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Editorial: Biden’s limit on bomb shipments may finally get Netanyahu’s attention

Editorial: Biden’s limit on bomb shipments may finally get Netanyahu’s attention
Editorial: Biden’s limit on bomb shipments may finally get Netanyahu’s attention

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In quietly halting a shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel last week, President Biden at last began exercising U.S. leverage to halt a full-scale invasion of Rafah, the final refuge in Gaza for about a million Palestinians displaced by Israeli destruction elsewhere in the besieged territory.

It’s the right move, even though Israel may have a sufficient stockpile from previous U.S. shipments to press forward.

Biden has tried to walk a line between supporting Israel in its effort to destroy Hamas in the wake of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack that killed about 1,200 people, and pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to limit civilian casualties. Until now, that pressure came only in the form of words. The Gaza death toll is nearing 35,000, and much of the strip has been obliterated. Survivors face starvation because Israel cut off access to corridors for delivery of food and other humanitarian assistance. Pressure from Biden succeeded in reopening some aid routes, but Israel has since limited their use.

Israeli has launched airstrikes in Rafah and its troops and tanks entered the area on Tuesday. But as of yet there has been no large-scale bombing. On Wednesday, Biden said publicly for the first time that the U.S. would stop supplies of some offensive weapons if Israel launches a full invasion in Rafah.

Congress, under pressure from Biden, approved $26 billion in aid to Israel last month, and administration officials said the president intends to deliver all of it.

But for now, the holdup in delivery of bombs backs up U.S. warnings against destruction of Rafah.

There is precedent for withholding weapons in order to exert leverage on Israel. In 1981, President Reagan delayed shipment of F-16 fighter jets in response to Israel’s bombing of Beirut and other military actions in Lebanon. The next year, amid Lebanon’s civil war, he halted delivery of cluster artillery shells.

Reagan demanded that Prime Minister Menachem Begin end Israel’s “holocaust” in Lebanon, and Biden — then a senator from Delaware — reportedly demanded that Begin block construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. But Begin later said Biden was so adamant about defending Israel against invasion that Begin had to talk him down.

According to Begin, who died in 1992, Biden said he’d use force to repel an invasion of Israel, even if it meant killing women or children.

“According to our values,” Begin recounted telling Biden, “it is forbidden to hurt women and children, even in war. … Sometimes there are casualties among the civilian population as well. But it is forbidden to aspire to this. This is a yardstick of human civilization, not to hurt civilians.”

That yardstick has been broken repeatedly beginning on Oct. 7, first by Hamas, but then again and again, by Israel. An older and wiser Biden has tried to get Netanyahu to remember and abide by that measure but has failed. Let’s hope the halt in bomb shipments, however temporary and modest, serves as an effective reminder.

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