Op-ed: Day 216 of the warLosing the unstinting support of Israel's one vital ally

Biden’s partial weapons freeze deepens existential threat Israel has faced since Oct. 7

The president’s words and planned action were focused on a highly significant planned IDF offensive in Rafah; the diplomatic and practical implications resonate even more widely

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)
US President Joe Biden (L) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on October 18, 2023. (Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

On several occasions in recent months, as the Biden administration has inexorably heightened its private and public criticism of Israel’s conduct of the war against Hamas, this writer has asked senior Israeli defense officials how they are preparing for the potential prospect of President Joe Biden limiting or halting the vital US supply of weapons and other military materials to the IDF.

One non-answer I was given was that if Israel did not want to rely on the US as its prime supplier, it would need to reorient its economy — to pivot away from tech and focus instead on the massive expansion of its military industries. Or rather, it would have needed to do so at least a decade ago.

Another non-answer was that Israel would simply have to make sure that it did not reach the point where the US was withholding supplies.

On Wednesday, it reached that point.

After months of bitter back and forth between Israeli political and defense chiefs and their American counterparts, in which the US repeatedly stated that it was utterly unpersuaded that the IDF was capable of routing Hamas from its last major stronghold in Rafah without causing untenable further Gaza civilian casualties, the president indicated that the US would stop the transfer of 2,000- and 500-pound bombs to Israel so that the IDF would not have them to use in densely populated Rafah, as it has done in other parts of Gaza during the war. He also spoke of withholding artillery shells.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those [US-supplied] bombs and other ways in which [Israel] goes after population centers,” Biden declared on CNN, in language that, to some extent, seemed to imply that Israel deliberately targets civilians, and that belied his previous stated recognition that Hamas’s entire military modus operandi is to use Gaza’s civilians as human shields.

And therefore, the president continued, “I made it clear [to the Israelis] that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone into Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, to deal with that problem… It’s just wrong. We’re not going to supply the weapons and the artillery shells… that have been used.”

Waking up to news of the president’s move, much of Israel’s political leadership rushed to chorus its outraged denunciation — with those whose history of pyromaniacal policies and intemperate utterances have most alienated the US administration inevitably at the fore.

But this is a crisis that has now escalated far beyond the rhetorical. It compounds the existential challenge Israel has been facing since October 7.


The Israeli defense establishment has become increasingly cagey about the specifics of US military supplies and the state of its own weapons stockpiles.

For the first months of the war, it published information on the arrivals of US cargo planes and some of the details of what was being supplied. It has not done so for several months.

In the hours since Biden’s devastating announcement, senior Israeli defense officials have declined to offer any sense of how immediate and problematic is Biden’s threatened partial halt of supplies, which comes with the US already having held back at least one shipment.

But military sources have for months been saying that the IDF and IAF have been “conserving” munitions.

It is not clear whether such conservation has extended to putting aside the vast quantities Israel needs in order to deter Hezbollah — a terrorist army many times more potent than Hamas — across the northern border, and/or to preempt a major Hezbollah escalation, and/or to hit back in the event of a major Hezbollah attack.

It is also not definitively clear how drastically Biden’s move would limit the IDF’s potential operations in Rafah.

What is certain is that Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas are rejoicing at Biden’s shocking, if not altogether surprising, step. It raises, rather than diminishes, the prospect of escalated conflict across the northern border. It reduces the concerns of the Hamas leadership that the IDF might prove capable of tackling it deep inside its Rafah hideout. And it further marginalizes the prospect of Hamas — already fooling the world with its disingenuous ceasefire “acceptance” — feeling pressured to agree to a viable hostage deal. All of this constitutes the opposite of stated Biden goals.


The US president and his senior officials have promised endlessly since Hamas invaded Israel on October 7, slaughtered 1,200 people and abducted 252 — 128 of whom are still being held — that the administration’s commitment to Israel’s security is “ironclad.”

But Biden’s announcement — both his words and threatened deed — undermines Israel’s security. And that is because while the message and action were focused on a major and extremely significant IDF offensive in Rafah that the US opposes, and where its concerns needed and need to be credibly addressed, the diplomatic, public opinion and concrete practical implications resonate even more widely. They embolden and encourage Israel’s enemies and those who support or apologize for them, showing them an Israel weakened by the depleted support of its most essential ally, and thus reducing Israel’s capacity to thwart their genocidal ambitions.

Already abandoned by much of the international community, Israel, in arguably its darkest hour, has now lost the unstinting public support and full protection of its most essential ally

However deaf and unresponsive the White House feels that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his colleagues have been to its concerns about the specific Rafah offensive, the president’s response shows a troubling disregard for the rippling consequences for his own stated policies and goals regarding Israel, and, more importantly, for the security and well-being of Israel. Already abandoned by much of the international community, Israel, in arguably its darkest hour, has now lost the unstinting public support and full protection of its most essential ally.

On Thursday afternoon, Netanyahu tweeted an excerpt of the speech he delivered on Sunday night at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, in which he pledged in English “to the leaders of the world” that “no amount of pressure, no decision by any international forum, will stop Israel from defending itself.” And that, “if Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

The practical question Israelis are asking right now, however, is whether and for how long Israel is actually capable of doing so.

Most Popular
read more: