Ann Arbor (Informed Comment) – On Tuesday, President Joe Biden de facto accused Israel of war crimes in Gaza. He said at a donor event, “Israel’s security can rest on the United States, but right now it has more than the United States. It has the European Union, it has Europe, it has most of the world supporting them.” He added, “They’re starting to lose that support by indiscriminate bombing that takes place.”
Observers were puzzled as to why Biden would hit out at the Israeli government so forcefully after he had allowed no daylight between it and his own position in public for weeks. Haaretz reports that Biden is sending National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to Israel, and speculates that Washington wants the war on Gaza wrapped up by the New Year.
These are only rumors, but it would make sense that the Biden team want to kick off the presidential campaign in January without the messy baggage of an ongoing series of war crimes that they have to support in public. Many Dems in Congress are furious with Biden for letting the carnage continue so long, and 80% of Democrats want a ceasefire, with over 60% opposed to Israel’s conduct of the war.
Robert Tait at The Guardian reports that the Israelis showed Secretary of State Antony Blinken plans for several more months of fighting, and he snapped, “You don’t have that much credit.”
Netanyahu, in contrast, Amir Tibon argues, would like to prolong the war for many months, perhaps a year, because he knows that the day the campaign ends, his government will likely fall and he’ll be a civilian facing corruption charges in court that could result in jail time.
So I think Biden is letting Netanyahu know that if this thing goes on too long, past the first of the year, he is willing to start playing hardball and to shift from full support of Tel Aviv to charges of war crimes.
Biden understated the case. The indiscriminate bombing has alienated almost everyone. At the UN General Assembly vote for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire on Wednesday, 154 countries voted in favor. They included NATO members Albania, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia,, Finland, France, Greece,Iceland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Türkiye and prospective NATO member Sweden.
In fact, in NATO only Czechia and the United States voted “no,” along with some small South Pacific islands deeply dependent on US aid.
Of NATO states, Bulgaria, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Romania, Slavakia and the UK were among the 23 nations that abstained.
So it isn’t that Israel is “starting” to lose global support. It has definitively lost it. Which is a good thing for my own sanity because I’d be at wit’s end if I were the only person who could see the Israelis daily violating the international laws of war and at the least recklessly endangering innocent lives, if they aren’t deliberately targeting noncombatants who live in what Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu calls power centers. This is a made-up term. It is meaningless in international law. You can’t kill hundreds of innocent noncombatants just because they work in a place you’ve decided is a power center.
Biden’s use of the term “indiscriminate” cannot have been an accident. It is a term of art in International Humanitarian Law. In the 1949 Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions it is specified,
- 2. The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall not be the
object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to
spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited.
3. Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this Section, unless and for such
time as they take a direct part in hostilities.
4. Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:
a) those which are not directed at a specific military objective;
b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed
at a specific military objective; or
c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which
cannot be limited as required by this Protocol;
and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives
and civilians or civilian objects without distinction.
5. Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as
a) an attack by bombardment by any methods or means which treats as a single
military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military
objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing a similar
concentration of civilians or civilian objects; and
b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life,
injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof,
which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military
6. Attacks against the civilian population or civilians by way of reprisals are
So that is the seriousness of what Biden said, and I take it as a powerful signal of a coming dust-up between Biden and Netanyahu over ending the war and over the post-war settlement. Netanyahu is afraid of going to jail for corruption. Then how much more must he fear being abandoned by Washington and ending up in the Hague?