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Joe Biden growing frustrated with Netanyahu as Gaza campaign rages

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden.


President Joe Biden is growing increasingly frustrated behind the scenes as his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, tells his advisers and others that the prime minister is ignoring his advice and obstructing efforts to ease the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, according to people familiar with the matter.

So far, Biden has not directly criticized Netanyahu in public. But he has become increasingly critical of Israeli tactics, saying last week that he thought the Gaza campaign was “overblown”, one of his harshest condemnations yet of the military effort against Hamas.

Privately, Biden has been more willing to offer unvarnished thoughts on Netanyahu, including his deep irritation that the Israeli prime minister has failed to act on U.S. recommendations to de-escalate military tactics in Gaza. Some officials are now wondering how much longer Biden will withhold public criticism of Netanyahu as the war rages.

The president’s comments last week about Israeli tactics reflected sentiments he had been expressing behind the scenes for some time, a person familiar with the matter said. U.S. officials hoped that by January, Israel would have moved to a lower-intensity, hyper-localized targeting campaign.

Tension between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s government has only intensified in recent days over Israel’s preparations for a ground incursion into Rafah, where thousands of displaced Palestinians have fled during the war.

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U.S. officials have been blunt in their conversations with their Israeli counterparts, saying that the approximately 1.3 million people currently in Rafah “simply have nowhere to go,” according to a senior administration official. The Biden administration is highly skeptical that Netanyahu’s order for the Israeli army to “evacuate the population” of Rafah before Israeli forces enter is even remotely feasible.

“We have made it clear that an operation under current conditions is not something we could consider,” the US official said.

In that call, Biden told Netanyahu that an operation in Rafah “should not take place” without guaranteeing the safety of the more than 1 million people sheltering there, the White House said.

Biden has long had differences with Netanyahu and officials acknowledge their relationship is complex. But in recent days, a series of actions and comments have angered some U.S. officials, who, like Biden, are losing patience with Netanyahu’s resistance to U.S. advice and recommendations.

This includes publicly rejecting as “crazy” a Hamas counterproposal for a deal to free the hostages and suspend fighting, even though Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the region trying to move the agreement forward. Most of the 45-minute phone call between Biden and Netanyahu on Sunday was about the hostage deal, according to an official.

Biden and his team have also been angered by Netanyahu’s public rejection of a two-state solution, long a pillar of U.S. policy in the region.

Biden and Netanyahu, who have known each other for more than four decades, often found themselves at odds, both before and after the October 7 Hamas attacks. Biden has deplored Netanyahu’s far-right governing coalition and told donors last year that his counterpart’s difficult political situation made it difficult for the prime minister to change his approach to Gaza.

The president is also under pressure from progressive Democrats to do and say more about the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza, including through now-frequent protests at his public events.

Yet White House officials have long said the president believes it is better to air his differences with his counterpart behind the scenes rather than in public.

Biden made light of his disagreements with Netanyahu, recounting an inscription he wrote on an old photograph of the two men: “Bibi, I love you, but I don’t agree with anything you have to say. »

“It’s pretty much the same today,” Biden said in December.

Since then, however, frustrations have only grown over Israel’s military campaign and tactics when it comes to brokering a deal to secure the hostages’ release.

Biden offered his Israeli counterpart and the Israeli people his unwavering support immediately after the October 7 attack, even going so far as to travel to the war zone to show what he said was his unequivocal support and that from the United States to its ally.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, praised Biden over the weekend as the president battled questions about his age and mental acuity. In an interview, the Israeli prime minister said he found Biden “very clear, very focused” when asked about special adviser Robert Hur’s description of Biden as “an elderly man, well-meaning and with a bad memory.

In an interview with ABC News, Netanyahu said he had more than a dozen “extended phone conversations” with Biden. “He also came to visit wartime Israel, which was a historic first, and I found him very clear and very focused,” Netanyahu said.

“We managed to agree on the objectives of the war and on many things. Sometimes there are disagreements, but they are not born from a lack of understanding on his part or on my part,” Netanyahu said.

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