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Biden Sticks by Israel as Bloody War on Gaza Threatens to Expand

Three months later, the White House still backs Israel as the war on Gaza threatens to devolve into broader chaos.

Palestinians are seen next to the rubble of a buildings destroyed by Israeli attacks in Deir al-Balah, Gaza, on January 5, 2024.

Part of the Series

The future of Israel’s war on Gaza is uncertain, but the Biden administration says it will continue supporting the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), even as the horrific war divides fellow Democrats and stokes fear that the United States is being pulled into a violent regional conflagration.

The headlines this week did not ease this anxiety. Harking back to the brutal war in Iraq, a U.S. airstrike on central Baghdad reportedly killed an Iran-linked militia member on Thursday and deeply angered the Iraqi government, raising fresh concerns that the war on Gaza is devolving into a multi-front conflict as various groups seek to expel U.S. troops still stationed in the region. Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, a militia that has claimed attacks on U.S. forces, reportedly confirmed that a commander was killed in the area.

“We want to prevent the conflict from spreading, but part of that means that people need to stop taking strikes against our soldiers,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told The Guardian. “And if they take strikes against our soldiers, we’re going to do what we need to protect ourselves, as any country would do.”

Meanwhile, Israel continues to kill Palestinian civilians with strikes on densely populated areas amid international concern that the war is spreading to southern Lebanon and Red Sea shipping lanes. Multiple news reports suggest Israeli officials are holding secret talks with countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo about taking Palestinian refugees forcibly expelled from Gaza, the latest sign that Israel’s far right leaders are seeking an endless occupation and mass displacement — an endgame the U.S. claims it does not support.

In the first White House press briefing of 2024, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby admitted on Wednesday that Hamas remains a powerful fighting force in Gaza. However, as the war enters its third bloody month, Kirby insisted that Israel can still attain its stated goal of defeating the group, making clear that the U.S. will continue backing a military campaign that has claimed at least 22,000 Palestinian lives while potentially damaging President Joe Biden’s reelection prospects.

“First of all, the Israelis should speak to their military goals,” Kirby told reporters on Wednesday. “We have said that we absolutely believe they have the right and responsibility to eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to the Israeli people.”

Kirby said Hamas “still has a significant force posture inside Gaza,” but Israeli forces can “degrade” the resistance party’s ability to attack the Israeli population, pointing to decades-long efforts by the U.S. to defang Islamic militant groups in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan that cost trillions of dollars and destroyed the lives of millions.

“It can be done militarily,” Kirby said. “Are you going to eliminate the ideology? No. And are you likely going to erase the group from existence? Probably not. But can you eliminate the threat that Hamas poses to the Israeli people? Absolutely.”

The comments come as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns that war could last “many more months” and right-wing extremists in his government openly defy the Biden administration with calls for the mass displacement of Palestinians from Gaza in what would be likely be considered ethnic cleansing by much of the world.

Fears of an escalation on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon mounted this week after a senior Hamas military leader was killed in a suspected Israeli drone strike in suburban Beirut. A day after the deadly strike, the chief of Israeli intelligence vowed to hunt down every Hamas member involved in the October 7 attack on southern Israel, regardless of where they are located in the world, according to the Associated Press. Israel has not taken explicit responsibility for the strike.

In response, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said the group would not hesitate to go to war with Israel in order to defend its territory but stopped short of declaring war. More than 140 people been killed in shelling between Hezbollah and IDF forces at Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, including two dozen civilians, according to Reuters.

Kirby downplayed fears that continued unconditional support for Israel could drag the U.S. into a destructive regional conflagration that would upend the Middle East — and U.S. interests there.

“We haven’t seen Hezbollah jump in with both feet to come to Hamas’s aid and assistance,” Kirby said. “We continue to message privately and, of course, publicly with you all that we don’t want to see this conflict widen and we don’t want to see a second front opened on the north[ern border with Lebanon].”

Biden better hope Kirby is correct. Hezbollah has advanced rockets capable of striking across Israel. A wider war would make Israel even more dependent on the U.S. aid and weapons that make its war on Gaza possible, and raise the risk of attacks on U.S. positions across the unstable region that could compel the administration to deploy troops and warplanes.

With 61 percent of Americans disapproving of Biden’s handling of the war, a broader, drawn-out conflict paid for by U.S. taxpayers could become a massive drag on the president’s reelection campaign.

Even if the war remains contained to Gaza — and the West Bank, where radical Israeli settlers and IDF forces have killed at least 275 Palestinians and displaced many others from their homes — U.S. support for Israel could haunt Biden until voters go to the polls in November. Gaza is in ruins, with many of its 2.1 million residents starving, displaced and still running from airstrikes as the medical system collapses under Israeli siege.

The horrific humanitarian crisis in Gaza will likely carry on for years even if Israel decides against forcibly displacing the people living there to other countries. Critics across the world say the U.S. is complicit with genocide wrought by Israel, including 77 international human rights groups backing a federal lawsuit brought against the Biden administration on behalf of individual Palestinians and aid groups in Gaza.

“We’re seeing enormous amounts of children with severe dehydration, febrile convulsions, and infectious diseases, including hepatitis and mumps,” Omar Al-Najjar, a displaced doctor in Gaza, said in a declaration to a U.S. federal court. “There are no oral rehydration salts in the Gaza Strip, which is a fluid and electrolyte therapy especially for dehydrated children with severe diarrhea. I have never seen these levels of malnutrition especially amongst children that I’m seeing now.”

Israel and the Biden administration have roundly dismissed claims that the war on Gaza amounts to genocide of Palestinians, but unless policies change and conditions improve quickly, the accusations will only mount as Biden seeks reelection.

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