Biden reportedly fed up with Netanyahu, calling him ‘asshole’ over management of war

NBC News reports that US president is telling confidants he is frustrated by prime minister’s refusal to change tactics in Gaza and agree to Saudi normalization framework

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

US President Joe Biden (right) is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion International Airport, October 18, 2023. (Evan Vucci/AP)
US President Joe Biden (right) is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion International Airport, October 18, 2023. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Amid reports of growing frustration in the White House with Benjamin Netanyahu, NBC News reported on Monday that US President Joe Biden has been expressing his exasperation with the prime minister in private conversations — even calling him an “asshole” — but is not about to make any major policy changes.

Citing “five people directly familiar with his comments,” the report said that Biden has expressed frustration to confidants, including campaign donors, over his “inability to persuade Israel to change its military tactics in Gaza.”

He is also flummoxed by Netanyahu’s rejection of deals that the US president thinks are a win for Israel, like Saudi normalization in exchange for movement toward a Palestinian state.

In January, Netanyahu reportedly rejected a proposal from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that would have seen Saudi Arabia normalize relations with Israel in exchange for Jerusalem agreeing to provide the Palestinians with a pathway toward statehood.

Biden reportedly said he is trying to get Israel to agree to a ceasefire with Hamas, but Netanyahu is “giving him hell.”

The president called Netanyahu an “asshole” in at least three recent instances, according to three of the anonymous sources.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to FOX News on February 11, 2024 (Screenshot)

“He just feels like this is enough,” one of the sources told NBC, regarding Biden’s thoughts on Netanyahu’s behavior. “It has to stop.”

Biden, the report also said, believes that Netanyahu wants to extend the war to stay in power.

However, the sources said Biden thinks it would be counterproductive to be too critical of Netanyahu in public.

Disagreements between the two leaders have become more public in recent weeks.

In a phone call on Sunday, Biden told Netanyahu that Israel should not go ahead with a military operation in the densely populated Gaza border town of Rafah without a “credible” plan to protect civilians.

Netanyahu has declared in recent interviews that Israel will provide “safe passage for the civilian population” ahead of the expected assault on Hamas in the city, and dismissed fears of a “catastrophe.”

About half of Gaza’s population of over 2 million has fled to Rafah to escape fighting in other areas, packed into sprawling tent camps and United Nation-run shelters near the border.

People stand around craters caused by Israeli bombardment in Rafah on the southern Gaza Strip on February 12, 2024(SAID KHATIB / AFP)

On Thursday, Biden called the conduct of Israel’s military campaign against Hamas “over the top.”

The two also discussed on Sunday “ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas,” along with increasing the “throughput and consistency” of humanitarian aid to Gaza civilians, according to the White House.

Biden and other US officials continue to stand behind Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. The White House readout of the Biden-Netanyahu call on Sunday began with the statement: “The President reaffirmed our shared goal to see Hamas defeated and to ensure the long-term security of Israel and its people.”

Still, the president and his officials have expressed increasing concern over the civilian death toll, suffering and humanitarian crisis in the Strip, and the lack of clarity from Israel regarding the “day after” the war in Gaza.

Visiting Israel last week, Blinken bitterly criticized Israel’s Gaza campaign, warning that the horrors of October 7 did not give Israel “a license to dehumanize others.”

Last week, a top White House official said he does not have “any confidence” in Netanyahu’s government, specifically regarding its readiness to take “meaningful steps” toward the creation of a Palestinian state, The New York Times reported.

In January, Netanyahu said in a number of prepared messages that he would not give up full security council west of the Jordan River, pushing back against calls from the Biden administration for a pathway toward a Palestinian state.

IDF troops operate inside the Gaza Strip in this undated handout photo release on February 11, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

An NBC report also cited three administration officials who claimed the administration was looking past Netanyahu to try and achieve its goals in the region, with one of them telling the network that the premier “will not be there forever.”

Despite the disagreements, Netanyahu has made sure not to disparage the US president publicly. Asked on Sunday about a US government report that portrayed US President Joe Biden as suffering from memory loss, Netanyahu told ABC’s “This Week” that he’s “found him very clear, and very focused.”

War erupted when Hamas-led terrorists stormed southern Israel on October 7 to kill nearly 1,200 people, mainly civilians, while taking 253 hostages of all ages, committing numerous atrocities, and weaponizing sexual violence on a mass scale.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said on Monday that 28,340 people have been killed inside the Palestinian enclave since the start of the war, while 67,984 others have been injured. These figures cannot be independently verified, however, and are believed to include both civilians and Hamas members killed in Gaza, including as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires.

The IDF says it has killed over 10,000 terror operatives in Gaza since the start of the war, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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