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Biden and Israeli war cabinet go public over disagreement in Gaza war

Biden and Israeli war cabinet go public over disagreement in Gaza war
Biden and Israeli war cabinet go public over disagreement in Gaza war | Ian Bremmer | Quick Take

Ian Bremmer's Quick Take: Hi everybody, and a happy Monday to you. A Quick Take to kick off your week, and it is still the war in the Middle East that is capturing my and so many of our attention. It's an increasingly public fight between the Biden administration and the Israeli war cabinet, particularly Biden and Netanyahu, becoming more public. It's not new, it just had been very private, the fact that there are large disagreements about how this war should be fought.

The Biden administration, the President himself saying the Palestinian Authority needs to have a direct role in any security of Gaza going forward. Netanyahu saying that he absolutely opposes such a role, not suggesting who else might play one. I suspect he wants it to be Egypt, though the Egyptians are saying, "Absolutely not." The Americans saying that Israel needs to move to a new, less intense phase of fighting, especially as the Israelis are now saying it's not just another month, but months more of fighting. The Israelis not directly opposing that publicly, but certainly not admitting to it. And in fact, the focus has continued to be, "Whatever it takes," to ensure that Hamas is completely destroyed. They will make that determination, I'm sure there will be a lot of judgment and gray zone in terms of when that might happen, but we don't yet see the Israeli government talking about a new phase.

Now privately, they were telling Biden they learned a lot from mistakes that they made, and lessons in the attacks initially, the bombing campaigns in the north of Gaza, and that that would lead to more restraint in the later fighting. Well, that certainly isn't what the Americans have been seeing. That was a message sent by the National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, when he saw the Israeli government over the last seventy-two hours, also, what we're seeing today from the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in his trip.

It's getting harder given the latest killings, both the continued deaths of Palestinian civilians on the ground, as well as the massive domestic outcry in Israel because of three Israeli civilians who were shot by the Israeli Defense Forces and killed. They had stripped down, they were flying white flags. The IDF has publicly admitted to this tragedy. They have said that there is absolutely no excuse for it, even though the conditions of fighting are very stressful. And of course, if that's what they're saying about the Israeli hostages, what are they not saying about the Palestinian civilians?

So clearly this is leading to more international outcry against the Israeli fighting, and you are seeing more calls for ceasefire, including most recently, even from the United Kingdom, which had been as close to the US position as any major advanced industrial democracy. Now, calling for a ceasefire, they're not calling for an immediate ceasefire, instead calling for a sustainable one. And the one thing I would say is that for everyone out there that's calling for a ceasefire, they are calling at the same time for all of the remaining hostages to be released, which Israel and the United States do not support. They support the hostages being released, but not in return for a ceasefire. But it's not as if Hamas is saying, "Okay, let's talk about this," they're not. And absent a willingness to release those hostages, then the calls to end the fighting are themselves presumably not meant to hold. It's not like either side can pick and then the other side doesn't have to do anything. So there is that, and people are losing that in the headlines to a degree.

Meanwhile, in the United States, we're seeing a lot more domestic opposition to Biden's policies. And this is specifically, and quite worryingly, from young people in the United States. The latest survey that I saw, which was startling to me, that a majority of Generation Z in the US respondents believed that the October 7th attacks against the Israeli, the Jewish population, were justified. And that's startling. I'm not surprised to see that among Palestinians in Gaza in the West Bank, but I am surprised to see that among young people in the US. And this goes to show just how badly broken the information environment in the United States has become. How divided, and both sides are not listening to each other, not engaging with each other, also helps to show why we've had so much discord and backlash against that discord in American university campuses, and how the presidents of Harvard and Penn and MIT could be so badly in a bubble and advised by their lawyers on one side of this conflict in front of Congress, as opposed to understanding emotionally where much of the rest of the country and certainly the questions in Congress were coming from.

So big challenges here, it's not going to get any better, especially because the Israeli people still overwhelmingly support this war. And the Palestinians increasingly support Hamas. And in fact, the most recent surveys that were taken during the few days where there was a ceasefire on the ground in Gaza now show that a majority of Palestinians in Gaza support Hamas, and over 80% of Palestinians in the West Bank, who of course haven't suffered personally from Hamas's behavior in the way that Palestinians in Gaza have, they support Hamas as well. So what we're seeing is not only are we farther away from a two-state solution, but we also are a generation away from having people that can sit down in a room together and see each other's humanity. So that's a really depressing backdrop for what continues to be a very serious fight.

A couple points here, one is I think it's very important for the US multilaterally with all of its allies, including Gulf states in the region, to push hard against Hezbollah, push hard against the Iranians, to do everything possible so that this war does not continue to expand. We already see that shipping companies are pulling their shipping from the Red Sea, going around the Cape of Good Hope instead. That's a hell of a lot longer, a lot more expensive, but it's because the Houthis in Yemen supported by Iran continue to engage in attacks on those ships. Ostensibly shipping connected to Israel, reality not so much, just blowing up ships or attempting to going through the Red Sea. So that's something we really need to see stop, a potential for Hezbollah to be involved in the fight, something you need as much pressure on as possible.

I'd also say that the Americans, and Biden in particular, needs to engage in pressure against Netanyahu. The US is the vastly more powerful country and should be driving more influence in outcomes here, especially given the fact that it supports Israel with almost $4 billion of military aid every year. But you wouldn't think that from the comments that Netanyahu continues to make. Now, I remember when the Israeli prime minister back in 2015 opposed a US policy, at that point it was Obama's policy, but Biden was vice president, for the JCPOA, the Iranian nuclear deal. And rather than try to engage quietly with the Americans as a good ally would, no Netanyahu went to Washington and publicly addressed the House and Senate to torpedo that deal and did everything he could to undermine the American president's policy. That's not what an ally does.

And the US is allied to Israel, but it's not allied to Netanyahu. And that's where if I were advising Biden directly on this, I would be telling him, "You go to Israel and meet with the families of the hostages. You give interviews to Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post, you go and talk to the Knesset, and you make it very clear that while the United States is the best friend, the only major friend that the Israelis have on the global stage right now, that is not true of the Israeli prime minister who is doing everything possible to damage Israel's long-term ability to defend itself in alignment with other countries around the world." And by the way, all of this talk about Israel facing existential threat, it doesn't face an existential threat. And the reason for that has been American support, has been the incredible defense and military and technological establishment. Israel has 100-plus nuclear weapons. They have incredible military capabilities, vastly asymmetrical and outgunning everybody else in the region. Israel also has more sustainable and stable relations with other major militaries in the region. The Emiratis, for example, increasingly the Saudis, though quietly, Egypt, Jordan. What they don't have, of course, is sustainable relations with those that want to wipe them out. And here we're talking about Iran, and Hamas, and Hezbollah, and the Houthis, and militant groups supported by Iran in Iraq and Syria. And those things are absolutely serious, but they're not existential. And those that claim they're existential are also frequently the same people that say Israel is the best long-term bet for pension funds and investors in the world. So can both of those things be true at the same time? Of course not. Which is really true? Well, it depends on the political audience you're talking to, isn't it?

But at the end of the day, what we need is stability in this region. What we need is the United States aligned with a longer-term sustainable Israeli government and other democracies in the world, as well as stable Gulf Arab monarchies. We're very far from that, and frankly, we're getting further every day. That's disturbing. And in part it's because Biden's been a bit of a weenie publicly when he's not engaging with Netanyahu.

So those are my views, unexpurgated, as you always expect from me. I hope everyone's doing well, and I'll talk to you all real soon.


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