Biden warns Netanyahu of US shift, as domestic pressure mounts

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Biden warns Netanyahu of US shift, as domestic pressure mounts

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - President Joe Biden has stood solidly behind Israel since Hamas’s October 7 attacks, and his criticism of civilian deaths in Gaza had not stopped Washington supplying military hardware to its key ally. — AFP pic

WASHINGTON, April 5 — President Joe Biden warned Israel of a sharp shift in his policy over the Gaza war yesterday amid growing frustration with Benjamin Netanyahu and mounting domestic pressure in a US election year.

Biden has stood solidly behind Israel since Hamas’s October 7 attacks, and his criticism of civilian deaths in Gaza had not stopped Washington supplying military hardware to its key ally.

But the Democrat faces spiralling anger from Muslim and younger voters over his support for Israel, and political allies at home have been pressing him to make the aid conditional on changed Israeli behaviour.

In a tense 30-minute call with Netanyahu after Israeli strikes killed seven aid workers in Gaza from US-based charity World Central Kitchen, Biden hinted at doing just that.

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For the first time, Biden “made clear that US policy with respect to Gaza will be determined by our assessment of Israel’s immediate action” to end the killings and the dire humanitarian situation, the White House said.

The tough language, describing the aid worker attack as “unacceptable” and urging Israel to take steps towards an immediate ceasefire, reflected mounting tensions with Netanyahu.

“What happened to the World Central Kitchen, that event certainly was a catalyst for the call today,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told CNN Thursday evening.

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Earlier this week the WCK convoy was repeatedly struck by Israeli forces despite clearing its route with the military. A US-Canadian dual national was among those killed in attack, which Israel has called a mistake.

Biden’s “frustration has been growing over recent weeks and months over the dangers to the civilian population in Gaza and to aid workers,” Kirby said.

Earlier in the day Kirby would not confirm that halting military aid was on the table but gave Israel little room to manoeuvre, warning the United States wanted to see action within the “coming hours and days.”

Palestinians inspect the damage at Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital after the Israeli military withdrew. — AFP pic

Palestinians inspect the damage at Gaza's Al-Shifa hospital after the Israeli military withdrew. — AFP pic

‘Stop it now’

The Biden administration faces a difficult balancing act on Gaza between what Kirby called its overall “ironclad” commitment to Israel, and mounting opposition at home to the war.

Democrats fear anger among Arab-American and Muslim voters in an expected tight election against Republican Donald in November.

A key Biden confidant had earlier urged him to leverage the huge military aid that Washington gives Israel every year.

“I think we’re at that point,” Chris Coons, a Democratic senator from the president’s home state of Delaware, told CNN.

Biden also reportedly faces pressure even closer to home — from First Lady Jill Biden.

“Stop it, stop it now,” she told the president about the growing toll of civilian casualties in Gaza, according to comments by Biden himself to a guest during a meeting with members of the Muslim community at the White House, and reported by the New York Times.

‘Outrage does nothing’

Despite historic tensions with right-winger Netanyahu, Biden travelled to Israel as a self-described “Zionist” days after the Hamas attacks and hugged the premier.

But Biden’s rhetoric has sharpened as the civilian death toll soared past 30,000 and the humanitarian situation becomes ever more dire.

Biden ordered US airdrops of aid into Gaza. He also allowed a UN Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire to go through — infuriating Netanyahu.

Biden’s words, however, have not been matched by concrete steps to limit the billions of dollars in military aid that Washington supplies to its bedrock regional ally.

The United States approved the transfer of thousands more bombs to Israel on the same day as the Israeli strikes that killed the WCK aid workers, the Washington Post reported Thursday.

Ben Rhodes, a former deputy national security advisor to president Barack Obama, called for Biden to act.

“Until there are substantive consequences, this outrage does nothing,” Rhodes said on X.

US voters are also increasingly turning against Israel’s Gaza offensive.

A majority of 55 per cent now disapprove of Israel’s actions, compared to 36 per cent who approve, according to a Gallup poll released on March 27. — AFP

An Israeli army battle tank moves in an area along the border with the Gaza Strip and southern Israel. — AFP pic

An Israeli army battle tank moves in an area along the border with the Gaza Strip and southern Israel. — AFP pic

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