US President Joe Biden directed his senior advisers to “smother [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu with love” in order to quickly secure a ceasefire during the 2021 Gaza war, a new book on Biden’s first two years in office reveals.
The strategy differed from that of some of Biden’s predecessors, who were quick to issue public calls for ceasefires and urged Israel to act with restraint during previous major conflicts with Gaza terror groups. But the approach appeared to have paid off, as the May 2021 Gaza war, named Operation Guardian of the Walls by Israel, ended after 11 days — 40 days shorter than the previous one in 2014.
According to the new book by Atlantic journalist Franklin Foer slated to be released next week, entitled “The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden’s White House and the Struggle for America’s Future,” Biden spoke to Netanyahu six times during the 2021 conflict. Throughout those 11 days, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired over 4,000 rockets and mortar shells at Israel. A dozen civilians were killed in Israel during the fighting, along with one soldier; and over 250 Palestinians were killed — roughly half of whom the IDF claimed were combatants.
Foer titles the chapter on the Gaza war “Hug Bibi Tight,” and explains that Biden learned from his previous experiences with Netanyahu that criticizing him would only push the premier away.
In excerpts from the book obtained by The Forward, Foer recalls one of the phone calls between the two leaders after Israel bombed a 12-story building in Gaza that housed the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera news agencies and which the IDF said was a Hamas asset.
Rather than tearing into Netanyahu for the airstrike, Biden asked the prime minister to explain Israel’s strategy in the war. “Biden spent more than an hour conducting his inquiry in the spirit of friendship, Foer writes.
“But he was also trying to expose the shortcomings in Bibi’s thinking.”
While trying to explain his strategy, Netanyahu “inadvertently” admitted to not having a defined objective with the continued airstrikes, Foer writes.
Nonetheless, Biden “held his tongue,” Foer writes.
Netanyahu chose to highlight a different part of his conversation with Biden during the Gaza war, writing in his own memoir that the US president had domestic considerations in mind.
“Bibi, I gotta tell you, I’m coming under a lot of pressure back here,” Netanyahu quotes Biden as having said in Bibi: My Story. “‘This is not Scoop Jackson’s Democratic Party,’” referring to the strikingly pro-Israel senator whose long tenure ended in the 1980s. “I’m getting squeezed here to put an end to this as soon as possible.”
Later on during the war, Foer writes that then-defense minister Benny Gantz informed US officials that the IDF was running out of targets in Gaza.
At this point, Biden began vocalizing his concerns more clearly to Netanyahu.
“Hey, man, we are out of runway here,” Biden said during their fourth phone call on May 19 after Netanyahu insisted on dragging the war on. “It’s over,” the US president replied.
Netanyahu agreed to a ceasefire two days later.
The longtime Likud leader was replaced one month later by a short-lived unity government headed by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid.
Since Netanyahu returned to office last December, Biden appears to have somewhat changed his approach to the Likud leader.
He took four weeks to take a call from the Israeli premier, though, but still used the call to “launch into a nostalgia trip” about Israel and his relationship with Netanyahu. “Did you ever imagine we’d be sitting where we are today?” Foer quoted Biden as having told Netanyahu.
Since then though, Biden has several times called out Netanyahu and his hardline government over the latter’s effort to radically overhaul the judiciary. Until last month, he refrained from extending an invitation for Netanyahu to visit the White House — a privilege Israeli premiers typically enjoy much earlier on in their tenures.
They are slated to meet next month, though it’s still unclear whether it will be in the Oval Office or merely on the sidelines of the United Nations during the General Assembly High Level Week.
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