On Israel and the anti-Israel bigots, Joe Biden has miscalculated

Ben Clerkin analyses Biden’s choices


Smoke billows over buildings following Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on March 27, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP) (Photo by SAID KHATIB/AFP via Getty Images)

Joe Biden believes that withholding arms shipments to the IDF if Israel assaults Rafah will limit civilian casualties.

In fact, the move to restrict weapons is only likely to increase the risks to civilians, John Spencer, Chair of Urban Warfare at West Point military academy tells me.

The president said to CNN last week that if Israel goes into Rafah, “I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem.”

Biden has already paused a military aid package that included 2,000 pound and 500 pound bombs.

Spencer tells me that it is wrong to think that stopping the supply of such bombs would cause less devastation.

“A major fallacy in modern urban warfare is that air bombing causes more casualties,” he said. “Defenders always have the advantage because the attacker doesn’t know where they are. The attacker has to get real close.

“There will be a bloody battle over what building the defender is in, there will be a fight to get to that building, and the defender may be using civilians as human shields. There could easily be more civilian deaths with a land rather than air attack.”

He says potentially withdrawing arms from Israel would have no impact on Gaza – but may leave the northern border with Lebanon exposed.

“Objectively it will have zero impact on Israel’s ability to destroy Hamas in Gaza,” he said. “But could impact Israel’s ability to defend itself against Hezbollah on the northern border.

“The 2,000 pound bombs are used to destroy tunnels. The enemy Israel faces today in Gaza is in less populated areas, not tunnels. But they would be critical in southern Lebanon, which is called the Land of Tunnels. They’ll need the JDAMS and they’ll need even bigger than the 2,000 bombs. These US weapons in general will be vital to resist an invasion by Hezbollah.

“The US has been clear that it stands with Israel and will take measures to protect Israel. But threatening to stop supplying arms is a massive political signal to Hamas, they continue to hold out hope that the US and the world will stop Israel finishing them off.”

The policy has also been criticised by Republicans for increasing the likelihood of civilian deaths.

“On the one hand, they’re saying too many Palestinian civilians have been killed. With the other hand, they’re depriving us of the precision guided weapons that actually cut down on civilian casualties,” according to Republican Senator JD Vance of Ohio.

“So if you’re worried about Palestinian casualties, the stated policy here actually doesn’t make a ton of sense,” he added.

Spencer’s intervention comes as Republicans seek to force the Biden administration to deliver the arms package.

The House will vote on the Israel Security Assistance Support Act. The bill would prohibit the administration from withholding military aid to Israel passed by Congress.

Any weapons currently being withheld would have to be shipped within 15 days. As an enforcement mechanism, the bill would restrict funds for the Pentagon and State Department — including the salaries of individual officials — until the agencies comply.

The plan is likely to divide Democrats. Biden has faced increasing pressure from within his own party to stop weapons sales to Israel in recent weeks.

But 26 House Democrats last week signed a letter saying they were “deeply concerned about the message the Administration is sending to Hamas” by withholding the arms.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said: “If Israel launches this major military operation to Rafah, then there’s certain systems that we’re not going to be supporting and supplying for that operation.

“At present, the only thing that we’ve delayed and are holding back are these high payload bombs,” he said.

Another miscalculation

Biden may have also miscalculated if he thinks that taking a harder line on Israel will win him votes with college students.

A poll of 1,250 students found that a majority oppose the protest tactics, with 67 per cents saying occupying campus buildings is unacceptable and 58 per cent saying it’s not acceptable to refuse a university’s order to disperse.

A large majority – 81 per cent – of students say protesters should be held accountable, and that those who destroyed property, vandalised or illegally occupied buildings should be held responsible by their university.

While 34 per cent blame Hamas for the war in Gaza, 19 per cent blame Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the survey for Generation Lab found.

Students ranked the conflict in the Middle East as the least important issue facing them out of nine options. It was behind health care reform, racial justice and civil rights, economic fairness and opportunity, education funding and access, and climate change.

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