Israelis Praise Biden Visit but Fear U.S. Constraints on Action

In the wake of a visit by President Biden, Israelis on Thursday praised his courage in coming at a time of war and for his full-throated support, as he pledged “we will not let you ever be alone” after attacks from Hamas killed at least 1,400 Israelis.

But while the words were welcome, there was also concern that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, badly damaged by his failure to protect Israelis, had given Mr. Biden too much influence over how Israel should now fight its war in Gaza against Hamas, the group that controls the enclave.

Mr. Biden embraced Israel, but also cautioned it not to overreach to its detriment in the region — and implicitly, to the detriment of the United States. He even attended a war cabinet to be briefed on Israel’s plans, as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken did before him.

This degree of consultation is rare, if not unprecedented, even in a relationship this close, Israeli analysts said. If it has potential benefits for Mr. Netanyahu, it also carries risks. It may give him political cover for an extended war, but it may also constrain how he conducts it.

Alternatively, Washington could be seen as a collaborator if Israel is blamed for going too far.

“The late Ariel Sharon was in the habit of saying, ‘We will defend ourselves, by ourselves,’” wrote Nadav Eyal, an Israeli analyst, in the newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth. “These are not the values that Netanyahu has been projecting in the last few days. He seems to yearn to be the United States’ 51st state. This comes with a price, symbolic as well as practical.”

His concern was underscored by Nahum Barnea, one of Israel’s most respected commentators. Mr. Biden made it clear that the United States will not forsake Israel, but won’t allow it to do as it pleases, he wrote in Yedioth. The rules of the game have been that “Israel does not share its military plans with the U.S. Advance notice, yes; consideration, yes; asking permission, no,” he wrote.

Mr. Netanyahu has instead “brought the Americans into the decision-making process in the security cabinet and the emergency cabinet,” Mr. Barnea wrote. “That means that Biden will be held responsible for anything that Israel does in Gaza. That obliges him and obliges us.”

This criticism was even more sharply expressed by more right-wing analysts who have supported the government in the past. Nechama Duek, writing in Israel Hayom, said that Mr. Biden has spoken softly and empathically, “but with his words, he has bound and shackled Netanyahu and his government.”

Israelis lined up as President Biden’s motorcade passed on Wednesday in Tel Aviv.Credit…Kenny Holston/The New York Times

Mr. Netanyahu, she wrote, “is afraid” of the results of this war “and is glad to have Biden there as a partner. That is why he hasn’t rejected the assistance the way his predecessors did. But has given himself over to a hug that might be a bear hug.”

Gadi Taub, a longstanding Netanyahu supporter and lecturer in the School of Public Policy and the Department of Communications at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was harsher, arguing that Mr. Biden has limited Israel’s ability to fight the war to a necessary conclusion.

“Biden blocked any path to an unequivocal Israel victory picture, something that will make it clear to our enemies that we are weak and dependent on others,” Mr. Taub said in a message on X. Despite the promise of solidarity and aid, Mr. Biden “made an important contribution to tilting the balance of power in the region to our detriment.”

But others saw the American oversight as vital when Mr. Netanyahu is so discredited. Einat Wilf, a former member of the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, from the left, praised Mr. Biden for recognizing that Mr. Netanyahu has lost authority and that the country is in a kind of vacuum and needs both support and guidance. “There is no government,” she wrote on X. “The U.S. understood this right away and is acting accordingly.”

The Biden visit mattered for two reasons, said Akiva Eldar, a respected Israeli analyst, noting that Mr. Biden has no particular love for Mr. Netanyahu, known popularly as Bibi. “For the Israeli people, he’s supporting Israel and Israeli democracy, despite despising Bibi,” Mr. Eldar said.

But Mr. Biden’s visit “will also restrain the zealots from the right” who are even calling for the Israeli resettlement of Gaza, Mr. Eldar said, and pushes Mr. Netanyahu to think about a recommitment to a two-state solution after the war.

That should help centrist politicians, said Mr. Eldar, who favors the establishment of a national unity “peace government” to manage what happens when the shooting stops.

With American support, he said, “It will be difficult for Bibi to delegitimize them after the war.”

Natan Odenheimer contributed reporting.

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