In Gaza genocide, US defends Israel’s ‘aura of power’
As South Africa accuses Israel of genocide, the Biden administration endorses Israel's bid to sow "fear" in Gaza’s defenseless civilians.
Days after South Africa filed a motion to the International Court of Justice accusing Israel of genocide against the Palestinians of Gaza, the Biden administration responded with indignation. The allegation, White House spokesperson John Kirby declared, is “meritless, counterproductive, and completely without any basis in fact whatsoever.”
South Africa’s 84-page submission is in fact exhaustive in its documentation of Israel’s mass murder campaign in Gaza and Israeli leaders’ open intention to carry it out. By contrast to this detailed intervention, Israel’s chief sponsor in Washington openly admits that it still refuses even minimal scrutiny of the extermination campaign that it is funding and arming.
Nearly three months into an Israeli assault that has relied on billions of dollars in US weaponry, the Biden administration has still “conducted no formal assessment of whether Israel is violating international humanitarian law,” Politico reports. While going out of its way to avoid this assessment, the Biden administration has gone around Congressional review to transfer $147.5 million in artillery shells and other gear to Israel – the second time it has invoked emergency powers to do so.
A senior administration official insists to Politico that there is nothing to worry about: “If you just look at what Israel is doing, they aren’t systematically targeting civilians.” Even if that were true, which it clearly is not, what is indisputable is that Israel is systematically killing civilians. As even President Biden blurted out last month, Israel is carrying out “indiscriminate bombing,” an unambiguous war crime. For this reason, the New York Times reports, when Biden offered that “not... scripted comment,” his blunder “sent aides scrambling to explain.”
How the White House is now scrambling to explain its view that Israel is not committing genocide or even violations of humanitarian law is even more revealing. According to Politico: “The U.S. came to that conclusion in part after looking at press reports and conversations with Israeli officials about their military operations.” Absent from the Biden administration’s list of source material is its own intelligence, which recently found that almost half of the munitions that Israel has dropped on Gaza have been indiscriminate “dumb” bombs that have predictably murdered countless civilians in their homes and shelters.
Instead, the US is only relying on “press reports” – but clearly not those documented in South Africa’s ICJ submission, which collects Israeli leaders’ genocidal rhetoric in nine pages of chilling detail (p. 59-67). That leaves “conversations with Israeli officials” – who, unsurprisingly, are not keen to admit that they are the 21st century’s worst war criminals.
Israel’s bombing campaign is accompanied by an unprecedented blockade that deprives Gaza of vital aid. According to Arif Husain, the chief economist at the United Nations World Food Program, "80% of the people [globally], or four out of five people, in famine or a catastrophic type of hunger are in Gaza right now.”
At the White House podium, Kirby said that he is “not aware of any kind of formal assessment being done by the United States government to analyze the compliance with international law by our partner Israel.” And given that Kirby has previously stated that the White House has “no red lines” when it comes to Israel’s conduct, that will remain the case. “We have not seen anything that would convince us that we need to take a different approach in terms of trying to help Israel defend itself,” he said.
But just as the US is fully aware that its partner Israel is committing genocide, the US is also aware that Israel’s professed “right to self-defense” against occupied territory has nothing to do with self-defense. Biden administration officials have admitted as much to one of their most reliable media mouthpiece since Oct. 7th, the New York Times. “The Americans say Israel’s forceful response... reflects the importance that it places on re-establishing deterrence against attacks from adversaries in the region,” the Times reported in November. “The Israeli military’s aura of power was shaken by the Oct. 7 attack, the officials say.”
To restore Israel’s shaken “aura of power,” therefore, the empathetic Americans have given Israel a free pass to slaughter more than 22,000 defenseless civilians, all while pushing the two million survivors into famine and desperation.
This imperative of “deterrence” – establishing a monopoly on violence against occupied Palestinians and regional neighbors – has guided Israeli strategy since its inception.
As a divisional military commander in 1967, future Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon voiced concern that Israel was losing its “deterrence capability,” which he defined as “our main weapon – the fear of us.”
In 1988, one month into the first Intifada, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin boasted that his policy of brutalizing demonstrating Palestinians was successfully employing Israel’s main weapon of fear. “The use of force, including beatings, undoubtedly has brought about the impact we wanted—strengthening the population’s fear of the Israel Defense Forces,” Rabin said.
When Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in December 2008, a three-week long assault that killed 1,400 Palestinians, including more than 300 children, in the Gaza Strip, Israel wielded the same weapon. According the New York Times, Israeli officials were guided by a “larger concern”: that their “enemies are less afraid of it than they once were or should be.” Therefore, the Times reported, “Israeli leaders are calculating that a display of power in Gaza could fix that,” using slain Palestinians civilians to “re-establish Israeli deterrence.”
The same imperative applies to Israel’s current extermination campaign in Gaza. In calling for “a war of unprecedented magnitude” on Gaza, former Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett explained in October that “Israel’s future depends not on pity from the world, but on fear in the hearts of our enemies.”
In a new account of the Biden administration’s dealings with Israel, the New York Times again confirms that Israel seeks to preserve its monopoly on state terror. In Gaza, the Times explains, “strategically, Israel does not mind too much if the rest of the world thinks it is willing to go overboard with overwhelming force.” After all, Israel has spent more than a “half century... fostering the image of invincibility, an image shattered on Oct. 7. Israeli leaders want to reestablish the deterrence that was lost.”
Israel indeed need not mind that the world opposes its genocidal campaign when the world’s top superpower gives it free rein to “go overboard with overwhelming force” – the Times’ artful euphemism for state terror.
The White House continues to make this endorsement clear, even as it occasionally feigns concern about the civilian toll. According to the Times, “there is no serious discussion within the Biden administration about cutting Israel off or putting conditions on security aid.” The only “real debate” concerns “the language to use and how hard to push,” on marginal tactical issues. But no matter how many more civilians die, “no one inside is really pressing for a dramatic policy shift like suspending weapons supplies to Israel — if for no other reason than they understand the president is not willing to do so.”
Israel undoubtedly appreciates Biden’s unwillingness to stop the genocide. As Israel’s former US ambassador Michael Oren explains, Israel was “dependent on the United States,” after Oct. 7th. “And that meant they have a say in things.” The White House’s main contribution, Oren adds, is that “Biden has not used the two most obvious tools available to him to force Israel’s hand, namely the flow of U.S. arms to Israel and the U.S. veto at the U.N. Security Council that protects Israel from international sanctions.” According to White House insiders, while Biden and Netanyahu “are not truly friends,” both “understand each other’s politics and their mutual dependence at this point.”
Biden and Netanyahu’s mutual dependence only means that Israel must occasionally temper its savagery to meet US public relations needs. According to Times, Netanyahu “agreed to let humanitarian aid into Gaza as a condition for Mr. Biden visiting” Israel after Oct. 7th. In other words, Netanyahu let a trickle of humanitarian aid into the besieged Gaza death camp solely for the political benefit that a Biden visit could offer him. The Times offers this revelation in passing without further comment. In the view of the Times and its Biden administration sources, it is perfectly reasonable for Israel to block vital supplies to Gaza just to extract a gesture of US political support for its extermination campaign there.
In a recent opinion article for The Wall Street Journal, Netanyahu described his “three prerequisites for peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors in Gaza” as follows: “Hamas must be destroyed, Gaza must be demilitarized, and Palestinian society must be deradicalized.”
But Netanyahu’s vision of “peace” is predicated on exterminating his Palestinian neighbors in Gaza. Along with its bombing campaign and starvation siege, Israeli officials have openly called for ethnic cleansing. “What needs to be done in the Gaza Strip is to encourage emigration,” Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich recently told Israeli Army Radio. “If there are 100,000 or 200,000 Arabs in Gaza and not 2 million Arabs, the entire discussion on the day after will be totally different.” According to The Times of Israel, Netanyahu has informed cabinet members that: “Our problem is [finding] countries that are willing to absorb Gazans, and we are working on it.”
Any serious “prerequisite for peace” therefore requires the inverse of Netanyahu’s strategy: the Israeli government must be demilitarized and Israeli society must be deradicalized. The same applies for the Biden administration, which is so radicalized that it openly flaunts its support for what South Africa calls “the physical destruction of Palestinians in Gaza,” all to help defend Israel’s “aura of power.”
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