The Biden administration doubts that Israel could achieve its objective of destroying Hamas. They are also telling the Israelis that a ground offensive would jeopardize the lives of the hostages. It would also kill a lot of Palestinian civilians and Israeli soldiers and interrupt the flow of humanitarian supplies into Gaza.
Their primary concern, however, is that increasing the level of violence will widen the war. They’re worried that Iranian proxy terrorists in Iraq and Syria will continue to strike American bases and personnel, eventually forcing a strike on Iran. That would bring Syria and possibly Lebanon into the war with Syria’s ally Russia waiting in the wings.
By urging “surgical” strikes and raids by special forces, Biden hopes the Israelis can continue to damage Hamas while keeping the hostages alive and aid flowing into Gaza. However, Israel doesn’t appear to be listening:
Despite their private warnings, American officials do not have great confidence that Israel will reverse its intent to wage a large-scale ground offensive. Although the United States has considerable leverage over Israel as its largest military, political and economic backer, U.S. officials have not threatened to withdraw support or impose any consequences on the Jewish state if it forges ahead with its own plans.
On the contrary, the Biden administration is working to provide Israel a new $14 billion security package to replenish its Iron Dome missile interceptors and its munitions and to provide additional military financing.
Clearly, the administration has been talking to other players in the region who would be very uncomfortable with a high civilian death toll in Gaza. The hospital explosion caused by misfired Islamic Jihad rockets but blamed on Israel in the Arab world set off riots in Egypt, Tunisia, and other Arab states. Most of the Arab dictatorships fear their own people more than anything else and anything that brings citizens into the streets is a danger to them.
Obviously, Israel can’t worry about the reaction of the Arab street. They’re dealing with an existential threat the only way they know how. World opinion matters little. As the Israelis see it, Hamas is killing Palestinians by using them as human shields. Their deaths are on Hamas’s hands.
But what of the threat of a wider war? The Biden administration has warned Iran about their terrorist proxies attacking Americans. U.S. forces bombed several facilities in Syria used by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and its proxies.
But another drone was launched from Syria at U.S. troops in Western Iraq. American air defenses shot down the drone a few miles from Al Asad Air Base. Once the Israeli’s ground offensive gets rolling, will the proxies increase their attacks?
“This was our way of saying ‘cut it out,’ but no more than that,” said Charles Lister of the Middle East Institute in Washington. “The Iranians won’t be deterred, of course, so this will likely prove to be the first step in several attempts to reinforce deterrence.”
Meanwhile, Republicans and other more hawkish defense experts believe we’re not doing enough to deter Iran with these attacks.
“They demonstrate that we won’t just take incoming attacks without a response, but they were not, and are not, sufficient to deter additional future attacks,” said David A. Deptula, a retired three-star Air Force general and the dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said the U.S. retaliation, especially on unoccupied proxy warehouses, “merely validates Iran’s strategy to use proxies to attack Americans.”
“They are laughing at us in Tehran,” he added.
Bringing Iran into the war might satisfy the defense hawks in the U.S. and Israel, but the variables in widening the war are too great to risk it. The U.S. could easily get sucked into a wider war with unforeseeable consequences.
It may be unavoidable once Israel’s ground offensive gets going. In that, Biden was right the first time: take out Hamas and then let the chips fall where they may.