Biden’s Strategy Faces a Test as Israel Pushes Into Southern Gaza


Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu are at odds over the day-after question. While Mr. Biden agrees that Hamas must be removed from power in Gaza, he opposes an Israeli re-occupation of the coastal enclave. Instead, he favors what he calls a “revitalized” Palestinian Authority taking over Gaza as well. But Mr. Netanyahu has resisted that and on Tuesday said only Israel can ensure that Gaza will remain demilitarized after Hamas is destroyed. “I’m not ready to close my eyes and accept any other arrangement,” he said.

For all their differences, Biden administration officials argue that the president’s strategy has paid dividends. By keeping Israel close, they said, he has helped prevent Israel from widening the war by going after Hezbollah in Lebanon; forced Israel to reopen Gaza to humanitarian aid after initially vowing to block any food, water and other supplies; encouraged the now-expired pause in fighting that enabled the release of more than 100 hostages; and prompted Israel to take more steps to curtail civilian casualties.

As Israeli forces push into southern Gaza, they have published maps of safe zones where civilians can shelter from the fighting and, according to U.S. officials, sought to calibrate their targeting to avoid as many mass casualty attacks. Nonetheless, the Gaza Health Ministry has reported that hundreds have been killed just in the last few days, and critics have scorned the maps as ineffective in an area with so little mass communication. Speaking privately, Biden administration officials acknowledge the Israelis have not done as much as Washington would like to spare civilians but said they have gotten the message and are trying.

“Israel has heard from us loud and clear our expectation that they uphold international humanitarian law, abide by the rules of war, and take steps to minimize, to every extent possible, civilian casualties as they persecute this war against Hamas,” Olivia Dalton, a White House spokeswoman, told reporters on Air Force One on Tuesday as Mr. Biden traveled to Boston.

While the war continues, the clock is ticking and White House officials recognize that there may be a limit to how long they can preserve the public alignment with Israel.

“I think U.S. policy has a shelf life of four to six weeks,” said Cliff Kupchan, chairman of the Eurasia Group, who had just returned from a trip to the region. “If this war is still ongoing in January, dissent within the Democratic Party and strong international pressure will probably cause Biden to pressure Israel to scale back military operations.”

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