Even before he departed Washington on Tuesday evening, President Joe Biden’s mission to control Israel’s showdown with Hamas had been overrun by rapidly worsening events that threaten to spill over into a regional war.
The second phase of Biden’s trip was cancelled by Jordan after a bombing at a hospital in Gaza killed hundreds of people. He was supposed to meet with prominent Arab and Palestinian leaders in Amman after his trip to Israel.
The tragedy exemplified the grave dangers of a presidential visit during a time of rapidly unfolding events and in a war zone; Hamas blamed Israel, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government pointed the finger at another Palestinian terrorist group, Islamic Jihad.
While Biden is risking his safety and political standing by coming here, staying at home would have been a much more perilous proposition.
Following the brutality of Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians, which killed over 1,400 people, and the pounding of the Gaza Strip by Israeli forces in response, which killed over 3,000 people, according to authorities on both sides, the president arrived in Israel on Wednesday as the Middle East teetered on the brink of a disastrous wider war. Protests broke out across the West Bank, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, and Tunisia after the hospital in Gaza was bombed, with indignation over Israel’s response to the Hamas attack reaching a fresh peak before Biden’s visit.
Biden hopes that a presidential visit, along with the deployment of two aircraft carrier battlegroups, will demonstrate US power and deter Israel’s enemies. He showed his support for Israel during a difficult time for the Jewish state and worked to improve the lives of Palestinians besieged in Gaza as Israel continued to launch airstrikes against Hamas.
The American people share your sorrow. And Americans are concerned,” Biden told Netanyahu at the outset of their bilateral meeting. To paraphrase, “Because we know this is not an easy field to navigate, what you have to do.”
After years of US presidents avoiding the supposedly intractable Israeli-Palestinian issue, his mission constitutes the most aggressive participation by a president in Middle East crisis diplomacy in many years. It comes at a time when Biden is already intimately involved in another simmering global crisis with tremendous implications: Ukraine’s fight against a Russian invasion that threatens to wipe the country off the map. The potential for failure makes Biden’s visit risky, as does any big presidential action in a turbulent world, which could hurt his domestic political position.
A lack of political or diplomatic discourse guarantees violence, so Biden must step in. Furthermore, the terrible cycle of escalation and revenge that fuels radicalism and future bloodshed can be seen throughout the history of the devastated region. At a time when war and authoritarianism are posing a threat to the Western order and democracy, the world cannot afford to see the Middle East devoured by flames once again.
In this time of high tension, the United States is a decisive actor, both because of its commitment to Israel’s defence and because of its own essential interests in keeping the crisis under control. The United States might be dragged into a bigger battle involving the Jewish state, creating a nightmare scenario for Biden politically and for the United States as a whole. When lives are on the line, absentee leadership is not an option, even if Biden has little say over what happens next due to factors beyond his control, such as the actions of Hamas, Israel, and other regional powers.
When asked to assess the dangers that Vice President Biden is taking, AWN senior political analyst David Axelrod advised him on Tuesday’s “AWN This Morning” to “get deeper in” because “the more you get in, the more you are a co-author of the story,” Axelrod said.
Since he plays such a pivotal role, it is expected of him to act accordingly. The President’s participation at this time is significant because it demonstrates the sincerity of our support and our concerns.
The trip could not have worse timing for Biden.
The bombing of a hospital on Tuesday, where Palestinians were being treated, made an already dangerous mission even more so for Vice President Biden. It was precisely the kind of tragedy that Biden had sought to avert by visiting the region, with the potential to trigger widespread upheaval.
According to Hamas, Israeli forces stormed the medical facility, murdering 200-300 Palestinians. However, the IDF said that intelligence indicated that the strike was caused by a series of miss-fired rockets launched by the Islamic Jihad group.
Israel has given the United States information it has obtained about the tragic Gaza hospital explosion, according to AWN’s Oren Liebermann and Zachary Cohen, who spoke with an Israeli official and another source acquainted with the matter on Tuesday. According to the familiar source, at least some lawmakers have been informed by Biden administration officials that the United States is analysing Israeli intelligence.
No matter what the verified cause was, the effect was the same: the deaths of more innocent civilians in a vicious cycle of violence that threatens to spiral out of control. Therefore, it is up to Vice President Biden to try to rein in the escalating crisis by employing American might.
The president’s journey to Jordan was called off after the hospital bomb, and he was already en route to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. King Abdullah of Jordan, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had all been scheduled to meet with him.
Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, remarked on Al Jazeera Arabic, “there is no benefit to anyone in holding a summit at this time.”
There was a period of sorrow after the hospital explosion, according to a statement released by the White House, which explained why the visit had been postponed but offered no speculation as to what caused the incident. The president “expressed his deepest condolences for the innocent lives lost” and “wished a speedy recovery to the wounded,” according to the statement.
Without being able to hear the concerns of Arab leaders about the terrible humanitarian conditions faced by Palestinians under Israeli bombardment, Biden runs the risk of being seen as siding with Israel in the region due to the cancellation of the Jordan leg of the trip.
In an apparent fruitless effort to facilitate the exit of Gazans holding U.S. and other foreign passports, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior American officials spent days trying to open the crossing between Gaza and Egypt. On the Egyptian side of the border, a stockpile of aid goods has been steadily growing.
Netanyahu’s administration has cut off water and basic supplies for the Gaza Strip, saying they won’t reopen the crossings until Hamas releases hundreds of detainees they’re holding hostage. If Biden can’t get humanitarian concessions from the Israelis, he’ll lose credibility with Arab leaders. The president of the United States is not motivated purely by morality in his pursuit of his objectives. The rising human cost of Israel’s attacks against Hamas targets in Gaza risks being overshadowed by a global outpouring of sympathy for Israel. Israeli rivals like Hezbollah are more inclined to launch revenge assaults after seeing footage of dead and injured Palestinian civilians, which increases the likelihood of a severe reaction and the war spreading into Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the pressure on Arab leaders from their own populations intensifies as anger over Israel’s policies increases the likelihood of street violence. Following the explosion at the hospital in Gaza, violence has already broken out in Ramallah, the West Bank capital of the Palestinian Authority. Biden’s ability to rein in Israel’s battle with Hamas may be the only thing standing between the United States and the collapse of a regional peace plan that seeks to normalise relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia and has the potential to transform the Middle East and isolate Iran. However, US diplomacy also desperately needs its reputation restored in the Middle East after spending years attempting to remove itself from the region, its post-9/11 conflicts, and a prolonged period in which successive American administrations all but disregarded the misery of the Palestinians.