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APRIL 15, 2024
On the Prospect website
The $6 Trillion Decision
The stakes of the election can be laid out in 13-figure sums. BY DAVID DAYEN

America’s Fifth Circuit Problem
Judges are now fighting over the right to hear important policy cases. BY HASSAN ALI KANU
Biden’s Gaza Policy Could Create a Replay of Chicago ’68
Unconditional aid to Israel could prompt a clash of demonstrators and cops at this summer’s convention, boosting Trump’s prospects. BY HAROLD MEYERSON
Kuttner on TAP
Netanyahu Outplays Biden Yet Again
Changing the subject from Gaza to Iran with a cynical provocation
Once again, Bibi Netanyahu is playing Joe Biden like a violin, with even more reckless military moves. Ten days ago, Biden read Bibi the riot act. The war on Gazan civilians had to stop. Letting in more humanitarian aid also had to happen, but that was secondary to ending the destruction.

Have you noticed that all such talk has been sidelined?

Netanyahu, whose cynicism knows no bounds, changed the subject by provoking a much broader and more dangerous crisis. It’s clear that he was behind the covert strike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, killing 16 people including two senior Iranian generals, a plain violation of well-established diplomatic immunity.

Netanyahu did this knowing that Iran would have to respond; and that this in turn would create the kind of existential crisis for Israel that would sidetrack Biden’s criticism and revive core U.S. support for Israel.

The ploy worked like a charm. Iran’s behavior was constrained from the outset, even as it launched a drone and missile attack. Iran gave advance warning of its plans, to allow Israel time to prepare and to minimize casualties and to assure Biden that there would be no targeting of U.S. troops.

The attack was carefully contrived to satisfy Iranian public and elite opinion but without blundering into World War III. It was like a textbook exercise in game theory.

Israel’s Iron Dome defense, having plenty of warning, was able to destroy virtually all of the incoming drones and missiles (with some U.S. help), thus demonstrating Israel’s military superiority and Iran’s inability to do real damage. Israel even brashly opened its civilian airspace within seven hours.

As for Biden, he declared on Saturday at a press briefing, “As I told Prime Minister Netanyahu, our commitment to Israel’s security against these threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad—let me say it again, ironclad.” It was as if Bibi had scripted it, and in a sense he did.

Bibi has now succeeded in changing the subject to Iran’s aggression, heedless of the risks of far wider war that he provoked. The world’s opprobrium is now directed at Iran.
On Sunday, Biden called an emergency meeting of G7 leaders by secure video “to coordinate a united diplomatic response to Iran’s brazen attack.” Afterward, the White House put out a statement saying, “The leaders condemned Iran’s unprecedented attack against Israel and reaffirmed the G7’s commitment to Israel’s security.”

As icing on Bibi’s cake, the House Republicans have now lifted their blockage of aid to Israel. “In light of Iran’s unjustified attack on Israel, the House will move from its previously announced legislative schedule next week to instead consider legislation that supports our ally Israel and holds Iran and its terrorist proxies accountable,” said House Majority Leader Steve Scalise in a Saturday statement. “The House of Representatives stands strongly with Israel, and there must be consequences for this unprovoked attack.” It is not clear at this point whether that will take the form of stand-alone funding for Israel or the long-stalled package that combines aid to Ukraine.

Regardless, nearly everyone “stands with Israel.” You don’t hear the White House warning Bibi to admit that the Gaza war is over and to stop talking about a date for an invasion of Rafah. Biden and his top aides are now using their limited leverage over Bibi to warn him not to launch a counterattack on Iran.

Bibi’s deliberate provocation worked beyond his dreams. Ironically, Bibi is more isolated than ever within his cabinet. According to Haaretz, Bibi’s truculence on a Rafah operation is entirely to reassure the government’s most extremist members, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich. The rest of the cabinet wants the Gaza war ended. This was one more reason for Bibi’s Iran provocation.

Assuming that Biden and the G7 succeed in getting both Israel and Iran to de-escalate, we have now lost another two or three weeks in Biden’s on-again, off-again demands that Netanyahu end his assaults on Gaza.

One other important distinction is worth keeping in mind. There are really three separate issues here and they need to be kept separate. One is Netanyahu’s war on civilian Gaza. It needs to end. The second is the long-sought hostage deal. Neither Netanyahu nor Hamas has made it a priority, about half the hostages are presumed dead, and lack of progress on a hostage release must not become the pretext for keeping the Gaza war going. The third element is some kind of regional peace deal. That may come in due course, but it has to begin with an end to the Gaza war and other Bibi provocations.

In terms of U.S. politics, there is now a race between reproductive rights as a losing issue for Republicans and Israel as a losing issue for Democrats. Despite all of the Republican self-inflicted damage on abortion, IVF, fetal personhood, and Trump’s contortions, this is a contest that Biden and the Democrats are currently blowing.
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