Thursday, July 25

Crisis in the Middle East: the Israeli Defense Minister arrives in Washington amid tensions

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made fresh complaints on Sunday about the Biden administration’s supply of munitions for the war in Gaza as his defense minister arrived in Washington to meet with senior US officials.

Some Israeli media had described Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s visit, although planned in advance, as a “reconciliation” trip aimed at easing recent tensions with the country’s most important ally. Netanyahu’s government and the Biden administration are increasingly at odds over Israel’s conduct in Gaza, and last week Netanyahu lashed out at the United States for withholding munitions.

But on Sunday morning, Netanyahu redoubled his efforts. In a speech broadcast in Hebrew before the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he appreciated the Biden administration’s support for Israel during eight months of war, “but starting four months ago, there has been a dramatic decrease in the supply of armaments”.

“For many weeks we have been turning to our American friends asking that shipments be expedited. We did it again and again,” Netanyahu said, adding that he had also tried to work behind closed doors.

“We received all sorts of explanations, but one thing we did not receive: the basic situation did not change,” he continued, adding: “Some items arrived sporadically, but ammunition in general remained behind.”

There was no immediate comment from the Biden administration on the remarks, which could overshadow Gallant in Washington. They come just days after Netanyahu released a combative video, in English, criticizing the Biden administration for, as the Israeli leader said, withholding weapons and ammunition while Israel was “fighting for its life” against Iran and other common enemies.

US officials at the time said they found the video “disconcerting” and did not know what Netanyahu was talking about. While Israel’s prime minister complained of “bottlenecks,” the Biden administration said it had only blocked one shipment of 2,000-pound bombs due to concerns about their use in densely populated parts of Gaza.

Many Israelis were equally dismayed by the prime minister’s decision to engage in such a public confrontation with the White House, with harsh criticism coming even from his own conservative Likud party.

Yuli Edelstein, a Likud lawmaker and chair of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, said he was “surprised” by the video. He told Israel’s “Meet the Press” program on Saturday that differences of opinion with the United States should not be handled “through video clips.”

Some Israeli political analysts have suggested that Netanyahu’s moves could be an attempt to intervene in American politics ahead of November’s presidential election and give Donald Trump and the Republicans a stick with which to beat the Democrats. Netanyahu is expected to address a joint session of Congress next month.

Other experts, however, say Netanyahu’s public snub likely has more to do with Israel’s internal politics, amid growing signs of tension in his hawkish coalition – the most right-wing and religiously conservative in Israel’s history.

“If there is any logic to a completely illogical move, you have to see all this through the prism of Netanyahu, with his political survival as the ultimate goal,” said Reuven Hazan, a political science professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Jerusalem. .

Netanyahu “was pandering to extremists in Israel in the short term,” he added, “and probably harming the military, relations with the United States and the country in the long term.”

Netanyahu defended his actions on Sunday, saying he went public based on “years of experience and the knowledge that this step was vital to opening the bottleneck,” adding: “I am willing to absorb personal attacks on behalf of the State of Israel”. .”

He also suggested that his public criticism could pay off.

“In light of what I have heard over the last 24 hours,” he said, “I hope and believe that this issue will be resolved in the near future.”

The continuation of Sunday’s argument and Gallant’s trip to the United States come at a critical time. The Israeli military has indicated it wants to end fighting in Gaza and potentially turn its attention to the northern border with Lebanon, after weeks of escalating attacks between the Israeli army and Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese militia.

The Biden administration has been working to try to find a diplomatic solution to avoid a full-blown conflagration between Israel and Hezbollah. President Biden has also invested time and political capital supporting an Israeli truce proposal in Gaza that includes an exchange of hostages – including some with US citizenship – for Palestinian prisoners. Hamas raised significant reservations about the proposal and the talks reached an impasse.

According to Mr. Gallant’s office, Mr. Gallant was invited to Washington by his counterpart, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III. He is also said to have met with Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and other senior American officials.

“The United States is our most important and central ally,” Gallant said shortly before his departure. “Our ties are crucial, and perhaps more important than ever, at this time,” he added.

Gallant and Netanyahu are themselves rivals who have clashed openly in recent months, even as they jointly oversee Israel’s military operations. As Israel’s prime minister has lashed out at the White House, he has also engaged in increasingly public spats with his military brass and his right-wing coalition partners.

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