it clear to Netanyahu that such a policy was untenable.

Perhaps Netanyahu was waiting for Biden to push him, in effect to read him the riot act, that he must enable Palestinians access to food, water and electricity. That way, he could explain to his extreme right-wing partners in government that he could not resist American pressure.

For his part, the prime minister has shown no evidence that anything other than his own well-being — that is, to stay out of jail — is important to him. He has yet to apologize for the glaring failures on the part of Israel’s previously vaunted intelligence and military organizations, which enabled Hamas to perpetrate its atrocities. In stark contrast to Harry Truman’s maxim, the buck never seems to stop at Bibi’s desk.

Indeed, Netanyahu waited a full eight days before visiting the traumatized families of the hostages that remain in Hamas’s cruel hands. His behaviour stands in stark contrast to that of the late King Hussein of Jordan, in the aftermath of an earlier Israeli tragedy. In mid-March 1997, a few days after a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of young Israeli girls touring a site in Jordan, killing seven and wounding five more and a teacher, the king did not wait eight days to respond. Instead, he visited the grieving families during their weeklong shiva mourning observance to apologize for what happened. The king acted from his heart — despite being bitterly criticized by many Arab leaders.  It certainly does appear that Bibi was, at best, acting with his head.

Showing support for Israel and demonstrating concern for innocent Palestinians, including convincing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to open the Rafah crossing to allow humanitarian aid to reach southern Gaza, were not the only outcomes that Biden achieved during his visit. Drawing upon Department of Defence analysis and a growing body of evidence, Biden categorically refuted Hamas allegations that it was Israel that destroyed a Gaza hospital. It was, in fact, a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket that exploded in the Ahli hospital parking lot and created a ball of fire that wiped it out.

Biden’s readiness to absolve Israel of blame for the tragedy is certain to reinforce the joint statement that British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni issued together with the American president on October 9 condemning the Hamas atrocities and supporting Israel’s right to defend itself. Indeed, just as Washington has now dispatched a second aircraft carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean — enabling the combined force to operate on a 24-hour basis to deter Iran and Hezbollah — Sunak’s government has also deployed two warships and surveillance aircraft to the Middle East. In addition, Scholz just visited Israel to demonstrate German support, Sunak arrived this week, and Macron is soon to arrive there as well.

DoD’s analysis will also enable Arab governments that are otherwise friendly to Israel to resist the frenzied demonstrations on their “street.” While all Arab governments signed up to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation declaration condemning Israel, that does not necessarily indicate that those states that maintain relations with the Jewish State are about to rupture them. There can be little doubt that Biden’s leadership has been a major factor in all of these developments.

Critics have accused the Biden administration of being soft on Iran and of showing excessive zeal in attempting to reach an accommodation with the ruling mullahs. Given the events of the past two weeks, Iran’s unequivocal vocal advocacy for Hamas — and the high probability that it was involved in supporting, if not helping to plan, the atrocities that took place — any deal with Iran is off the table. As is, thankfully, the plan to transfer billions to the Tehran regime.

In sum, whatever criticism Joe Biden may deserve for other foreign policy missteps over the past several years, his courageous trip to Israel deserves both support and credit. It has forced Netanyahu’s hand — no easy matter at any time — to show some humanity toward the Palestinians. It has strengthened Western support for the embattled Jewish State. It has signalled to Hezbollah and Iran that America will not remain on the side-lines should they attempt to open a second front against Israel, and it has provided at least some top cover for Arab governments caught between their relations with Israel and their enraged citizens. Not every presidential trip produces results. Clearly, this one did.

Note:  This article was originally published in The Hill on 20 October 2023 and has been reproduced with the permission of the author. Web Link

As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy