As Rafah hangs in the balance, will Bibi defy Biden?

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It’s true. While American Democrats, who have long been urging for conditions to be placed on arms transfers, argue that Biden’s been underestimating Washington’s clout, the history of U.S.-Israeli relations suggests his leverage may not be as great as some progressives think. Sometimes bare-knuckle pressure works, sometimes not — and particularly less so when Israeli leaders believe their actions are fundamental to their national security.

Indeed, Netanyahu is just the latest in a long line of Israeli leaders who brazenly disregarded U.S. presidents. Ben-Gurion, the country’s first prime minister, engaged in a battle of wills with Kennedy over Israel’s nuclear program. Reagan was furious with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin over Israel’s bomb raids on west Beirut in 1982, nine weeks into the Israeli invasion of Lebanon (though Reagan’s suspension of the delivery of did bring Begin round). And George H.W. Bush was one of several U.S. presidents who tried to halt Israeli settlement encroachments in the West Bank to little avail.

In 2007, Olmert himself went ahead and targeted a suspected nuclear reactor at Al Kibar in Syria, after then U.S. President George W. Bush said America wouldn’t bomb the site and asked him not to do so as well. “When Bush told me, ‘I am against you acting in Syria, I will not act in Syria, and I urge you not to do it,’ I said, ‘Mr. President, with all due respect to you, I will decide what’s good for Israeli security,” Olmert recalled.

And he suspects Bibi now thinks he’s in a win-win situation. “He thinks that this all helps him. On the one hand, he can please his base by bragging he’s the only one who can say to the president of the United States, ‘Get lost. I will do what I want to do, and you will not force me to do otherwise.’ On the other, he will be able to excuse the lack of total success he promised — not because of his failure, but because of the pressure from the United States of America,” he said.

For Likud lawmaker and former Israeli envoy to the U.N. Danny Danon, however, that criticism is unfair. “We have to finish the job,” he told POLITICO. “We have to finish the enemy because the end story is, there can only be one winner in this war. We cannot allow Hamas to declare victory. If that happens, it becomes an existential threat . . . because all of the enemies around us will be empowered. That’s something we cannot allow,” he said.

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