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Biden admin doesn’t want Israel, Hamas to bring US back to Middle East

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“We will continue to help the Israelis fight this fight,” one of the officials said, adding that “there is no point in seeing the war expand.”

The administration has repeatedly signaled that it will not overstep its response to the conflict that has already killed 1,400 people in Israel, about 3,000 Palestinians, and left 30 Americans dead and a handful of hostages.

In a “60 Minutes” interview broadcast Sunday, Biden ruled out sending U.S. troops to the war and warned Israel against occupying Gaza, the Hamas-run enclave. These messages are accompanied by repeated warnings to Iran and its proxy forces, namely Hezbollah, to stay away from the conflict. Their entry would not only force Israel to fight on two fronts, jeopardizing its defense, but would also increase the likelihood that Biden would have to send more military support, potentially putting U.S. troops on the ground.

The president will also bring with him to Israel an urgent message: Israel must respect the rules of war and spare civilians. This decree, already issued by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during their own trips to the region, will be expressed again by Biden directly to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to two of the US officials. This initiative, according to aides, was not only going to be taken for humanitarian reasons, but also to reduce the risks of the war expanding and requiring additional U.S. involvement.

That danger was underscored Tuesday when a rocket hit a Gaza hospital, killing 500 people, an explosion that Gaza’s health ministry said was caused by an Israeli airstrike. The Israeli military claimed that Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a terrorist group operating in Gaza, was responsible. The incident nevertheless had immediate repercussions.

A planned summit in the Jordanian capital, which was to take place after the Israeli change of heart, was quickly canceled. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, first announced that he was canceling his trip there to meet with Biden. Shortly after, Jordan’s foreign minister announced that the summit was over for good.

“After consulting with King Abdullah II of Jordan and in light of the days of mourning announced by President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, President Biden will postpone his trip to Jordan and the planned meeting with these two leaders and Egyptian President Sisi ” a White House official said. “The President extended his deepest condolences for the innocent lives lost in the hospital explosion in Gaza and wished a speedy recovery to the injured.”

Biden entered office focused on extracting the United States from wars in the greater Middle East, prioritizing competition with China, domestic renewal and, later, defense of Ukraine. But Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel, along with Israel’s massive retaliation, threatens to drag it into one of the world’s most intractable crises.

The difficult balancing act now facing the administration was evident in the decision to make the trip itself.

Biden’s advisers debated whether to have the president travel to Israel, with some aides saying the security risks were too great. Others said it would be a gift to Netanyahu, who is under intense scrutiny for the intelligence failures that precipitated the Hamas attacks.

Biden has made it clear to aides that he dislikes Netanyahu, with whom he has had frosty relations for decades, and believes he is making an undemocratic push to weaken Israel’s justice system, according to his advisers. But the president felt he needed to show solidarity with another democracy and push his Arab neighbors to help the Palestinians, the officials said.

Aides then rushed to hastily arrange the president’s visit before Israel attacked Gaza.

This battle, some collaborators warn, would constitute a very problematic backdrop for any visit. The combat could be bloody and brutal, with urban warfare spreading from one neighborhood to the next. It could also endanger hostages held in Gaza and draw other actors into a widening conflict.

With these forces in mind, Biden has already ordered assets to the region, including two carrier strike groups, fighter jets and other Navy ships carrying thousands of Marines. Their primary goals are to support fleeing U.S. citizens and deter adversaries from escalating conflict.

It is unclear whether the deterrent message works. Iran’s foreign minister warned Monday that Hezbollah could take “preventive action” against Israel before it launches the expected ground invasion. The militant group, which has about 150,000 rockets aimed at Israel, has already begun destroying surveillance cameras along Lebanon’s border with Israel. Their forces have exchanged sporadic fire and rocket attacks, killing around 13 people in total since last Saturday.

Some experts say the threat is growing, making it even more difficult for the administration to maintain distance from the fighting.

Iran and its aligned groups show there is movement toward mobilization, rhetoric about future conflicts and that deployment could take place, said Phillip Smyth, an expert on Iranian proxy groups. These are some of the specific steps these groups take before an operation, “and all of these steps are happening.”

Even if Hezbollah and Iran do not engage more deeply in the fight, questions are already swirling in Washington about how the conflict could distract the United States from Ukraine or undermine the country’s security capabilities. Biden rejected any insinuation that the country he leads cannot handle it all.

“We are the United States of America, for God’s sake, the most powerful nation in the history of the world,” the president said during the “60 Minutes” interview. “We can address both of these while maintaining our overall international defense. »

But the battle in the Middle East is also politically perilous for the president, who is running for re-election in just over a year. Biden has placed great importance on brokering normalization deals between Israel and its Arab neighbors, particularly Saudi Arabia. The administration is still working on this agreement, but it is unlikely to be finalized in the near future.

Polls also show that voters do not fully support Biden’s strategy. Forty-nine percent of Americans said the United States provides adequate support for Israel, according to a recent ABC News/Ipsos poll, while only 16 percent of respondents told CNN they trust Biden to make the right decisions. A majority, 54 percent, said they had little, if any, confidence in the president’s handling of the conflict.

The White House doesn’t get much help from Congress. The administration wants to have enough funding for Israel and Ukraine for a full year, a person close to it said in a brief interview following reports that the request could reach $100 billion. While the Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he would push for something to pass in the upper chamber, but political chaos in a House without a speaker could prevent a measure from reaching Biden’s desk.

All of this – the conflict, Iran’s moves, a fractured political system and a struggling Congress – has the real potential to distract Biden from other domestic and global concerns, some advisers fear, even as they expect what remains out of the quagmire.

Biden’s primary governing goal has been to show that democracies, no matter their degree of internal disorder, can meet the expectations of Americans and their allies. And even as the administration grapples with the Middle East, new long-range U.S. missiles have been used by Ukraine against Russia and White House aides continue to plan a possible summit next month between Biden and China’s Xi Jinping in San Francisco.

“History shows that American presidents are judged as much on how they respond to unforeseen foreign policy crises as on how they implement their public agenda,” said Jonathan Lord, who directs the work in the Middle East. Orient from the Center for a New American Security.

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Cnn

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