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Why Biden Used a Light Touch With Netanyahu

As violence raged between Israeli and Hamas for 10 days, President Biden spoke with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, privately six instances, conversations by which he pressed him to answer a easy question: “How does this end?”

Mr. Biden’s tactic was to keep away from public condemnation of Israel’s bombing of Gaza — and even a public name for a cease-fire — with a purpose to build up capital with Mr. Netanyahu after which exert stress in non-public when the time got here, in response to two folks aware of the administration’s inside debates.

In non-public conversations, Mr. Biden and different American officers reiterated to the Israelis that that they had achieved some important army targets in opposition to Hamas, the militant group that fired 1000’s of rockets at Israel from Gaza, together with concentrating on its tunnel networks. Mr. Biden pressed Mr. Netanyahu on what his goal was, and what would permit him to say he had achieved it in order that a shorter conflict was doable, moderately than a drawn-out army battle.

In response, in response to the folks aware of the discussions, Mr. Netanyahu didn’t lay out particular targets that he needed to accomplish earlier than agreeing to a cease-fire.

At the identical time, Richard N. Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, cautioned in opposition to exaggerating how a lot credit score Mr. Biden deserved for setting the stage for a truce.

“About 90 percent of the reason for the cease-fire is that both Hamas and the government of Israel determined that prolonging the conflict didn’t serve their interests,” Mr. Haass mentioned. “This was a cease-fire that essentially was ready to happen.”

In his public feedback, Mr. Biden refused to hitch the rising calls from world leaders and plenty of of his fellow Democrats for a cease-fire, or specific something in need of assist for Israel’s proper to defend itself.

Dennis B. Ross, who has served as Middle East envoy to a few presidents, mentioned a public demand for a cease-fire may have backfired. Had Mr. Biden known as for a cease-fire, Mr. Ross mentioned, “Bibi’s political need to stand up to him would have been much greater.”

Mr. Biden’s method, he added, additionally despatched a message to Hamas. “The more they understood we were not going to be pressuring Israel that way, the more they understood they can’t count on us stopping Israel,” he mentioned.

Mr. Biden’s technique of quiet diplomacy was supposed to build credibility with the Israelis, with a purpose to privately push them towards an finish to the violence in a remaining dialog with Mr. Netanyahu on Wednesday. And it took under consideration the necessity to tread fastidiously with Mr. Netanyahu.

Aware of the errors made by the United States in making an attempt to mediate the 2014 Israel-Gaza battle, Mr. Biden and his crew didn’t need the United States to turn into the main focus of the story. Instead, Mr. Biden tried to create area for Mr. Netanyahu, whom he’ll want as a accomplice sooner or later in coping with Iran, to attain his targets.

“Israel and the United States are going to have big things to work out, in particular Iran,” Mr. Haas mentioned. “The president had to be careful in how he handled Bibi. Both needed to maintain a working relationship so that if and when the Iran situation moved to the front burner, they would be able to work together.”

Mr. Biden started his conversations with Mr. Netanyahu by making no calls for. That helped to pave the way in which for a gently worded assertion that got here after their third telephone name, by which Mr. Biden mentioned he would assist a cease-fire, however stopped in need of demanding one.

In comply with up conversations on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Biden constructed up the stress by demanding privately to Mr. Netanyahu the necessity for a cease-fire.