14 Apr 2024, 23:39

  Biden in 'very tough spot' trying to stop Middle East escalation

WASHINGTON, April  14, 2024 (BSS/AFP) - Iran's attack on Israel gives Joe 
Biden a familiar dilemma, but on steroids -- how to balance support for a 
difficult ally while preventing the nightmare scenario of a wider war?
Tensions with Benjamin Netanyahu over Israel's war on Gaza were papered 
over as the US president offered "ironclad" support, including shooting down 
Iranian drones.
But the White House has made it clear it does not want further escalation 
following Iran's unprecedented assault and will not support an Israeli 
counterattack that could trigger a full-blown regional conflict.
The question then for Biden, who is facing a tough reelection battle 
against Donald Trump in November, is what if Netanyahu goes ahead anyway as he 
has done in Gaza? 
"It puts him in a very tough spot" Colin Clarke, Director of Research at 
the Soufan Group, told AFP.
"I think he's suspicious of Netanyahu's motives here... that Netanyahu is 
attempting to broaden the war throughout the region to deflect from how poorly 
the war is going for him in Gaza."
 Biden has been trying to avoid a regional war that could suck the United 
States back into the Middle East ever since Hamas's October 7 attack and 
Israel's offensive on the Gaza Strip.
The 81-year-old has, however, struggled to use the leverage provided by the 
United States being Israel's main military supplier, especially given a long 
history of tense relations with Netanyahu.
Biden has been increasingly critical of the death toll in the Palestinian 
territory and even went as far as suggesting the US could limit military aid, 
but so far to little effect.
Iran's attack has seen Biden go back to showing overt support -- but at the 
same time scrambling to stop the crisis spiraling.
 White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Netanyahu 
was "well aware" that Biden did not want a "wider war".
"I would say that the prime minister is well aware that the president is 
not looking for a conflict with Iran, that the president doesn't want the 
tensions to escalate any more," Kirby told CBS News's Face the Nation.
       - 'Dangerous spiral' -
 Biden reportedly told Netanyahu when they spoke on Saturday that he should 
consider the successful defense of Israel from Iran's attack a "win" and that 
the US would not join a counterattack. 
 Washington's calculus looks to be that Iran got what it wanted with a show 
of force in retaliation for Israel's strike in Damascus earlier this month that 
killed a key Iranian general, and Israel has proved its defensive might. 
 "However, I fear the status quo will be short-lived," said James Ryan, 
Executive Director of the Middle East Research and Information Project, warning 
of a "dangerous spiral".
"I expect Biden to attempt to restrain Israeli responses, but Netanyahu has 
already shown a willingness to test any kind of limit Biden wishes to impose," 
he added.
  "It's all very cynical now, unfortunately."
Biden's options for restraining Israel are likely to be limited at this 
stage to tough language in private and making threats in public.
 "They've got themselves into a corner in many ways," said Clarke.
"I think they've overplayed their hand a little bit by saying the 
administration is considering cutting off weapons to the Israelis. It's never 
going to happen -- I think it's an empty threat, especially in an election 
 The US presidential election in November comes as Biden faces domestic 
political pressure on all sides when it comes to Israel.
 Trump has led a chorus of Republicans accusing Biden of being weak on the 
issue -- while young and left-wing voters in particular are angered by his 
failure to stop the bloodshed in Gaza.
Netanyahu, facing his own political and legal issues at home, would now be 
able to use the Iran attacks to "paper over the very real rifts that exist" 
with Washington to Gaza, said Clarke.
 "If he can drag this out until November, he's hoping for a Trump victory," 
said Clarke.
 "And then he's hoping essentially for carte blanche to do whatever he needs 
to do, not only in the region, but to stay in power, to stay out of prison."


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