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Biden is ‘outraged’, but is he willing to use U.S. influence over Israel?

When President Biden says he “angry and sadHis strong language about the killing of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza naturally raised the question: Would this attack, even a tragic mistake, lead him to impose conditions on weapons shipments to Israel?

The White House has so far remained silent on whether Biden’s anger will lead to a break with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and every interaction between them has been tense. The two are scheduled to speak on Thursday but, at least publicly, Biden’s response has been limited to angrier statements, according to senior Biden administration officials.

Biden insisted a bombing campaign against the southern city of Rafah would cross a “red line” but did not list consequences. The attack on the World Central Kitchen convoy is further evidence that Israel “is not doing enough to protect Israel.” aid workers,” he said on Tuesday, without specifying how their behavior should change.

“I hope this will be the moment when the president changes course,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., one of Biden’s most ardent supporters. For months, he has has been urging conditions on U.S. supplies of weapons. Ignoring the president’s demands, we launched 2,000 pounds of bombs without restraint. “

“We should not launch a bomb first and then hope to get some guarantees,” he concluded.

The conditions for how U.S. weapons can be used are generally standard terms, some set by Congress and some by the president or secretary of state. Ukraine, for example, is not allowed to fire U.S.-made weapons into Russia, although it has largely complied, and there remains debate within the government over whether to provide Kiev with more powerful missiles if Congress passes an aid package.

But Israel has always been an exception. Even as Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, the Democratic senator from New York, gave an impassioned speech urging Israel to hold new elections – an apparent effort to oust Mr Netanyahu – he declined to call for arms restrictions When pressed the next day, Mr. Schumer said he didn’t even want to discuss the topic.

Biden could also ask for other measures. For example, the United States could insist that aid convoys be escorted by the Israel Defense Forces, or that nearby Israeli military forces maintain constant communication with aid providers, an issue raised by two US senators addressing Mr Netanyahu in February.

One participant said the prime minister told an aide present at the meeting that he believed issues surrounding the safe passage of food and medicine had been resolved. But he assured Sens. Chris Coons of Delaware and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, both Democrats, that he would raise the issue with his military commanders.

Monday’s strike showed these issues have never been fully resolved.

When producers pressed Biden on Wednesday for his views on the issue, White House national security adviser John F. Kirby pointed to the president’s statement condemning attacks on aid workers.

“I think you could sense the frustration from yesterday’s announcement,” Mr Kirby said.

Biden’s defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, reiterated the grievance on Wednesday to his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant. The Pentagon used unusually pointed language in its summary of the call, saying Mr Austin “expressed outrage over Israel’s actions”. strike” and “stressed the need for immediate and concrete measures to protect aid workers and Palestinian civilians in Gaza following repeated failures in coordination with foreign aid organizations. “

Austin also told Galante that the attack heightened U.S. concerns about potential military action against Rafah.

On the day of the attack, Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken held previously scheduled discussions with Israeli officials via security video.

Mr Kirby said Americans were urging Israel to develop a comprehensive plan to evacuate the 1.5 million refugees in the Rafah area. He also said discussions would continue “about the current situation in Rafah and their intentions to take action against those Hamas camps.” Still there. “

While Kirby did not say so, officials familiar with the discussions said the United States remains concerned that Israel does not have a credible plan for a comprehensive withdrawal — a process they believe could take months. But officials noted that Mr. Netanyahu has yet to launch an attack on Rafah, perhaps because Israeli forces are far from ready, perhaps because of U.S. pressure.

The United States has had some difficulties dealing with Mr. Netanyahu in the six months since the October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas, and declaring common goals cannot hide the fact that the two countries have deep differences over how to Wage war.

But the attack on the World Central Kitchen convoy, one of the most successful efforts to avert famine in Gaza, could be a turning point for Mr Biden.

He personally knows José Andrés, the famed Spanish-American chef behind the restaurant, whose Washington restaurant is a haunt for the city’s power brokers. On Tuesday, shortly before Mr. Andrés published his article, Mr. Biden called the chef. Guest article for The New York Times Declaring “Israel is better off than how this war was waged.”

He continued: “This is better than blocking the delivery of food and medicine to civilians. It is better than killing aid workers who are acting in coordination with the IDF.”

But Mr. Biden has refrained from publicly breaking with Mr. Netanyahu, and aides said he believed such a conflict would only make it more difficult for the prime minister to handle. The result is that Mr. Biden has been put in a box, criticized by progressives in his party — and increasingly moderates — for actions that he sees as being too cautious and unwilling to be seen as limiting Israel’s ability to defend itself.

Indeed, some of Biden’s critics are displeased that the president’s most visceral expressions of anger over Israeli military action were directed at the killings of seven foreign humanitarian workers, rather than the thousands of previous deaths of Palestinian civilians. them.

“To me, this angry language is striking because it’s the furthest he goes in his language, but it’s also notable that he only goes so far when it comes to Western aid workers. This step,” said Yousef Munayyer, director of the Palestinian-Israeli Program. Arab Center in Washington, D.C. “Certainly, it’s outrageous,” he added of the recent incident, “but we’ve seen these types of attacks many times, and the White House doesn’t seem outraged by them.”

The disparity is particularly striking given Biden’s reputation for personal compassion, Munaye said. “He presents himself as an empathetic person; that’s his great quality,” Munaye said. He seemed unable to show empathy for Palestinians in their own lives. “

In recent weeks, Mr. Biden has sought to separate his pressure campaign on Israel from his authority if he chooses to use it to limit the country’s arms supplies. Indeed, some senior diplomats wonder whether this will be the moment to change Mr Biden’s stance. Despite his tough words, he got close.

“One might think that ‘outrage’ would translate into a strong policy response, but so far that does not appear to be the case,” said Daniel C. Kurtzer, a former ambassador to Israel. “While Israel Apologize, but this attack will significantly increase the pressure on aid providers, exacerbating the humanitarian dilemma.”

Katie Rogers Contributed reporting.

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