Dueling ‘Red Lines’

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Amid mounting concern of signs that President Joe Biden is beginning to soften his historic support for Israel and its mission to defeat Hamas in Gaza, the White House is explaining that the administration’s disagreements are with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and not the Israeli public.

And Biden himself has made clear that even though he called Israel’s plans to clear Hamas from its last stronghold in the Gaza city of Rafah a “red line” that Israel should not cross, he still pledged that “I am never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is
still critical.”

Pro-Israel supporters are concerned that in his State of the Union address, Biden sounded more animated about the humanitarian crisis in Gaza than over Israel’s ability to defeat Hamas. That concern was heightened when, in a post-SOTU interview, Biden issued his “red line” warning and asserted that Netanyahu’s war effort is “hurting Israel more than helping Israel” and Netanyahu’s actions are “contrary to what Israel stands for.”

Biden is clearly feeling pressure from his party’s progressive flank. He is also concerned about reports that a significant percentage of younger voters disagree with his pro-Israel policies. Biden cannot afford to lose those voters in what is anticipated to be a close matchup with former President Donald Trump in the November election. And he wants to avoid recurring pro-Palestinian protests at campaign events and the possibility of major disruptions at the Democratic National Convention in August.

All of that is understandable. But what about the realities on the ground in Gaza? Israel is at war with a mortal enemy that pledges to revisit its Oct. 7 brutality on Israel at every opportunity. Hamas, quite literally, wants to erase Israel “from the river to the sea.” So, how is Israel supposed to defeat Hamas if attacking the terror organization’s last stronghold in Rafah will be considered as crossing Biden’s “red line?”

There is another factor at play in this analysis: While Netanyahu is unpopular in Israel — and would likely lose his leadership position if elections were held now — his war cabinet’s plan to attack Hamas in Rafah is overwhelmingly supported by Israelis across the ideological spectrum.

According to a new Israel Democracy Institute survey, 64.5% of Israelis support an expansion of IDF operations into Rafah, while only 21% oppose it. And when narrowing the sample to Israeli Jews, 74% support entering Rafah, while 12% oppose it. That support prompted Netanyahu to double down on his promise to pursue Hamas in Rafah with a swipe at Biden: “You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is? That Oct. 7 doesn’t happen again. Never happens again.”

We understand the concern with the inevitable humanitarian consequences of the aggressive pursuit of Hamas in Rafah. Nonetheless, given the broad support within Israel for the pursuit of Hamas and its destruction — and the repeated refusal of Hamas to agree to negotiated terms of a hostage release and an extended cease-fire — it appears likely that Rafah will be invaded.

If that happens, while we trust that appropriate steps will be taken to minimize civilian casualties, we defer to the war cabinet to decide what is best for Israel. They know well the potential consequences of crossing a red line and must pursue a course that best serves the state of Israel.

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