Why did Biden use a slight touch with Netanyahu?


As the violence between Israel and Hamas raged for 10 days, President Biden spoke with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, in private six times, pressuring him to answer a simple question: “How does this end?”

Mr. Biden’s tactic was to avoid publicly condemning Israel’s bombing of Gaza – or even a public call for a ceasefire – in order to build capital with Mr. Netanyahu and then apply pressure privately when the time is right, according to the two. People familiar with internal management discussions.

In private conversations, Biden and other US officials assured the Israelis that they had achieved some important military objectives against Hamas, the militant group that launched thousands of rockets into Israel from Gaza, including targeting its tunnel networks. Mr. Biden pressured Mr. Netanyahu about his goal, and what allows him to say he has achieved it so that a shorter war can be waged, rather than a long-term military conflict.

In response, according to people familiar with the discussions, Mr. Netanyahu did not set specific goals that he had to achieve before agreeing to the ceasefire.

Meanwhile, Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, has exaggerated the amount of credit Mr. Biden deserves for paving the way for a truce.

“About 90 percent of the reasons for the ceasefire are that both Hamas and the Israeli government have decided that prolonging the conflict does not serve their interests,” said Mr. Haas. “That was the ceasefire that was basically ready to happen.”

In his public comments, Mr. Biden refused to join the growing calls from world leaders and many of his Democratic colleagues for a ceasefire, or express anything less than support for Israel’s right to defend itself.

Denise B. Ross, who has served as the Middle East envoy to three presidents, said a public demand for a ceasefire could be counterproductive. Had Biden called for a ceasefire, Ross said, “Bibi’s political need to stand up to him would have been much greater.”

He added that Biden’s approach also sent a message to Hamas. He said, “The more they understand that we will not pressure Israel in this way, the more they will understand that they cannot rely on us to stop Israel.”

Biden’s strategy of quiet diplomacy was aimed at building credibility with the Israelis, in order to push them in particular toward an end to the violence in a recent conversation with Mr Netanyahu on Wednesday. And I took into account the need to deal with caution with Netanyahu.

Aware of the mistakes the United States made in trying to mediate the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, Biden and his team did not want the United States to be the focus of the story. Instead, Mr. Biden tried to create space for Mr. Netanyahu, whom he would need as a future partner in dealing with Iran, to achieve his goals.

“Israel and the United States will have big things to work on, especially Iran,” Hass said. The president had to be careful with how he handled Bibi. They both need to maintain a working relationship so that if the Iranian situation moves to the front end, they will be able to work together. “

Mr. Biden began his talks with Mr. Netanyahu by making no demands. This helped pave the way for a nicely worded statement that came after their third phone call, in which Biden said he would support the ceasefire, but did not demand it.

In following up on the talks on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Biden increased the pressure by calling on Mr. Netanyahu in particular for a ceasefire.

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