Shifting sands, mowing lawns, and Robert Zimmerman

The ground is shifting in Washington for Israel in the wake of the latest installment in the Gaza Wars epic, and Prime Minister Benjamin “Mr. America expert” Netanyahu seems to have been caught by surprise.

Neither President Joe Biden nor, more so, a growing number of members of Congress are as willing as they once were to sit by and nod approvingly while Israel “mows the grass” in Gaza.

A small part of this is due to increasingly outspoken pro-Palestinian voices on the Democratic left, but it would be a mistake to blame them solely and forget it.  The concern is spreading beyond the Beltway, including into the Jewish community, and it is time to take notice.

Netanyahu has long been used to getting his own way in Washington by counting on a compliant Congress and, especially the last four years, an overly-indulgent president and subservient lobby.

That is history and he is having trouble grasping the new reality.

It is not totally his fault, although that’s no excuse. If he’d had more skilled diplomats in Washington he might have seen it coming. Whoever told him (himself included) he could take the Jews for granted and should focus on the far more numerous Evangelicals and the “we love Israel more” Republicans did Israel a great disservice.

And the guy who gave Netanyahu the “do whatever you want, I don’t give a damn because I don’t care for the Palestinians any more than you do” card left town and is in exile on one of his golf courses.

There’s a new sheriff in town and he knows Bibi too well for Bibi’s own good. The PM should have gotten the message about changing priorities when four months have gone by in the new administration and there’s still no American ambassador in Jerusalem.

Don’t misunderstand the criticism of Israel. There is no sympathy for Hamas, a bona fide terrorist group which started this round, but there is great concern for the high number of civilian casualties.  Anyone who is paying attention knows that Hamas considers each dead Palestinian a PR victory, and it places its launchers and headquarters and everything in between amidst their human shields. Meanwhile it fires its missiles indiscriminately at Israeli towns and cities with the intention of causing civilian casualties.  Many of its munitions never get to Israel, falling instead inside Gaza, but so far there’s little reliable information about those self-inflicted wounds.

Don’t be distracted by those who bemoan the disparity in death tolls as if there’s something unfair because there aren’t more dead Jews. Israel saved lives by investing heavily in bomb shelters, safe rooms in homes, early warning sirens and the highly effective Iron Dome anti-missile system. All that while Hamas was putting its money into building missiles, invasion tunnels for cross-border tunnels for smuggling and military assault while placing command posts, rocket launchers and ammunition dumps in civilian neighborhoods.   It’s a practice employed extensively by Yasser Arafat, who put anti-aircraft guns and missile launchers in school yards, near clinics, in neighborhoods and on apartment buildings so when Israel retaliated he could accuse it of war crimes. Cynical but effective for Arafat, though not his Palestinian shields.

Israel’s ploy of announcing an armored ground incursion to drive Hamas fighters was a smart move, regardless of how many journalists felt they’d been lied to (they were and for very good reason). That gave the IDF a chance to do extensive damage to Hamas’s Metro – its cross-border tunnel network – and eliminate many fighters and weapons hidden there and poised to invade Israel to kidnap or kill Israeli civilians.

But by the time of the tunnel attack, Israel was losing the PR war – which is important because each side badly needs and values international sympathy and support.

President Biden resisted growing pressure from Congress for nearly a week before pressing Israel for a “a significant de-escalation” and ceasefire in the latest Gaza war. Netanyahu told him to go pound sand. Keeping the far right happy was more important to him than listening to Israel’s most important ally; it had always worked in the past for him.

This time he could spark a new effort to take a closer look at the sale of arms that cause civilian casualties.  A similar one followed Israel’s use of cluster bombs in Lebanon and resulted in some policy changes. Sen. Bernie Sanders and others this week introduced Resolutions of Disapproval to block the sale of precision guided bombs for Israel like the ones used for the past fortnight to rearrange Gaza.  There’s no chance any of them will pass, but they will begin a debate and seek to force a new awareness. In the words of Robert Zimmerman, formerly of Duluth, Minnesota, the times they are a changin’.

Netanyahu announced he was “determined” to keep up the Gaza offensive “until its aim is met” regardless of what Biden said.  In other words, he intended to stop on his own terms and not let the president of the United States tell him what to do.

Both sides agreed to a ceasefire starting today but if recent experience is any indicator, it may only be a few days before Hamas sprouts “weeds” and Israel brings out the lawnmower again.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.
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