Red Line or Another Stunt? Behind Biden’s Considerations on the Rafah Invasion

With Israeli forces commencing their ground operations on Rafah, global concerns of the humanitarian disaster that might potentially ensue have been at an all-time high. At present, around 1.3 million people have taken refuge in Rafah, with Israeli evacuation orders reaching Palestinians with nowhere else to go.

As governments around the globe change political stances on the ongoing Israeli aggression, the United States administration, Israel’s strongest ally, suddenly drew a red line for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden announced that the US would stop sending bombs and artillery shells to Israel if it launches a major invasion of Rafah. Concurrently, US Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, also stated that the US is in the process of “reviewing some near-term security assistance shipments in the context of unfolding events in Rafah.”

The US government has revealed that it had already paused a shipment of bombs to Israel over concerns regarding the Rafah operation.

Presidential Concerns

The change in the US government’s position is unlikely to have come out as a result of humanitarian concerns, as Israel’s genocide campaign has been taking place for over seven months. Rather, it can be largely attributed to the administration’s political interests and the mounting pressures that it has been facing.

Ironically, it is the American interior that might change the course of the conflict and effectively halt Israel’s genocidal campaign.

With the 2024 US elections taking place in less than six months, the Biden administration’s mandate is being judged largely over its handling of the ongoing aggressions. Nationwide opposition to the administration’s continued support of Israel has considerably impacted Biden’s chances of reelection.

Change in Tone and Normalization Negotiations

In an attempt to salvage what political support might be left from Arab and Muslim voters in the US, Biden has increasingly adopted a sharp tone to criticize the Netanyahu government, with the latest being the threat to withhold arms shipments.

Such changes in tone, however, are unlikely to convince most voters sympathetic to Palestinian rights, as they saw the lack of concrete action to accompany previous criticisms, alongside the continued obstruction of ceasefire attempts.

More recently, university students in the US have taken the lead on pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli and anti-US policy protests. These movements became the center of discussion of US and Israeli politicians alike, who saw the threats that these movements pose to their political interests.

As such, the persistent commitment of hundreds of thousands of protesters in the US and that of millions around the globe has played a key role in triggering and catalyzing the switch in US foreign policy stance, potentially pushing the Biden administration to take effective measures against Israel.

While the extent and consequences of such measures remain to be seen, they can range from pressuring Israeli forces to economize their use of ammunition and consequently decrease the scope of military operations, all the way to effectively forcing them to halt the aggressions on Gaza.

For the Biden administration, there is also considerable interest in pulling off a normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel in return for the end of aggressions and the effective implementation of a two-state solution, which would stand as a foreign policy success for Biden prior to the upcoming elections.

However, the Biden administration remains far from effectively realizing any of these two goals. It still hasn’t taken a policy decision that would effectively impact Israel’s relentless aggression, and has fallen short in expediting its sought-after normalization deal.

In the end, even if the administration manages to secure these undertakings, it’s unlikely for them to have a considerable impact on a large portion of voters who became disillusioned by Biden’s dreadful management of the war.

However, what remains clear is that the ongoing mobilization efforts in the US and around the world have had a direct impact on governments’ political considerations and policymaking directions, though they remain short of putting an end to Israel’s genocidal campaign.