Now comes the hard part for President Biden.
After declaring with great emotion and empathy that America stands by Israel against the “unadulterated evil” of “bloodthirsty” Hamas – a stance that has won bipartisan praise, including from the head of the Republican Jewish Coalition – Biden now faces a diplomatic and messaging challenge many times more difficult, by an order of magnitude.
That’s because he has to restrain Bibi Netanyahu, with whom he’s had a rough relationship in the past.
In a Sunday interview with “60 Minutes,” which showed Biden finally understands he has to be on television and actively seen leading in this global crisis, the president said: “Hamas and the extreme elements of Hamas don’t represent all the Palestinian people. And I think that … it would be a mistake … for Israel to occupy … Gaza again.”
Obviously, Biden means on a permanent basis, since the imminent ground invasion announced days ago by Tel Aviv would mean a temporary occupation, with the New York Times reporting that the military plans to seize control of Gaza City.
He also told Scott Pelley, “I think Israel understands that a significant portion of Palestinian people do not share the views of Hamas and Hezbollah.”
What Biden is trying to do is partially restrain Netanyahu while recognizing that Israel has the right to retaliate for the horrible torture committed by Hamas terrorists.
At the same time, Biden is trying to prevent a wider war that could quickly escalate into a regional conflict, especially with Hezbollah forces in Lebanon firing rockets at the Jewish state as well. This was both predictable and treacherous territory for Israel, which has vowed to topple the Hamas regime for its Oct. 7 attack, which was the worst single day of murdered Jews since the Holocaust.
The president was smart to cancel Monday’s planned visit to Colorado to talk about clean energy in favor of meetings with his national security team. Who needs another forgettable daytime speech about the Inflation Reduction Act, which would barely be covered anyway in light of the wall-to-wall reporting on the war.
History will judge Biden on how he handled the Mideast crisis.
Beyond the aerial bombardment, an Israeli blockade has created a growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. With 1 million residents in northern Gaza having heeded Israeli warnings about moving to the south, many are encountering shortages of shelter, food and water, and Gazan hospitals say they can barely operate in a country whose electricity has been cut off.
Hamas says more than 2,600 people in Gaza have been killed, while the Israeli death toll has surpassed 1,400.
One can argue that Hamas did this to its own people, using them as human shields with full knowledge that Netanyahu would unleash a ferocious counterattack, but civilian families with children are still facing enormous suffering.
When I asked Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, about this on “Media Buzz,” he acknowledged that he was worried that the world’s opinion would turn against Israel.
Keep in mind that the Israelis voluntarily pulled out of the Gaza Strip 18 years ago, and Hamas took over two years later, establishing a heavily-armed dictatorship.
But now comes the hard part for the United States, not just trying to restrain Israel but dealing with the country behind the massacres – which is where Republicans have sharply criticized the president.
Iran, which helps fund and train Hamas and Hezbollah, has dropped any pretense of not playing a role in the unspeakable atrocities inflicted on Israel. The Iranians have warned in a social media post that unless Israel’s so-called “war crimes and genocide” are not halted, the situation could “spiral out of control & ricochet far-reaching consequences.”
That’s almost laughable considering that Israel tries to avoid civilian casualties, providing advance warnings of bombings, while Hamas broadcasts and gloats over its massacres, kidnappings and mutilation of children and babies.
But the Iran threat is real, and Biden faces an extremely difficult balancing act that will pose the ultimate test of his decades of foreign policy experience.
One ominous sign is the news from Monday that the Pentagon has asked roughly 2,000 American troops to be ready for a potential call-up to the region, though they wouldn’t be in a combat role.
Whether or not American troops are deployed to Israel, it is a reminder of how closely tied we are to our longtime ally and the sole democracy in the Middle East.