Commentary on Political Economy

Sunday 10 March 2024



Biden Draws an Odd ‘Red Line’ for Israel


“It is a red line, but I am never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical. So there is no red line I am going to cut off all weapons, so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them,” Mr. Biden said on MSNBC. “But there’s red lines that if he crosses,” without finishing his train of thought, before adding “you cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead.”

As is often the case, it’s hard to tell what Mr. Biden means. He wants fewer civilian casualties in Gaza, but so does Israel since the diplomatic consequences fall on the Jewish state, not on Hamas. That’s why Israel has held off on its Rafah campaign until it can put together a plan to let civilians find refuge to the city’s north.

The best way to protect civilians would be for Egypt to let them cross the border into Sinai until the fighting stops. But Mr. Biden hasn’t been willing to lean on Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, despite some $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid to Cairo.


Israel can’t avoid a Rafah campaign if it wants to achieve its war aim of destroying Hamas. Surely Mr. Biden knows this. The U.S. didn’t let ISIS retain its stronghold in Mosul in Iraq, and the siege of that city also had unintended civilian casualties.

Mr. Biden and the White House are also letting everyone know they’re especially unhappy with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Biden was overheard saying after his State of the Union speech that Mr. Netanyahu needs a “come to Jesus moment” with the U.S. President. Mr. Netanyahu should bring his whole war cabinet. As our Elliot Kaufman reports from Israel (see nearby), Mr. Netanyahu’s domestic political opponents also want to clear Hamas from Rafah.

Mr. Biden’s vocal criticism of Israel can’t be separated from his desire to appease his party’s increasingly insistent anti-Israel wing. He wants to avoid a protest spectacle at the Democratic convention in August, and he’s worried about losing Michigan as young people and Arab-Americans defect. It sounds like his Israel policy increasingly runs through Dearborn, Mich.

This also explains the urgent efforts to negotiate a cease-fire and hostage swap that Israel keeps accepting but Hamas rejects. Mr. Biden’s new proposal to have U.S. troops build an offshore pier to deliver aid to Gaza is also in part a U.S. domestic political play.

There are costs to this Dearborn strategy toward Israel—not least its message to Hamas and its backers in Iran that their strategy of putting civilians in harm’s way is working politically. Why agree to a hostage swap if their current strategy is driving a wedge between Israel and the U.S.?

Mr. Biden’s red-line threats don’t help Israel or his political standing at home. The best way he can help himself politically is to let Israel win the war as rapidly as possible.

Journal Editorial Report: With one big speech, the president launches his reelection campaign. Images: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly


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Appeared in the March 11, 2024, print edition as 'Biden Draws a ‘Red Line’ for Israel'.

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