Biden’s policy on Gaza conflict ‘unpopular,’ say polls - GulfToday

Biden’s policy on Gaza conflict ‘unpopular,’ say polls

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Displaced Palestinians travel in a horse-drawn cart amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. Reuters

Displaced Palestinians travel in a horse-drawn cart amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas. Reuters

US President Joe Biden has learned the hard way not to grant Israel full freedom when waging war against the Palestinians.  Like his predecessor Ronald Reagan when Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, Biden has tried to use some US leverage to pre-empt a brutal offensive In Gaza’s Rafah city by Israel’s war machine. Unlike Reagan, Biden has failed. Israeli troops have been advancing into Rafah since last Monday. Biden has been compelled to act by international disapproval of his unquestioning support for Israel’s Gaza war. Domestic polls show his policy on the Gaza war is unpopular. Fifty-six per cent of voters in his Democrat party believes Israel is committing genocide and 83 per cent of Democrats and 56 per cent of Republicans supports an immediate and permanent ceasefire. A majority, 54 per cent, favours suspending arms deliveries to Israel if Israel prevents US humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza and one-third supports limiting arms deliveries to Israel. Widespread media coverage of hundreds of university and college anti-war and pro-Palestinian protests have manifested popular discontent with Biden. Presidential predecessors who tackled Israel did not have to stand up to these pressures but had other serious reasons for calling a halt to Israeli wars.

Reagan took a stand against Israeli bombing of Beirut two months and six days after Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon ordered his army into Lebanon to capture West Beirut, where the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had its headquarters. On August 12th, after 14 hours of Israeli bombing of West Beirut, Reagan wrote in his diary that he had a call from Saudi King Fahd who asked him to “do something.” Reagan promptly rang then Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and “told him it had to stop or our entire future relationship was endangered.” Twenty minutes later Begin called to say that “he had ordered the bombing to stop.”

Sharon planned to drive the PLO from Lebanon, force Palestinian refugees to flee to Syria, engineer the election to the presidency of Bashir Gemayel, and compel Lebanon to sign a peace treaty with Israel. Sharon succeeded in gaining his first objective, only. The PLO shifted to Tunis. Although the Israeli army destroyed Palestinian camps, refugees stayed in Lebanon. Gemayel was assassinated and Israel’s imposed peace treaty was soon abrogated.

To discourage Israel’s planned offensive in Rafah, Biden was compelled to withhold offensive weapons shipments to Israel, including huge bombs, artillery shells and spare parts for fighter jets. Biden did not want US “bunker buster” bombs to be used n Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians had been sheltering. Biden told CNN, “I’ve made it clear to Bibi (Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and the war cabinet:) They’re not going to get our support if in fact they go on (sic) these population centres. We’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells.”

This was the first time Biden, or his entourage threatened to cut the flow of specific weapons to Israel. He admitted that these bombs had already killed many of the 35,000 Palestinians, 70 per cent of whom are women and children, during Israel’s seven-month war. This means he could be charged with complicity in war crimes by the International Criminal Court which has jurisdiction in Gaza since Palestine has, since 2015, been a signatory of its statute.

Biden made this statement a few hours after US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed that the US had suspended a shipment to Israel of 1,800 900-kilogram bombs and 1,700 250-kilogram bombs due to concerns that they would be used in densely populated Rafah. There had been no hesitation earlier when these block-buster weapons were dropped on Gaza City, Khan Younis, and Beit Hanoun where entire neighbourhoods were levelled. The Israeli air force has expressed concern about delayed deliveries of bombs and bomb components, Haaretz reported.

Reagan was not the first US president to tackle Israel during a war. In 1956, Dwight Eisenhower castigated Israel, Britain and France for mounting an attack on Egypt following its nationalisation of the Suez Canal. This offensive, dubbed the “Tripartite Aggression” by the Arabs, took place between October 29th-November 7th of that year. The aim of all three conspirators was to topple Egypt’s popular President Gamal Abdel Nasser and restore Anglo-French control over the Canal.  Israel occupied Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula which Israel intended to keep. Eisenhower was furious and threatened sanctions against British financial interests. Eisenhower felt he had to take a principled and practical stand.

Between October 23rd-November 11th, Russia invaded Hungary to crush the country’s uprising against Soviet rule. Eisenhower saw that he could not support the Suez war while he condemned Russia. He called a halt to the tripartite attack and ordered Israel to withdraw from Gaza and Sinai. Israel obeyed, reluctantly, in March 1957 but gained access to the Red Sea through the Strait of Tiran, which had been previously denied. This was no small reward.

By many in Britain, France and elsewhere the Suez war was regarded to be the last gasp of Western colonialism. British Prime Minister Anthony Eden was forced to resign and Britain and France lost regional influence. Nasser survived, became a pan-Arab hero, and relied for support on the Soviet Union which came to be seen in the Third World as a power to counter the West. The Suez debacle was followed by the ouster of British-backed King Faisal of Iraq on July 14th, 1958, and the collapse of the Baghdad Pact, the Western attempt to create a regional alliance against Moscow. The Eastern Arab World became a key region of competition during the East-West Cold War.

Lebanon was also caught up in upheaval from July 15th-October 25th, 1958. This was caused by the then pro-US President Camille Chamoun,1956-1958, who wanted a second term in office although this was excluded by the country’s constitution.  While right-wing Maronite Christian elements backed Chamoun, Sunnis and Druze opposed Chamoun. They were led by Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, who had the backing of Syria and Egypt which enjoyed Soviet support. Fighting erupted. Eisenhower ordered US troops to land at Beirut’s international airport to defend Western-allied Lebanon from an alleged Communist menace. Following UN mediation, Chamoun agreed to stand down and was succeeded by army chief Fouad Chehab, who was Lebanon’s best president to date. US troops were withdrawn having done nothing.


Related articles

Other Articles