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1. What Real Support Looks Like
The White House, on Monday night, was lit up in blue and white, “a symbol,” the White House said, “of the United States’ enduring support and solidarity with the people of Israel in the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks committed by Hamas.”
This powerful symbol topped three days of intense efforts by the Biden administration to show nothing but love and support to Israel.
In a well-coordinated campaign, the administration, from Biden down to working-level officials, engaged immediately with their Israeli counterparts. Hours after the horrific scenes from Southern Israel took over America’s weekend headlines, Israelis on all levels of government had already heard directly that the United States had their back.
It was more than a run-of-the-mill declaration of support to an ally under attack.
While including strong statements of support for Israel and extremely harsh words of condemnation to Hamas—as befitting the atrocities the terror group carried out—statements and comments by Biden and by members of his administration purposely avoided any mention of a need for calm, for restraint, or for a measured Israeli response to Hamas. America seemed to be giving Israel carte blanche to take any action it deems needed against Hamas in Gaza, in response to the attack.
In addition, the administration went out of its way to offer full military assistance and immediately began working on the list of munition needs that Israel passed along.
The most significant move, one hardly seen before, was the decision announced Monday to relocate USS Gerald Ford, a massive aircraft carrier, along with the vessels that accompany it, to the region. Administration officials made clear that there will be no American boots on the ground but at the same time, by deploying an aircraft carrier, they signaled that America means business. “We wanted to send a strong message that we don’t want this to broaden, and the idea is for Iran to get that message loud and clear,” said General Charles Brown, the newly appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Taken together, these actions and statements are exactly what Israel needs as it moves from grief and disbelief to stabilization and retaliation. Biden’s full and complete backing not only allows Israel to focus on the huge undertaking it is now facing without having to worry about international intervention, it also serves as a force multiplier. The Israeli threats to Hezbollah not to intervene and to Iran not to try and expand this conflict sound much more convincing when backed by the full military might and diplomatic support of the United States.
2. It’s More Than Policy, This One’s From the Heart
John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, is one of Washington’s most seasoned and experienced government spokespersons. But on Monday, during an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, he cracked. Asked about the horrible images coming from Israel, Kirby, facing the camera, struggled to choke down his tears.
This is a sense many Americans share these days. The cruelty of Hamas’s attack, the graphic images flooding social media, and the sheer unbelievable extent of the tragedy, left almost no one untouched.
Politicians and government officials have feelings too, and since Saturday, they are allowing these feelings to lead their way. It’s not only about emotional statements of support, it also means shaping policy based on this gut feeling of right and wrong.
This feeling, perhaps a moral compass, is now allowing the Biden administration to put aside its deep disagreements with Netanyahu and his government, in favor of full and unconditional cooperation and support as Israel begins to deal with Hamas.
3. How Green Is Biden’s Green Light?
The free hand given to Israel to take on Hamas will not last forever.
Biden supports Netanyahu’s goal of obliterating Hamas’s military power and hitting its ability to govern Gaza and is willing to allow significant leeway in achieving these goals.
But today’s rage over Hamas’s brutal attack will eventually make way for practical policy considerations. The further Israel goes with its attack—which is likely to also include a ground operation in Gaza—the more change we’ll see in the visuals coming from the region.
The Gaza Strip is dense and crowded with military facilities that are mixed into—sometimes hidden within—civilian neighborhoods. If Israel really intends to root out Hamas, it will likely come at a high cost for uninvolved civilians. So far, the Israeli move to impose a full siege on Gaza and to cut off fuel, power and water, has not drawn American criticism. But if the human toll becomes unacceptable by Western standards, the Biden administration will eventually step in and move to limit the intensity of Israel’s actions and push for a ceasefire.
4. For Many Americans, It’s Personal
As of Monday, the United States has confirmed that 11 American citizens have been killed in the Hamas attack and that others are missing and have likely been kidnapped into Gaza.
Dealing with the dozens of hostages taken by Hamas will shape the next phase of this conflict.
Heartbroken families of Israelis seen on Hamas video postings being carried into Gaza are already demanding action to get their loved ones back. Hamas terrorists were indiscriminate in grabbing Israeli civilians. Hostages include toddlers, women, elderly citizens and some who are wounded.
Netanyahu is in an almost impossible position here—secure the return of the hostages or go on an all-out attack in Gaza. It can’t be both. Indiscriminate attacks will endanger the kidnapped citizens. But bargaining their release would provide Hamas a lifeline.
The United States can help, since some of the kidnapped citizens are American.
Using both its diplomatic weight and its experience in dealing with citizens held overseas, America can provide Israel with expertise and with better access to international players, such as Egypt, Qatar or Turkey, who could possibly mediate a hostage release deal.
5. Next Moves
In Israel, the next days will be dominated by grief and mourning. It’s impossible to predict the effect such an unprecedented tragedy will have on Israeli society, where there’s hardly a household not impacted.
At the same time, war operations will begin to gain speed. Expect airstrikes to intensify, even before any ground operation takes place, and with this intensification, civilian casualties on the Gaza side are also bound to increase.
For the United States, the coming days will be used to ensure the flow of military equipment to Israel and to assess longer term needs regarding rocket interceptor replenishment, anti-missile defense systems, and intelligence sharing. It will also be a time for the Biden administration to gently start asking Israelis about their end goal and Israel’s strategy moving forward.
In Congress, this week will be a time for introducing resolutions supporting Israel and for figuring out how a dysfunctional House of Representatives can approve an additional aid package.
The last angle to watch is American public opinion.
Support for Israel is overwhelming, even when some pro-Palestinian activists on the margin try to put the blame on Israel. But as we move further from Saturday’s events, expect these voices to become more audible, especially on college campuses.
Opening image credit: White House via Instagram