At least when speaking to the public, President Biden has only offered increasingly outraged statements in response to Israel’s attack in Gaza.

President Biden stated that more proof that Israel “has not done enough to protect aid workers” may be seen in the country’s attack on a World Central Kitchen convoy, which claimed seven lives. Give credit…Mohamed Saber/EPA, sourced from Shutterstock

President Biden’s strong words, expressing his “outrage and heartbreak” over the deaths of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in Gaza, naturally begged the issue of whether this strike—even if it was a sad accident—would prompt him to impose conditions on the weapons he sells to Israel.

Regarding whether Mr. Biden’s rage is pushing him towards a breaking point with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with whom he has had strained interactions throughout, the White House has not yet responded. A senior Biden administration official said that the two are expected to speak on Thursday. However, Mr. Biden has restricted his responses—at least in public—to progressively more outraged statements.

Mr. Biden has reiterated that there is a “red line” that would be crossed if a bombing campaign was launched on the southern city of Rafah without specifying the consequences. He stated on Tuesday that Israel “has not done enough to protect aid workers,” citing the attack on the World Central Kitchen convoy as more proof. However, he did not say how Israel’s actions should improve.

Senator Chris Van Hellen, a Democrat from Maryland and one of Mr. Biden’s most ardent backers, expressed his optimism that “this will be the moment where the president changes course.” For months, he pushed to impose restrictions on the weapons that the US sends. “Netanyahu disregarded the president’s demands, but we still sent 2,000-pound bombs with no usage limitations.”

He continued, “We shouldn’t send bombs first and hope for some assurances later.”

Last Thursday, the Israeli Air Force displayed an American-built F-15 close to Genera, Israel. The terms under which American weapons are employed are often standard. Give credit…By way of Shutterstock, Abir Sultan/EPA

Standard procedure dictates that the president or secretary of state may place restrictions on the use of American weapons, while Congress may also do so. For instance, Ukraine is prohibited from firing US-made weaponry into Russia. Despite its general compliance, there is ongoing discussion inside the administration regarding the possibility of arming Kyiv with more potent missiles should a humanitarian package ever pass Congress.

However, Israel has always been an anomaly. Even the majority leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, declined to support armaments control despite his passionate speech advocating for fresh elections in Israel in an apparent attempt to remove Mr. Netanyahu. The following day, when questioned, Mr. Schumer claimed he didn’t even want to talk about the subject.

Mr. Biden has the option to request additional actions. For instance, the US may insist—as two US senators did when they questioned Mr. Netanyahu in February—that assistance convoys be escorted by the Israel Defense Forces or that adjacent Israeli military units maintain continual contact with the relief providers.

According to a participant, the prime minister informed an aide present at the meeting that he believed the issues related to food and pharmaceutical safe passage had already been resolved. However, he gave the Democratic senators from Delaware, Chris Coons, and Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal, his word that he would discuss the matter with his military leaders.

It appears from Monday’s strike that those problems were never really settled.

When reporters pressed White House national security spokesman John F. Kirby on Wednesday on President Biden’s thoughts on the matter, he directed them to the president’s remarks denouncing the aid workers’ strike.

Mr. Kirby remarked, “I think you could sense the frustration in that statement yesterday.”

Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Mr. Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, had a prearranged conference via secure video with Israeli officials on the day of the strike.

According to Mr. Kirby, the Americans pushed Israel to develop a detailed strategy for evacuating the 1.5 million refugees living in the Rafah region. Talks about “what Rafah looks like now and what their intentions are for operations against those Hamas battalions that are still there,” he added, would also continue.

assessing the damage caused by Israeli airstrikes on Tuesday in the southern Gazan town of Rafah. Give credit…Getty Images / Mohammed Abed/Agency France-Presse

Although Mr. Kirby refrained from saying so, officials who were privy to those conversations claimed that the US continued to worry that the Israelis lacked a workable strategy for a thorough evacuation, which they estimated could take several months. However, the insiders pointed out that Mr. Netanyahu has not yet carried out the Rafah attacks, maybe due to American pressure or the fact that Israeli forces are still far from being prepared.

In the six months since Hamas’s terrorist strikes on October 7, there have been other occasions when the US has encountered resistance while attempting to work with Mr. Netanyahu, and where claims of shared objectives have failed to conceal the fact that the two nations have sharp disagreements about how to carry out the battle.

However, it’s possible that Mr. Biden reached a breaking point after the attack on the World Central Kitchen convoy, which was one of the most successful attempts to prevent famine in Gaza.

He is close to José Andrés, the renowned Spanish American chef behind the business, whose restaurants in Washington are frequented by the city’s elite. On Tuesday, just before Mr. Andres wrote a guest column for The New York Times in which he said that “Israel is better than the way this war is being waged,” Mr. Biden gave the chef a call.

“It is preferable to depriving civilians of food and medication,” he went on. “It is preferable to murdering aid workers who had collaborated with the Israel Defense Forces to plan their movements.”

However, insiders claim that Mr. Biden constantly refrains from publicly criticizing Mr. Netanyahu because he feels that doing so will simply make the prime minister more difficult to deal with. As a result, Mr. Biden finds himself in a difficult position. The progressive wing of his party, as well as a growing number of moderates, have criticized him for acting too cautiously and for not wanting to appear to be limiting Israel’s capacity to defend itself.

President Biden has made an effort to disentangle his campaign of pressure on Israel from his authority to restrict the nation’s military imports. Give credit…The New York Times/Kenny Holston
The president’s most overt display of rage at Israel’s military campaign, according to some of Mr. Biden’s detractors, was directed towards the deaths of seven foreign aid workers rather than the thousands of Palestinian civilians who came before them.

Yousef Mayer, the director of the Palestine-Israel program at the Arab Centre Washington, D.C., said, “To me, the language of outrage, it’s noticeable because it’s the furthest he’s gone in his language, but it’s also noticeable that he’s only gone this far when it’s Western aid workers.” “Obviously, it’s ridiculous,” he said. “But these kinds of strikes, we’ve seen them repeatedly and the White House does not seem to be outraged over them,” the speaker continued in reference to the most recent occurrence.
Mr. Biden has been attempting in recent weeks to separate his campaign of pressure on Israel from his authority, should he choose to exercise it, to restrict the nation’s military imports. Despite his forceful remarks, some seasoned diplomats didn’t think this would be the turning point in Mr. Biden’s strategy.

Former Israeli ambassador Daniel C. Kurtzer remarked, “One would think ‘outrage’ would translate into a strong policy response, but that does not appear to be the case so far.” “This attack will significantly increase pressure on aid deliverers and exacerbate the humanitarian distress, notwithstanding Israel’s apologies.”

David E. Sanger

writes about national security and the Biden administration. He has almost forty years of experience covering national security issues for the Times and is the author of several books on the subject. Additional information on David E. Sanger

Peter Baker

The Times’ principal White House correspondent is Peter Baker. He has written about the last five presidents and occasionally composes analytical essays that set presidents and their administrations in a broader historical and contextual context. Further details regarding Peter Baker

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