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Navigating Political Risks in Israel: Insights from Biden’s Trip

Explore the potential security and political risks associated with Biden’s visit to Israel. Stay informed and prepared with this comprehensive analysis.

American and Israeli flags fluttered in the cloudy sky. fly in the sky. Source: Shutterstock/Andy.LIU

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has extended an invitation to President Biden, known for his vocal support of Israel, Washington’s closest Middle East ally. 

This invitation comes at a sensitive time following a devastating cross-border assault by Palestinian Hamas militants on October 7, resulting in the loss of 1,300 Israeli lives.

The White House has refrained from commenting on any potential travel plans. 

In a statement, Adrienne Watson, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, confirmed that there are no upcoming travel announcements to share.

Nevertheless, there have been discussions between U.S. and Israeli officials about the prospect of a visit in the near future.

Presidential Visit to Israel: Unusual Circumstances

A presidential visit to Israel under these circumstances would be an unusual and somewhat risky choice, as it would demonstrate American solid support for Netanyahu at a time when the U.S. is actively working to prevent a broader regional conflict involving Iran, its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, and Syria. 

It also comes as Gaza faces critical shortages of food and fuel, with authorities reporting a tragic death toll exceeding 2,800 due to Israeli attacks.

Nonetheless, such a visit would provide President Biden with a unique opportunity to influence events on the ground and strengthen his image domestically. Biden and Netanyahu, despite their occasional disagreements, have come together, with both leaders emphasizing the importance of supporting the establishment of independent Israeli and Palestinian states in the Middle East.

Biden and Netanyahu’s Shared Goals

A face-to-face meeting would afford President Biden the opportunity to have discreet conversations with Prime Minister Netanyahu, addressing concerns and setting clear boundaries regarding a potential Israeli ground invasion of Gaza.

Kirsten Fontenrose, a former U.S. national security official now affiliated with the Atlantic Council, stressed the importance of such a meeting. She noted that “Biden needs to have a direct, eye-to-eye conversation with Netanyahu to ensure he fully grasps the implications for America’s global reputation, with a focus on how an occupation of Gaza could lead to a protracted conflict.”

It’s crucial to acknowledge that a visit by President Biden to Israel carries distinctive security risks. As evidenced during U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to Israel, he had to take refuge in a bunker with Netanyahu for five minutes when sirens sounded in Tel Aviv. 

The region is currently marked by heightened tensions, with Israel planning a ground offensive in Gaza, missile exchanges occurring between Lebanon and Israel, and Israeli citizens seeking shelter from Hamas-fired missiles. This underscores the pressing nature of the situation.

Visits by Western Leaders and U.S. Congress

Throughout this week, other Western leaders, including German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, along with lawmakers, are making arrangements for visits to Israel. Similarly, some members of the U.S. Congress is also planning trips to the region.

 It’s important to note that U.S. presidents rarely visit allied nations in the immediate aftermath of a conflict outbreak, typically entrusting this role to senior diplomats or defense officials.

Jon Alterman, a high-ranking executive at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, made an insightful remark, emphasizing that presidential visits are carefully orchestrated and scrupulously controlled events.

In contrast, the nature of wars is inherently unpredictable and challenging to orchestrate tightly.

Humanitarian Aid for Gaza: What Assistance is Available?

On Monday, President Biden conducted phone conversations with foreign leaders, where he decried a 36% surge in anti-Jewish hate crimes. Notably, he refrained from making any public appearances and canceled a scheduled trip to Colorado.

Outside the White House, roughly 30 protesters, some of whom were American Jews, were apprehended as they called for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, as reported by the Secret Service.

An updated Reuters/Ipsos poll reveals that a significant 78% of Americans, including majorities from both the Democratic and Republican camps, favor U.S. diplomatic efforts aimed at facilitating the safe relocation of Gaza residents who the ongoing conflict has impacted. 

Additionally, 41% of the poll’s respondents agreed with the statement that “the U.S. should support Israel” in its conflict with Hamas, while a mere 2% indicated support for the Palestinians.

Biden’s Delicate Balancing Act

In recent days, President Biden has been navigating a delicate path, publicly backing Israel’s response to Hamas attacks without conditions, all the while expressing humanitarian concerns for the Palestinians in Gaza who are experiencing the consequences of Israeli airstrikes.

Biden’s Belief in Effective Influence

According to Jon Alterman, President Biden believes that in order to influence Israel effectively, Israeli officials must sense that he is fully committed and empathetic, understanding their anger and pain.

In the event of a visit, President Biden might also schedule a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, as he did during his previous visit to Israel as president last year. Alon Pinkas, a long-time foreign policy adviser in Israel who served under former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, suggested this as a possibility.

Biden’s History with Israel

President Biden’s history with Israel includes ten visits, starting with his first visit in 1973 when he was a senator, predating the Yom Kippur War involving Israel, Egypt, and Syria. The tradition of U.S. presidents visiting Israel dates back to Richard Nixon’s visit in 1974.

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