Creating new perspectives since 2009

Quibbling about killing: Netanyahu’s spat with Washington

June 22, 2024 at 2:29 pm

US President Joe Biden (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [DEBBIE HILL/AFP/Getty Images]

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unhappy. Not so much with the Palestinians, whom he sees as terroristic, dispensable and a threat to Israeli security. Nor with the Iranians, who he swears will never acquire a nuclear weapon capacity on his watch. His recent discontent has been directed against the fatty hand that feeds him and his country’s war-making capabilities.

On 18 June, the Israeli PM released a video decrying Washington’s recent conduct towards his government in terms of military aid. It was: “Inconceivable that in the past few months, the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel.” Having claimed such an idea to be “inconceivable”, Netanyahu proceeded to conceive. He stated that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had “assured” him: “That the administration is working day and night to remove these bottlenecks. I certainly hope that’s the case. It should be the case.”

The release coincided with efforts by US President Joe Biden’s Envoy Amos Hochstein to cool matters concerning Israel-Hezbollah hostilities, a matter threatening to move beyond daily border skirmishes. It was also a pointed reference to the halt in a single shipment of 2,000-pound (900 kg) bombs to Israel regarding concerns about massive civilian casualties over any planned Israel Defense Forces assault on Rafah.

OPINION: Diamonds and coal dust: Slaughter at Nuseirat

The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was uncharacteristically unadorned in frankness: “We genuinely do not know what he is talking about.” Discussions between US and Israeli officials were continuing. “There are no other pauses – none.” It fell to the White House National Security Communications adviser John Kirby to field more substantive questions on the matter.

On 20 June, Kirby admitted to being perplexed and disappointed by Netanyahu’s remarks: “Especially given that no other country is doing more to help Israel defend itself against the threat by Hamas.” As he was at pains to point out, the US military-industrial complex had enthusiastically furnished “material assistance to Israel” despite the pause on the provision of 2,000-pound bombs. The notion: “That we had somehow stopped helping Israel with their self-defence needs is absolutely not accurate.” Netanyahu, in other words, was quibbling about the means of inflicting death, a matter of form over substance.

Blinken confirmed as much, stating that the administration was: “Continuing to review one shipment that President Biden has talked about with regard to 2000-pound bombs because of our concerns about their use in densely populated areas like Rafah.” Everything else was: “Moving as it normally would move.”

These remarks are unequivocally true. Annual military assistance to Israel from US coffers totals $3.8 billion. In April, President Biden approved the provision of $17 billion in additional assistance to Israel amidst the continued pummelling of Gaza and the starvation of its thinning population. The Biden administration has also badgered Democratic lawmakers to give their blessing to the sale of 50 F-15 fighters to Israel in a contract amounting to $18 billion. But this, according to accounts from Israel’s Channel 12 and German newspaper Bild, has been less than satisfactory for Israel’s blood-lusting prime minister.

READ: US magazine: ‘Hamas is winning’

The disgruntled video precipitated much agitation among officials in the Biden administration. In an Axios report, three, inevitably anonymised, offer their views. One found it “hard to fathom” how the video: “Helps with deterrence. There is nothing like telling Hezbollah that the US is withholding weapons from Israel, which is false, to make them feel emboldened.”

The interviewed officials all admitted to Netanyahu’s inscrutability. A half-plausible line was ventured: running up points on the domestic front ahead of a visit to Washington from Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant. Not that the strategy was working for opposition leader Yair Lapid, who found Netanyahu’s effort damaging in its reverberating potential. From Moscow to Tokyo: “Everyone is reaching the same conclusion: Israel is no longer the closest ally of the US. This is the damage Netanyahu is causing us.”

Kirby’s remarks deserve scrutiny on another level. For one, they suggest a rationale that would have done much in flattening Israeli egos: “The president put fighter aircraft up in the air in the middle of April to help shoot down several hundred drones and missiles, including ballistic missiles that were fired from Iran proper at Israel.”

Here arises an important omission: the intervention by the US was part of a coordinated, choreographed plan enabling Iran to show force in response to the 1 April Israeli strike on its ambassadorial compound in Damascus while minimising the prospect of casualties. Accordingly, Tehran and Washington found themselves in an odd, unacknowledged embrace with one unintended consequence: revealing Israeli vulnerability. No longer could Israel be seen as self-sufficiently impregnable, its defences firmly holding against all adversaries. In a perverse twist on that dilemma, a strong ally providing support is bound to be resented. Nothing supplied will ever, or could ever, be enough.

OPINION: Fractious arenas: Netanyahu dissolves his war cabinet

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.