11 May 2024

‘It’s not clear what Biden sees as a red line in Gaza,’ says former US diplomat

News Correspondent

Israel’s new orders for more residents of Rafah to leave are being viewed with concern, not only by Palestinians being asked to uproot yet again, but also by observers who see the demand as a precursor to a potential ground invasion.

The Americans have been warning Israel against an invasion of Rafah for weeks now, as more than a million people are sheltering in the area.

We spoke to Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former State Department diplomat, about what he thinks the Biden Administration is privately saying about Israel’s military expansion in Rafah.

Aaron David Miller: “The president has already indicated that he supports one shipment of high payload munitions, but also continued with $14 billion in an emergency national security supplemental to Israel, along with $60 billion to Ukraine. They also have another $780 million of weaponry in the pipeline that the Israelis are going to receive. So this is not an arms embargo by any means. It’s a signal. It’s a cautionary note. The president has basically said that there would be further pauses, maybe even restrictions, on Israeli military assistance if in fact the Israelis go ahead on this. So I guess that’s the real question – will the Israelis stay below what the administration perceives to be its red line? And precisely what is the administration’s red line? Neither of those things are crystal clear.”

Ayshah Tull: “What do you think is going to happen next, because there was a statement today from the IDF saying that they’re going back into an area that was already cleared?”

Aaron David Miller: “The Israelis now are faced with a problem. They’ve cleared many areas in northern and central Gaza, but Hamas has begun to resurge. And unlike the Americans in Iraq or Afghanistan – where the strategy was to clear, hold and build – the Israelis can clear, certainly, but it’s hard for them to hold, and they don’t want to build. I take them at face value, they don’t want to occupy Gaza forever. But at the same time, the Netanyahu government has refused to engage on anything that you and I would consider significant war planning. What happens, even if they do destroy Hamas’s organised structure as a military force? Who takes over?”

Ayshah Tull: “That report on Friday which said it was reasonable to assess US weapons have been used, which is in a manner that is inconsistent with international humanitarian law, it also did say that Hamas shields behind civilian populations. What did you make of that report?”

Aaron David Miller: “On one hand, it’s the most critical report of how the Israelis have behaved since the better part of the past seven months up until April. But on the other hand the administration clearly, and no administration that I worked for – Republican or Democrat –- wanted to get into a situation where they are forced, legally or even politically, to restrict or end America’s military assistance to Israel. You’ve seen the pushback now on the part of Republicans who are accusing the administration of betrayal. They’re trying to navigate an impossible line to navigate.”

Ayshah Tull: “And where does this leave the Biden Administration? As you said, Republicans say he’s too weak. Democrats on his left flank also say he’s too weak. And the election’s coming up very soon.”

Aaron David Miller: “There is one way out, which is an Israeli-Hamas negotiation, which leads to release of the hostages in exchange for six or seven weeks of pause. You could build on that, conceivably, to surge humanitarian assistance, get hostages out and de-escalate Israeli military activity. But the Biden Administration doesn’t seem to be able to produce that, in large part because the Israelis, Israeli government and Hamas, have other objectives.”

Ayshah Tull: “Do you think that the Israeli government is just essentially waiting for Donald Trump to get in because his administration will have a different view on this?”

Aaron David Miller: “That certainly could be the objective of the prime minister. But clearly, Benjamin Netanyahu probably believes he must stay in power because if he loses power, he’s on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in a Jerusalem district court. He’s going to either face a conviction or most likely a plea bargain, which will be the end of his political career. And this man has no intention, I think, given his will to remain in power, to see either one of those outcomes. He’ll hang on for as long as he possibly can, and he’ll do whatever it takes to hang on.”