How significant is Biden’s warning to block arms shipments to Israel?


The Biden administration’s decision to halt arms shipment to Israel is too little, too late and is unlikely to end the sufferings of Palestinians in Gaza and other occupied territories, experts say.

In a rare rebuke of its all-weather ally Israel, US President Joe Biden said earlier this week that his country would not participate in supplying “weapons and artillery” for Tel Aviv’s push into Gaza’s Rafah.

During an interview with CNN, Biden emphasised that while the US remained committed to Israel’s defence, it would refrain from providing weapons and artillery shells if Israel invaded Rafah.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, often touted as Israel’s most extremist to date, has refused to heed global calls to end the war in Gaza and has gone ahead with its plans to invade Rafah.

A day after the Biden administration’s decision, Netanyahu vowed to press ahead and said that “Israel will fight with its fingernails” if needed.

Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University in Sweden, feels that the US move will “likely push Netanyahu further towards his allies in the far-right”.

“The Biden administration’s decision to block arms shipment will force Netanyahu to choose between his far-right allies and support of the US,” Swain tells TRT World.

The support of the far-right and extremist allies is crucial for the political survival of Netanyahu, who is facing growing calls from Israeli society to quit for his failure to prevent the October 7 incursion by Hamas, which killed about 1,200 people, as per Israel, and triggered the war in Gaza.

Swain also feels that the US decision, though good, has “come at least seven months too late”.

“However, it remains to be seen whether Biden will stick to this decision.”

News reports, however, say that despite the latest decision, Israel will continue to receive US arms and ammunition already committed and approved. These include joint direct attack munitions, tank rounds, mortars, and armoured tactical vehicles.

A former intelligence and security advisor in the Obama administration also agrees that Netanyahu’s far-right allies call the shot when it comes to the Gaza war.

“People in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition don’t really care about the US and what it wants,” Gregory Trevorton, a former chair of the National Intelligence Council, said during an interaction with the news website The Conversation.

Treverton, who is also a national security scholar at USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences, said that Netanyahu’s reliance on the far-right made him less inclined to heed US directives.

“He is likely to listen to his right-wingers, not to the US,” the security expert said, adding that Netanyahu’s “own political survival” was closely tied to the far-right.

Swain echoes this perspective.

“I believe Netanyahu will take a gamble and proceed with the Rafah operation, expecting the Biden administration to yield and resume arms supplies. He will do everything possible to protect his government.”

The UN and other global agencies have warned of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis if Israel invades Rafah, a sliver of land on the Egypt border and home to more than 1.2 million people.

Since October 7, Israel has killed nearly 35,000 people — most of them children and women — in Gaza and devastated the besieged enclave. Hundreds of thousands of people, evicted from their homes, are living in tents in squalid conditions, struggling to find food and water amid an Israeli blockade of aid into Gaza.

Adam Weinstein, deputy director at the Quincy Institute’s Middle East programme, though feels that the US move to pause arms shipment could force Israel’s hand despite Netayanhu’s bluster.

“It is extremely significant, as you can see from the outrage of Israeli officials,” Weinstein tells TRT World. “It is a little late but not inconsequential. It could deter Israel from making very damaging decisions in Rafah.”

“The recent missile and drone attack by Iran on Israel served as a stark reminder of Israel’s heavy dependence on its alliances. Israeli officials cannot afford to dismiss this action lightly, despite their bravado.”