Confronted with an endless list of well-documented Israeli war crimes, the Biden administration has responded with overwhelming support for a genocidal war of annihilation against the Palestinians of Gaza. For more than two months, the White House has engaged in a public campaign of gaslighting as it has feigned concern over the fate of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents while simultaneously maintaining the flow of weapons, intelligence, and political cover to an Israeli regime that has made clear its intent to “flatten” Gaza and force its intentionally dehumanized survivors into an ever-shrinking killing cage.
President Joe Biden, facing historically low popularity heading into the 2024 election, reportedly now wants Israel to move to a “less kinetic” phase of its war by early next year. This is simply the latest effort by the administration to recast the public narrative about its consistent support for slaughter.
Ten weeks into this industrial-scale rampage, more than 25,000 Palestinians are dead, including nearly 10,000 children. Two dozen hospitals have been attacked by the U.S.-backed Israeli forces and some 300 health workers have been killed. Nearly 100 journalists have died under Israel’s bombs and attacks. Not even the Catholic Church in Gaza has been spared from Israel’s war crimes. On December 16, according to the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Israeli snipers shot dead two Christian women taking shelter in the Holy Family church in Gaza, spurring Pope Francis to state bluntly that Israel is committing acts of terrorism.
Gazans have been systematically denied the most minimal vital necessities. International aid organizations, warning of starvation and the spread of infectious disease, have repeatedly begged for an immediate ceasefire. And it has been the U.S., and the U.S. alone, that has insured that this would not happen. “The United States and Israel have never been more determined and aligned in our shared values, our shared interests and our shared goals,” said Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as he stood alongside U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin this week in Tel Aviv. “Our common enemies around the world are watching, and they know that Israel victory is the victory of the free world, led by the United States of America.”
A few days earlier, Gallant publicly preempted his private discussions with national security adviser Jake Sullivan, forcing him to stand, jaw clenched, before news cameras as Gallant portrayed the war as a joint U.S.–Israeli operation. “Thank you for being side by side with us in this effort,” Gallant told a stone-faced Sullivan in Tel Aviv, a visit the White House had portrayed, in part, as an effort to get Israel to wind down its large-scale operations in Gaza. “It will take and require a long period of time,” Gallant advised Sullivan in what looked like a forced reeducation session. “It will last more than several months.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Sullivan’s visit by publicly thanking the U.S. for delivering more tank rounds for the war in Gaza and vetoing a U.N. ceasefire resolution. “Nothing will stop us,” he declared. “We are going on to the end, until victory, nothing less.” The whole affair, which came on the heels of Biden labeling Israel’s bombing of Gaza “indiscriminate,” played out like an Israeli-orchestrated public daring of the White House to pull support for the war.
Israel is well aware that if the White House truly wanted Israel to stop, it could do so by withholding all additional military assistance until the carnage ends. But the rationale for Biden’s refusal to demand a ceasefire, which a firm majority of Democrats want him to do, is not just born of total disregard for the lives of Palestinian civilians who are cannon fodder for the big lie about this being an Israeli act of “self-defense.” Though the U.S. is likely to frame any “winding down” or temporary pause in the Israeli attempt to erase Gaza as a humanitarian endeavor, the reality is more complicated.
Both Biden and Netanyahu know what they dare not say in public: On a military level, things are not going well. Israel, a nuclear-armed nation state with modern weapons systems and intelligence capabilities and fully backed by the most powerful nation on Earth, is desperately struggling to achieve a meaningful tactical victory over the armed Palestinian guerrilla forces in Gaza.
Despite the vast resources Israel has dedicated to its propaganda effort, it is also flailing in its effort to defeat Hamas on that front. On a daily, sometimes hourly, basis, the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing, and their allies in arms release videos showing successful attacks on Israeli armored vehicles and troop positions. The short films offer a glimpse into another side of this war, the one that Israel and the U.S. do not want the public to see. And the picture that emerges stands in stark contrast to the official Israeli narrative. Fighters from Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are engaged in urban combat and close-quarters firefights with Israeli forces, and they are inflicting heavy losses on them. They have also published a close-up video of Israeli soldiers in a makeshift tent camp inside Gaza that Hamas fighters filmed by discreetly popping up from tunnel hatches.
The spokesperson for the Qassam Brigades, known by his nom de guerre Abu Obeida, has regularly released audio messages outlining his assessment of the ground war and challenging Israeli narratives. “The whole world sees how our fighters destroy and burn the enemy’s armored vehicles, killing the invading soldiers inside them,” he said in a recording released December 15. “The official figures of the dead and injured announced by the enemy’s army are undoubtedly untrue.” He praised his fighters for waging a battle against an enemy armed and supported “by the American administration, which is airlifting support to this entity as if it were fighting a great power among the world’s poles.”
The Israeli military recently published a video that purportedly depicts the work of a Hamas engineering team’s construction of a 4-kilometer section of underground tunnel near the Erez Crossing. It also published a video of what it said was Mohammed Sinwar, the brother of Hamas’s leader, driving in a car through the tunnel network. While Israel clearly released the videos in an effort to unmask the devious evil of Hamas, it actually revealed a level of tactical sophistication and preparedness seldom seen since the days of the Viet Cong. The IDF-published videos also inadvertently dramatized the dubiousness of Israel’s claims that it can flush with seawater hundreds of kilometers of tunnels equipped with massive water-sealed and blast-proof doors — not to mention the viability of engaging in close-combat tunnel warfare with Hamas.
The day after Israel published the tunnel videos, Hamas released its own video response. The group stated that the tunnel had been constructed exclusively for the October 7 attacks against the Israeli military installation near Erez. It featured clips of Gallant, the defense minister, touring the tunnels with Israeli soldiers, juxtaposed with footage from Hamas’s raid on the base two months ago. “You arrived late. … Mission had already been completed,” read a caption in English, Arabic and Hebrew.
Stories are beginning to appear more frequently in the Israeli press expressing concern about the steadily mounting death and injury toll of Israeli soldiers. These sentiments have intensified over the past week, following an ambush in Shujaiyeh that reportedly killed nine Israeli soldiers, as well as the revelation that IDF soldiers shot dead three Israeli hostages who were shirtless, waving a white flag, and speaking Hebrew. “The consensus of public support for Israel’s war is beginning to wane, as the two conditions on which it rests fade away: a clear purpose for the war and the understanding that victory is attainable,” wrote Israeli military analyst Amos Harel in Haaretz. “Broad public support for a ground incursion, which was strong in the aftermath of the Hamas massacre, is now being gradually mixed with concern and skepticism. Despite the expanding offensive and the enemy’s losses, we are approaching a dangerous phase of incremental advances,” he added. “The continued fighting in the current format will mean a steady trickle of news about soldiers dying.” As of December 19, Israel has officially acknowledged the deaths of 130 of its soldiers in Gaza.
There is no doubt that both Washington and Tel Aviv underestimated the military capacity of the Hamas-led armed resistance. It is one thing to snatch Palestinians off the streets of the West Bank and disappear them into a military court system, a practice Israel has perfected over the decades. It is quite another to defeat a well-armed insurgency that has spent decades building vast underground infrastructure beneath its own territory and training for this very moment.
Killing or capturing Hamas leader Yehia Sinwar or the head of the Qassam Brigades, Mohammed Deif, may give Israel political cover to declare a false victory, scenarios the Biden administration is eager to seize upon. Last week, a senior U.S. official hinted that the U.S. is actively participating in the hunt for these high-value targets, declaring that it is “safe to say” that Sinwar’s “days are numbered.” But the idea that armed resistance will be extinguished by killing top leaders of Hamas betrays the same pattern of wishful thinking that has permeated U.S. strategic thinking since 9/11. All of this suggests that rather than trying to end the suffering of Gazans, Biden is instead looking for an off-ramp that avoids solidifying the image of Israel as waging a gratuitous war that utterly failed to achieve its stated objectives.
The idea that armed resistance will be extinguished by killing Hamas leaders betrays the same pattern of wishful thinking that has permeated U.S. strategic thinking since 9/11.
The Washington Post’s David Ignatius, in a column based on conversations with his insider circle of the D.C. elite, wrote that the U.S. has been contemplating a “day after” scenario that would see the deployment of a security force “composed primarily of Palestinians who aren’t affiliated with Hamas and are willing to cooperate with the Israeli troops still ringing the border. Ideally, this policing force would be bolstered by foreign troops, operating under a U.N. mandate.” Ignatius added, “Israeli commandos might stage raids back into the center of Gaza when they receive intelligence about high-value targets.”
This bankrupt thinking illustrates how little the U.S. cares about what, to Palestinians, is the central issue of the 75-year conflict: ending Israeli apartheid and achieving statehood. The fact that the administration is contemplating a plan to Palestinianize the occupation by using collaborators with the Israeli regime’s forces is straight out of the bankrupt “home-grown counterinsurgency” strategy the Bush administration sought to use to extract itself from the catastrophe it manufactured through its own invasion and occupation of Iraq. It is also reminiscent of the utterly failed Obama-era COIN strategy in Afghanistan.
The notion that the Palestinian Authority, a deeply unpopular pseudo-government that has utterly failed to defend the Palestinians who live under its area of responsibility in the occupied West Bank, could somehow operate with any credibility in Gaza is precisely the type of intellectual sludge that persistently oozes from Washington think tanks into the corridors of power. It has no more legitimacy than the farcical Dick Cheney-led plan two decades ago to install the discredited exile Ahmed Chalabi as the leader of a post-Saddam Iraq.
Such discussions about Gaza’s future, which exclude the actual residents of Gaza, dramatize the near-religious fervor that drives what can only be described as a firm American commitment to doing everything possible to avoid addressing the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people and their rights to self determination and self-defense.
Biden made his choice — and has continued to double down on it in the face of every fresh horror that has unfolded in Gaza. Whatever tale of victory he and Netanyahu want to spin when the intense period of wanton death and destruction “winds down,” Biden should never be permitted to escape the cold fact that he served as the arms dealer and most consequential public propagandist for a war of choice against an overwhelmingly defenseless civilian population. The responsibility for the blowback that will inevitably sprout from the killing fields of Gaza should be firmly affixed to Biden’s legacy.