How Biden Can Stop Netanyahu

Robert Reich / Substack
How Biden Can Stop Netanyahu Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich. (photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star)

The case for restricting U.S. arms sales to Israel


Yesterday, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. The resolution passed with 14 votes in favor; the United States abstained.

Israel immediately criticized the United States for allowing the resolution to pass. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the U.S. abstention “harms the war effort as well as the effort to liberate the hostages.” Then, in a direct public rebuke to President Biden, Netanyahu scrapped the high-level talks in Washington on Israel’s planned attack on Rafah that Biden had requested.

Biden has warned that an Israeli attack on Rafah — a city in the southern border of Gaza now inhabited by 1.4 million people and the last relatively safe haven for Palestinian civilians — would cross a “red line.” Netanyahu says he intends to press ahead with the attack nevertheless. “We’ll go there. We’re not going to leave them. You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is? That October 7 doesn’t happen again. Never happens again.”

What’s Biden’s leverage to prevent Netanyahu from crossing Biden’s red line and attacking Rafah? More broadly, what’s Biden’s leverage to get Netanyahu to stop the killings of civilians in Gaza?

Just this. The United States is by far the largest supplier of military aid to Israel. In 2022, the aid amounted to $3.3 billion. Since the war with Hamas began, the Biden administration has pushed Congress to pass $14 billion in additional aid (the funding has been stalled, mainly for reasons unrelated to the war).

Between October and around December 1, 2023, the United States also transferred about 15,000 bombs and 57,000 artillery shells to Israel. From December 1 to now, those total transfers have increased by about 15 percent.

Israel has depleted much of its munitions and needs further American shipments. The U.S. government is now working to approve new arms orders and has accelerated orders that were in the pipeline before the war began.

Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, who met yesterday with Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III, reportedly pressed for expedited approval of requests for F-15 fighter jets worth billions of dollars and for a large batch of GPS-guided munitions kits.

Why should the U.S. provide more military aid to Israel, especially if Israel defies Biden and attacks Rafah?

Biden issued a memorandum in February laying out standards of compliance for all countries receiving U.S. weapons, including adhering to international humanitarian rules of law. Israel has not adhered to those rules.

Arguably, Israel is also violating a section of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which bars the United States from providing arms or other aid to a country that “prohibits or otherwise restricts, directly or indirectly, the transport or delivery of United States humanitarian assistance.”

(The law does not stop the U.S. government providing defensive supplies to a country violating the law, such as interceptor missiles for Israel’s Iron Dome. Indeed, Biden has explicitly said his “red line” won’t stop the export of antimissile interceptors to Israel.)

If Biden were to stop providing offensive military aid to Israel, Israel would have to choose between continuing its current military campaign in Gaza or saving munitions to ward off other hostile forces, particularly Hezbollah and Iran.

Israel would be under huge pressure to find an alternative to its present course.

New York Times columnist David Brooks argues against the United States forcing Israel’s hand this way. “If the current Israeli military approach is inhumane,” he asks, “what’s the alternative? Is there a better military strategy Israel can use to defeat Hamas without a civilian blood bath?”

Brooks points out that Hamas is hiding in underground tunnels to maximize the number of Palestinians who die above ground — and thereby “build international pressure to force Israel to end the war before Hamas is wiped out.” Yet, Brooks claims, Israel has no realistic alternative but to continue the bombing, along with its attendant civilian suffering and deaths.

I’m no expert in the subtleties of warfare between Israel and Hamas, but I’m far from sure Israel has no alternative to killing and starving thousands more innocent civilians in Gaza, in order to wipe out Hamas — even if wiping out Hamas were a realistic goal.

But don’t just take my word for it. Yesterday, in his meeting with Israeli Defense Minister Gallant, Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that “alternatives exist” to a major invasion of Rafah that would both better ensure Israel’s security and protect Palestinian civilians.

The deeper question is why it should be America’s responsibility — strategically or morally — to find such an alternative. It’s not. It’s Israel’s responsibility.

Don’t get me wrong. Israel is one of America’s closest allies. Many Americans believe Israel must do everything in its power to eliminate Hamas.

Even if you believe this, though, it doesn’t follow that the United States must continue to supply Israel with weapons for maintaining its strategy of death and destruction in Gaza — especially when Israel’s leadership refuses to listen to America and is actively defying our president. This is particularly true if Israel attacks Rafah, thereby crossing Biden’s “red line.”

In supplying more military aid, we are in effect relieving Israel of any strategic or moral responsibility to find an alternative to the horrific course it’s on.

Not only does this make us complicit in Israel’s failure to find an alternative. It makes us complicit in the bloodbath itself.

EXPLORE THE DISQUS SETTINGS: Up at the top right of the comments section your name appears in red with a black down arrow that opens to a menu. Explore the options especially under Your Profile and Edit Settings. On the Edit Settings page note the selections on the left side that allow you to control email and other notifications. Under Profile you can select a picture or other graphic for your account, whatever you like. COMMENT MODERATION: RSN is not blocking your comments, but Disqus might be. If you have problems use our CONTACT PAGE and let us know. You can also Flag comments that are seriously problematic.

rsn / send to friend

form code