- Washington’s stated unconditional backing of Israel — politically, financially, and militarily — has been a longstanding pillar of its Middle East foreign policy.
- But that policy is costing the Biden administration politically, both domestically and internationally, observers say.
- Since Oct. 7, Israel’s military offensive has killed more than 16,200 people in Gaza, including more than 10,000 women and children, according to health authorities there.
The Biden administration’s steadfast support of Israel in its war against Hamas in Gaza has cost him tremendous political capital internationally, according to one high-profile geopolitical commentator.
Washington’s stated unconditional backing of Israel — politically, financially, and militarily — has been a longstanding pillar of its Middle East foreign policy.
When Israel suffered a brutal terrorist attack on Oct. 7 by the Palestinian militant group Hamas that killed some 1,200 people and took more than 240 hostages, Biden flew to the country in a show of solidarity, pledging billions of dollars in military support. The U.S. already provides Israel some $3.1 billion annually in military aid, making it the largest recipient of American foreign aid in the world.
But in the ensuing days and weeks, the enormous and disproportionate scale of Palestinian deaths in Gaza caused by Israeli airstrikes and ground offensive operations raised anger in many parts of the world at both Israel and Biden, particularly in the Global South. Protests in major cities, including across Europe and the U.S., in support of Palestinians and demanding a cease-fire have made global headlines.
During multiple United Nations General Assembly votes calling for cease-fires, Israel and the U.S. were often the only countries or among a very small minority voting “against.”
“Biden is probably as isolated on the global stage, given how close he is to Israel, closest ally of the United States on this issue, as the Russians were when they first invaded Ukraine, which is a shocking thing to say,” Ian Bremmer, CEO and founder of the Eurasia Group, told CNBC Tuesday. “But it shows just how challenging this war continuing is going to be for U.S. foreign policy.”
A picture taken from southern Israel near the border with the Gaza Strip on December 6, 2023, shows smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment in Gaza amid continuing battles between Israel and the militant group Hamas.
Jack Guez | Afp | Getty Images
Internationally, numerous leaders and human rights organizations have condemned the U.S. for its continued support of Israel. Biden and other members of his administration including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken have said that “far too many” Palestinians have died, and that the way Israel defends itself “matters.” They have helped broker hostage-for-prisoner swaps during a fragile week-long truce and urged the allowance of more aid into Gaza.
But the administration officials hold to the position that Israel “has the right to defend itself,” which critics see as continuing to give Israel carte blanche in its military operations.
A former Egyptian foreign affairs minister, Nabil Fahmy, said last month that the U.S. is “losing a tremendous amount of credibility in the Arab world.”
The “U.S. needs to take a serious look at its role. If it wants to support a stable world order based on rule of law, it has to demand everybody respect international law, whether friend or foe,” Fahmy, who served as minister between 2013 and 2014, told CNBC in an interview.
Since Oct. 7, more than 16,200 people have been killed in Gaza, including more than 10,000 women and children, according to Hamas-run health authorities there. Israel declared a siege of the already blockaded territory shortly after the Hamas attacks, cutting off all water, food and fuel to Gaza. Weeks later, the first aid trucks were able to enter the Strip, but the provisions that have made it in so far are woefully inadequate, according to the United Nations.
U.S. President Joe Biden is welcomed by Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu, as he visits Israel amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023.
Evelyn Hockstein | Reuters
The situation is also a problem for Biden domestically, Bremmer said.
“At home in the United States this is kind of a no-win situation for Biden, because he’s got a majority of Democrats that increasingly are aligned with the Palestinian position, while the Republicans are saying he’s too soft on Israel. And so, I mean, he just really wants this war to be over. He really wants it out of the headlines. And of course, that’s exactly what’s not happening right now.”
“In fact, the war on the ground in Gaza is now expanding,” Bremmer added. “The impact on Palestinian civilians is increasing, and the proxy war in the region, particularly the Houthis in Yemen, a proxy for Iran are engaging in their most significant attacks on commercial waterway traffic and on U.S. military vessels in the last 24 hours that we’ve seen since the war started. So this is really a problem from the perspective of the U.S. and this isn’t going to get better anytime soon.”
People use the lights on their telephones to search for victims amid the rubble of a smouldering building, following an Israeli strike in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on December 6, 2023.
Mahmud Hams | AFP | Getty Images
The White House did not immediately reply to a CNBC request for comment, but spokesperson previously told CNBC that “Israel has the right to defend itself in compliance with international law, including international humanitarian law, especially as Hamas terrorists have said that what happened on October 7th ‘will happen again and again and again’ until Israel is annihilated.”
The northern half of Gaza has been decimated, with Israeli forces now moving their ground offensive into the southern half of the enclave, after 1.1 million residents of the north evacuated south on the Israeli military’s orders. Palestinians in Gaza say they have “nowhere to go” to escape the bombings, and the World Health Organization warns that Gaza’s health system has collapsed and disease is spreading among the population.
Israel says it is not intentionally targeting civilians and that it gives warnings before it attacks certain areas. Its goals are to eliminate Hamas and its military capabilities and to ensure the return of all the hostages captured by the group during its October attack.