Janus-Faced Biden Administration Can’t Hide Its Complicity

Photograph Source: lienyuan lee – CC BY 3.0

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains committed to using overwhelming and indiscriminate military force to vanquish the Palestinian community in Gaza.  For the past two decades, Netanyahu has engaged in the total humiliation of the Palestinian people.  At the same time, he is humiliating and embarrassing the only nation that provides Israel with political, military, and diplomatic cover—the United States.  The fact that Netanyahu is bombarding Gaza with U.S.-supplied weaponry makes the United States complicit with regard to Israeli ethnic cleansing, particularly the killing and maiming of children.

The Biden administration has been critical of the so-called “bunker buster” bombs that weigh 2,000 pounds and are capable of penetrating concrete shelters where Palestinians are hiding; the United States supplies these weapons.  One of these bombs was dropped on the Jabalia refugee camp, killing 100 people.  The Biden administration has been critical of Israel’s use of Mk82 unguided or “dumb bombs”; the United States has provided 5,000 of these weapons since the start of the war.  These bombs are airlifted on C-17 military cargo planes directly from the United States to Israel.

Department of State spokesman Matt Miller, when asked about the use of “dumb bombs,” said that he wasn’t in a position to provide “judgment” on the matter.  He added that “there are different ways you can use any number of munitions.”  Israel has the most technologically advanced weapons in the world, and has no excuse in relying on bombs that are so inaccurate.

President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin have publicly called on Israel to avoid civilian casualties, but have demonstrated no interest in enforcing their pleas.  Biden has been critical of Israel’s “indiscriminate” bombing of Gaza, but he asked the Congress to remove key restrictions on Israel’s ability to gain access to U.S. weapons stockpiles.  Biden told Netanyahu that the war wouldn’t end until a two-state solution was reached.  But Netanyahu has never accepted the idea of a two-state solution, and has been caught on tape taking credit for “stopping the Oslo accords.”

Last week, Blinken invoked a rarely used “emergency authority” to deliver 14,000 tank munition cartridges to Israel without honoring the standard 15-day period for congressional review.  These deliveries conflict with President Biden’s policies on civilian protection and human rights.  Blinken’s Department of State has ignored its own Civilian Harm Incident Response Guidance, which was designed to investigate reports of civilian harm by governments using U.S. weaponry.  [On many policy matters, the Department of State under Blinken’s tutelage has been mostly moribund, which I will address in a future column.]

Secretary of Defense Austin has warned Israel that it risks “strategic defeat” if it fails to heed warnings about the mounting civilian death toll.  Meanwhile, his Pentagon is expediting weapons exports to Israel by deploying a so-called Tiger Team to facilitate transfers of weaponry.  The transfer of arms to Ukraine is an open process; the transfer to Israel is relatively covert.   Austin, moreover, has been on record as stating that the United States will do “everything we can” to support Israel.

National Security Adviser Sullivan was in Israel last week to urge Israel to adopt a more precise strategy in its war against Hamas that would mean using smaller elite forces to rescue hostages, kill Hamas leaders and destroy tunnels.  But Sullivan provided no timetable for Israel to reduce its tactics and, before leaving Israel, he played down any differences with Israeli tactics and acknowledged that the Israeli offensive  would continue for “months.”  President Biden has given the Israelis until the end of the year to change its operational regime, but this is a particularly feckless gesture.  Netanyahu was dismissive of both the president, and the national security adviser, who ultimately sided with the Israeli prime minister and dismissed any suggest of differences with Israel as a “misunderstanding.”

In addition to dismissing the advice of U.S. leaders, Netanyahu and his “war cabinet” blocked Mossad chief David Barnea’s efforts to return to Qatar with CIA director William Burns to restart negotiations on a further hostage deal.  According to Israeli news media, the war cabinet decided that Israel would not propose an outline for a deal or enter talks because the war would make it difficult for the Hamas leaders in Qatar to contact their counterparts in Gaza.  Presumably Netanyahu is disdainful of the ability of Barnea and CIA director Burns to successfully arrange the release of hostages in return for a cease fire, and resents the favorable press coverage that their efforts have engendered.  The Israeli press acknowledges that Biden demonstrates much more empathy toward the plight of the hostages than does Netanyahu.

Biden is no stranger to Netanyahu’s efforts to manipulate the United States.  Netanyahu has always opposed the so-called peace process and took credit for destroying the Oslo process.  He has embarrassed recent U.S. administrations, typically timing the announcement of new settlements on the West Bank when U.S. leaders, including Vice President Biden and Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, were in Israel on official visits.  The low point of Netanyahu’s deviousness occurred in 2015, when Netanyahu accepted an invitation to address a joint session of Congress in an effort to embarrass President Barack Obama and to block the signing of the Iran nuclear accord.  Netanyahu should have paid a political price for that stunt, but instead he received the most generous offer of military aid the United States has ever extended to Israel.

Netanyahu and his war cabinet are making the key U.S. leaders, including Biden, Blinken, and Sullivan, look particularly weak as they make a public case for temporizing the military campaign against Hamas while Netanyahu and his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, emphasize that the heavy bombardment will continue for months.  As long as the Biden administration does Israel’s bidding by blocking any attempt at a cease fire and by rushing delivery of military aid, there is no reason for Netanyahu to temper his policies.

As a result, the violence continues in both Gaza and the West Bank.  More Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank during the past year than in any year since the Second Intifada of the early 2000s.  There will not be an answer to the savagery of Hamas and Israel, let alone Israeli policies of apartheid and occupation, as long as the United States ignores the humanitarian crisis that is worsening with each and every day.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent books are “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing, 2019) and “Containing the National Security State” (Opus Publishing, 2021). Goodman is the national security columnist for counterpunch.org.