As Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza escalates, the Biden administration finds itself in a precarious position: Administration officials say Israel’s counterattack against Hamas has been too severe, too costly in civilian casualties, and lacking a coherent endgame, but they are unable to exert significant influence on America’s closest ally in the Middle East to change its course.
U.S. efforts to get Israel to scale back its counterattack in response to the Oct. 7 killings by Hamas that left at least 1,400 Israelis dead have failed or fallen short. The Biden administration urged Israel against a ground invasion, privately asked it to consider proportionality in its attacks, advocated a higher priority on avoiding civilian deaths, and called for a humanitarian pause — only for Israeli officials to dismiss or reject all of those suggestions.
That has left the Biden administration urgently seeking to temper anger in the Arab world by making clear, publicly and privately, that the United States is deeply distressed by the suffering in Gaza, a densely populated land strip of more than 2 million people, about half of whom are children. But there is little indication that Arab leaders are moved by these assurances, leaving the shape of the Middle East after the war — and the U.S. role in it — highly uncertain.
“It’s important for the administration to be loud in their concern for the humanitarian toll,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “I understand they don’t want to open up any public space between the United States and Israel. But if we all want to prevent another front from opening up and we want the Gulf states to be part of the reconstruction of Gaza, then we need to make as clear as possible that the United States is prioritizing reduction in civilian harm.”
Murphy recently issued a public statement declaring the current rate of civilian deaths “unacceptable” and urging Israel to shift course. “The administration has been pressing really hard privately,” Murphy said. “And I think they’ve got to be even louder publicly in their concerns about the civilian cost, even while they support Israel’s ability to continue to perpetuate the war.” [Continue reading…]