Israelis Praise Biden Visit but Fear U.S. Constraints on Action


In the wake of a visit by President Biden, Israelis on Thursday praised his courage in coming at a time of war and for his full-throated support, as he pledged “we will not let you ever be alone” after attacks from Hamas killed at least 1,400 Israelis.

But while the words were welcome, there was also concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, badly damaged by his failure to protect Israelis, had given Mr. Biden too much influence over how Israel should now fight its war in Gaza against Hamas, the group that controls the enclave.

Mr. Biden embraced Israel, but also cautioned it not to overreach to its detriment in the region — and implicitly, to the detriment of the United States. He even attended a war cabinet to be briefed on Israel’s plans, as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken did before him.

This degree of consultation is rare, if not unprecedented, even in a relationship this close, Israeli analysts said. If it has potential benefits for Mr. Netanyahu, it also carries risks. It may give him political cover for an extended war, but it may also constrain how he conducts it.

Alternatively, Washington could be seen as a collaborator if Israel is blamed for going too far.

“The late Ariel Sharon was in the habit of saying, ‘We will defend ourselves, by ourselves,’” wrote Nadav Eyal, an Israeli analyst, in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. “These are not the values that Netanyahu has been projecting in the last few days. He seems to yearn to be the United States’ 51st state. This comes with a price, symbolic as well as practical.”

His concern was underscored by Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s most respected commentators. Mr. Biden made it clear that the United States will not forsake Israel, but won’t allow it to do as it pleases, he wrote in Yedioth. The rules of the game have been that “Israel does not share its military plans with the U.S. Advance notice, yes; consideration, yes; asking permission, no,” he wrote.

Mr. Netanyahu has instead “brought the Americans into the decision-making process in the security cabinet and the emergency cabinet,” Mr. Barnea wrote. “That means that Biden will be held responsible for anything that Israel does in Gaza. That obliges him and obliges us.”

This criticism was even more sharply expressed by more right-wing analysts who have supported the government in the past. Nechama Duek, writing in Israel Hayom, said that Mr. Biden has spoken softly and empathically, “but with his words, he has bound and shackled Netanyahu and his government.”


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