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Israel-US Tensions Surge as Gaza Death Toll Mounts.

The strained relationship between U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come to the forefront amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza. The U.S. recently announced plans to construct a pier to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, a response to escalating food shortages and alarming warnings of an impending famine. This move is significant as it underscores the Biden administration's commitment to addressing the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Tensions between the two leaders burst into the public domain as President Biden called on Netanyahu to prioritize the protection of innocent lives during Israel's assault on Gaza. In a notable departure from the previously close diplomatic ties, Biden expressed concern that Netanyahu's actions were potentially detrimental to Israel's interests. The U.S. president emphasized the need for the Israeli leader to pay greater attention to the civilian casualties resulting from the conflict.

In response, Netanyahu swiftly fired back, rejecting Biden's assertions. He defended his government's actions in an interview, countering the criticism from the U.S. president. This public exchange marked a dramatic shift from the earlier united front presented by the U.S. in support of Israel after the October 7 Hamas attacks, illustrating the growing strain between the two leaders.

The discord reached a new level when President Biden, seemingly unaware of an open microphone, mentioned planning a "come-to-Jesus" meeting with Netanyahu. This comment followed high-level meetings with Benny Gantz, a member of Israel's war cabinet and a political rival to Netanyahu. The Israeli leader interpreted these actions as potential betrayal, emphasizing the importance of a united front against Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and the European Union.

While the Biden administration continues to provide military support to Israel, it has also taken direct action in delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza. The administration faces increasing pressure from both international capitals and domestic supporters, particularly among liberal and younger voters, who are calling for a reassessment of the U.S.'s traditional support for Israel.

The tipping point in the strained relationship appears to be the deaths of around 100 Gazans seeking aid in late February. The incident, involving a convoy and clashes with Israeli troops, intensified the scrutiny on Israel's handling of the conflict and its impact on civilians.

Some close to Netanyahu argue that U.S. policy aims to create a political crisis in Israel, pushing for a more moderate government without Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners. A report from the U.S. intelligence community presented to Congress suggests questioning Netanyahu's viability as a leader, predicting large protests demanding his resignation and new elections, potentially leading to a more moderate government.

The Gaza conflict's potential generational impact on terrorism is a growing concern for U.S. intelligence agencies, highlighting the scale of devastation in the Palestinian territory. The Biden administration's push for a regional arrangement involving Saudi and Emirati aid for a Palestinian state to govern Gaza and the West Bank is met with resistance from Netanyahu, who sees it as rewarding terror.

As tensions escalate, both leaders remain firm in their positions. Netanyahu asserts Israel's eventual invasion of Rafah, a southern Gaza city, where Hamas fighters and Israeli hostages are reportedly located. Biden, on the other hand, expresses reluctance, fearing the potential civilian casualties such an operation might entail. The U.S. administration is also looking beyond the current conflict, proposing regional arrangements for the post-war period.

Netanyahu remains defiant, insisting that any Palestinian state resulting from the conflict would reward terrorism. His stance reflects the broader narrative that violence should be met with severe reprisals. Additionally, Netanyahu and his aides argue that attempts by Biden to drive a wedge between the Israeli public and their prime minister could strengthen Netanyahu's position, as voters may perceive such interference negatively. The complex dynamics between these two leaders underscore the challenges of navigating the delicate balance between diplomatic relations and the pursuit of national interests in a region marked by enduring conflict.

March 12, 2024 5:33 p.m. 6678

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