Israel finally goes too far


During my White House doorstep last month, President Biden told me he had “made very clear to the Israelis what they have to do in the near term” concerning Gaza — and “if they don't, what's going to happen.”

We now know some of what he had in mind. On Monday, the White House admitted it has “paused” a shipment of heavy ammunition bound for Israel, including nearly two thousand 2,000-pound bombs. (That’s the kind of weapon that Israel has used to slaughter civilians since Oct. 7, such as in a deadly strike at the Jabalyia refugee camp.) Yesterday, the president confirmed his aim: He is belatedly trying to use his leverage to stop what his aides are calling a “major ground operation” in Rafah — the southernmost city in Gaza and the last refuge of over 1.3 million Palestinians, most of whom have fled the killing of some 34,000 of their neighbors, friends, and children on the rest of the strip.

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“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a result of those bombs and other ways they go after population centers,” Biden told CNN. “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah, I'm not supplying the weapons.”

My first reaction to hearing this news was to doubt its sincerity. Biden may be the most ideologically Zionist president in U.S. history. He just signed a bill appropriating an additional $26 billion in weaponry for Israel after months and months of uncountable horrors. That is probably in gross violation of U.S. law, as should have been affirmed by a mandated State Department report on Israeli violations of U.S. and international humanitarian law that was due Wednesday, but whose delivery has been conveniently delayed. And Israel is still slated to get billions of dollars worth of bombs, tank rounds, mortars, and armored tactical vehicles, even without the halted shipment, Reuters reported today.

Further, as red lines go, “major ground offensive” is the kind of wide-open diplomatese you can fire a JDAM through. What constitutes “major” in American eyes, watching from a command center in Tel Aviv or the Pentagon, is very different from the perspective of a Palestinian family cowering tonight in a tent camp, or fleeing under Israeli orders to places like the barren “expanded humanitarian area” of Al-Mawasi. Biden underscored the vagueness of his terms by telling CNN that, in his view, the Israelis hadn’t “gone into Rafah yet” — ignoring (or not) the fact that Israel has been bombing the city for days, rolled in tanks, and seized control of the lone border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, blocking even more aid and worsening an already full-blown famine.

But something really is going on here. You can tell in part by the conniption fit being thrown by Israel’s leaders, lobbyists, and the media. (“We’re in a plonterin the face of Biden’s threats,” said Yediot Ahronot, using Yiddish slang for getting tangled in knots. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir tweeted: “Hamas ❤️ Biden.”) Bibi Netanyahu upped the histrionics, claiming — and I am not making this up — that Israelis are willing to fight with their “fingernails” for want of American bombs. The prime minister also referenced a fictitious (but widely believed) myth of Israel’s founding:

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