President Biden’s trip to Israel today was a reminder of the stakes of the Jewish state’s counteroffensive against Hamas.
By one count, Israel has called up 360,000 reservists in preparation for a land invasion of Gaza. That is about the number of the U.S. Army reserves, Navy reserves, Air Force reserves, and Marine Corps reserves combined. Thus, the impending ground invasion is the biggest Israel has ever mounted in Hamas-run Gaza. But it remains impending. No doubt the existence of 199 hostages, many of whom are U.S./Israel dual passport holders, complicates war plans. Biden’s visit adds a few more days to the delay, and that’s time Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad will use to prepare for battle and UN diplomats will use to try to prevent it altogether.
Everything in Biden’s speech today and his general demeanor, however, suggest he takes the inevitability of a ground incursion for granted and is uninterested in saving Hamas. A second USS carrier strike group is on its way, Biden said, “to deter further aggression against Israel and to prevent this conflict from spreading.” To south Lebanon, that is—where Iran is considering whether to open a second front against Israel using its Hezbollah proxy. Preventing the conflict from spreading north is the administration’s stated priority.
One reason the administration appears to feel little pressure to prevent a ground invasion of Gaza is that there has been a sea change in the way American media and elites talk about Hamas. Even Barack Obama, whose administration crafted its foreign-policy strategy around boosting Iran’s power in the region, encouraged Americans to “stand squarely alongside our ally, Israel, as it dismantles Hamas,” in the wake of its monstrous Oct. 7 attacks. Hamas is a thorn in everyone’s side because it has a heckler’s veto over any attempts to make peace in the region. And not just Israeli-Palestinian peace: Biden is hoping to shepherd a legacy-defining agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and Hamas is willing to do anything to torpedo it, including acts of barbarism that recall the Kishinev pogrom of 1903. While Biden was in Israel, emergency workers recovered the burned body of a 5-year-old boy who had tried to hide from the Oct. 7 attacks in the attic.
Meanwhile, those seeking to let Hamas off the hook are failing to find much of a sympathetic ear even in some parts of the media. This week, CNN’s Abby Phillip asked Squad leader Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez this question: “You and several others of your colleagues released a statement calling for a ceasefire in the region. But, I wonder, what is Israel supposed to do about Hamas after they’ve murdered, brutalized, abducted over a thousand of their citizens. Are they supposed to just do nothing?”
The influential House Democrat was unprepared for the question. Later on, she stammered about identifying the goal of Israel’s military response. Phillip informed her that, actually, “Israel’s goal is to rid the region of Hamas. They have been very clear about that.” Eventually AOC admitted that Hamas does need to be “dealt with.”
“But how, I think, is what I’m trying to understand,” Phillip pleaded.
It’s a question only Israel’s advocates used to ask. If Biden’s message today was genuine, that question will be definitively answered. Just not in the way Ocasio-Cortez might have hoped.