Middle East Crisis: Biden Debate Progress Raises Alarm in Israel

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Israelis expressed growing concern Sunday that President Biden’s faltering debate performance could embolden the country’s Middle Eastern adversaries at a critical moment for American leadership in the region.

Israeli commentators across the political spectrum have sounded the alarm that Iran and its allies could exploit Biden’s apparent weakness as Israel battles Hamas in Gaza and faces the prospect of all-out conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

U.S. officials have been working to broker a diplomatic solution to tensions between Israel and Hezbollah to prevent a broader regional war that could involve both Iran and the United States. The Biden administration is also engaged in intensive efforts with other mediators to push for a ceasefire deal for Gaza, which would include exchanging the remaining hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly pressured the Biden administration to speed up the delivery of munitions ahead of a possible clash with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Many of Israel’s Sunday newspapers carried the debate on their front pages. The debate took place before dawn on Friday, local time, after the weekend papers had gone to press, and Jewish newspapers are not published on Saturday, Shabbat.

Analysts at Israel Hayom, a free right-wing daily, and the left-wing daily Haaretz took different tones, but both expressed concern that enemies of Israel and the United States were testing the administration’s resolve.

“Will Hezbollah and Iran assess that Biden is too busy now to support Israel if an all-out war breaks out in Lebanon this summer?” Amos Harel, a military affairs analyst at Haaretz, wrote on Sunday.

While some on the Israeli right derided Biden’s performance in the debate, hoping for a Trump victory, Harel noted that this was unfortunate given Biden’s support and the substantial weapons he has provided Israel. “Besides,” he added, “Trump is a weak reed to rely on.”

During Thursday’s presidential debate, Trump accused Biden of not wanting Israel to “finish the job” in Gaza, calling him weak and using the word “Palestinian” as an insult. Biden offered few responses.

Biden has been a staunch supporter of Israel throughout the war, though he has often called on Israel to limit civilian casualties and address the humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave.

He has a long history with Netanyahu. Biden flew to Israel last fall in a show of solidarity shortly after the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel that triggered the war in Gaza. He has since faced a political backlash for his support, angering American opponents of the war who want the U.S. to stop supplying Israel with munitions.

Biden and Netanyahu’s views have diverged in recent months, however. The United States blocked a shipment of heavy bombs to Israel, fearing they would be used in densely populated areas. Biden dismissed Netanyahu’s goal of “total victory” over Hamas as a vague goal that would mean an indefinite war.

Trump has strongly supported Israel’s presidency and largely followed Netanyahu’s agenda. During his term, Trump moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, fulfilling a long-standing Israeli request.

But Trump appears to have soured on Netanyahu, blaming him for the Hamas-led assault and praising Hezbollah as “very smart.” In a March interview with Israel Hayom, Trump advised Israel to end the war in Gaza to avoid losing global support.

“We have to do this,” he told the newspaper, “and we have to achieve peace: we cannot allow this to happen.”

Israel Hayom editor Dr. Miriam Adelson is a major pro-Israel donor who is now backing Trump’s third run for the White House.

Amnon Lord, a columnist for Israel Hayom, said Sunday that Biden’s debate performance demonstrated persistent claims that U.S. foreign policy is driven by “an extremely progressive group” of aides.

“In a world filled with aggressive forces,” he wrote, “the unflattering image of an American president – ​​the leader of the free world – who appears weak and inconsistent encourages them to exploit opportunities.”

“Biden’s decline mirrors the collapse of his Middle East policy toward Iran and its allies,” Lord added.

Lord was cautious about Trump’s debate performance, saying only that he “hasn’t gained any supporters.”

Yediot Ahronot, a major Jewish daily, ran a front-page story describing Biden’s performance as a “catastrophe.” Columnist Nadav Eyal wrote that Democrats and their allies now carry the fate of the free world on their shoulders.

“Weakness is not a characteristic that an American president can project, under any circumstances,” he wrote.

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