Biden set to visit Israel

In a move that will no doubt discourage those who see moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies, the Biden administration announced the president intends to visit Israel tomorrow. This carries both physical and political risks for the president, as Hamas may not be as careful with a U.S. president in a war zone as the Russians were when Biden visited Kyiv. 

And as much as Israeli prime minister Bibi Netanyahu will welcome Biden’s in-person demonstration of support for Israel, one has to wonder if this will also have a side effect of delaying a widely expected invasion of the Gaza Strip. Is time on the side of the Israelis, or Hamas?

“On Wednesday, President Biden will visit Israel. He’s coming here at a critical moment for Israel, for the region, and for the world,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during an official address following a meeting with Netanyahu on Monday evening local time.

“He is coming here to do the following: First, the president will reaffirm the United States’ solidarity with Israel and our ironclad commitment to its security,” Blinken said. “President Biden will again make clear, as he’s done unequivocally since Hamas’s slaughter of more than 1,400 people — including at least 30 Americans — that Israel has the right, and indeed the duty, to defend its people from Hamas, and other terrorists, and to prevent other attacks.”

The secretary of state reiterated later in his speech the need to alleviate growing concerns about access to food, water, and energy in the Gaza Strip. “It is critical that aid starts flowing to Gaza as soon as possible,” Blinken said. However, “we share Israel’s concern that Hamas will take control of the aid that enters Gaza,” he added, asserting that the United States will seek to prevent the terrorist group from pilfering any supplies.

The U.S. Secret Service is the best of the best, but the last time Biden traveled into a war zone, to Ukraine in February, the Secret Service had months to prepare. A trip like this involves coordination with the National Security Council, the White House military office, the Pentagon, and the intelligence community, as well as the host country. For this trip, U.S. officials and their Israeli counterparts have had . . . what, a matter of days to prepare? A week?

And while no war zone can ever be risk-proof, those responsible for Biden’s safety in Ukraine could take some comfort from the fact that there’s a certain cold rationality to the Russians — that no matter how hostile Putin’s regime is, it’s not so reckless that it would deliberately launch any missiles too close to an American president.

But Hamas? Those guys execute children; there’s nothing “too reckless” for them. And Hamas uses a mish-mash of different, often domestically produced rockets with limited targeting and guidance capabilities, so it’s not like these terrorists are known for their precise aim.

The odds of Hamas firing some rocket when Biden’s on the ground in Tel Aviv are probably a little higher than the odds of the Russians firing at Kyiv during Biden’s visit.

According to the New York Times, U.S. officials consider this trip a somewhat “easier” journey to secure because of all the U.S. military forces in the neighborhood — and make no mistake, the Pentagon has moved a lot of firepower into the region fairly quickly. This morning, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “placed approximately 2,000 personnel and a range of units on a heightened state of readiness through a prepare to deploy order, which increases DoD’s ability to respond quickly to the evolving security environment in the Middle East,” although “no decisions have been made to deploy any forces at this time.”

On Saturday, Austin directed the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group to begin moving to the Eastern Mediterranean, “as part of our effort to deter hostile actions against Israel or any efforts toward widening this war following Hamas’s attack on Israel.” In addition to the aircraft carrier, the strike group “includes the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea, guided-missile destroyers USS Gravely and USS Mason, and Carrier Air Wing 3, with nine aircraft squadrons, and embarked headquarters staffs.”

The Eisenhower CSG joins the USS Gerald R. Ford CSG, which arrived earlier last week. The Ford CSG includes the USS Normandy, USS Thomas Hudner, USS Ramage, USS Carney, and USS Roosevelt. Also earlier in the week, the U.S. Air Force announced deployment to the region of squadrons of F-15, F-16, and A-10 fighter aircraft.

The U.S. isn’t looking to bomb the living daylights out of Iran, but we could if we wanted to do that, and we want everyone — in particular the mullahs in Tehran — to know it.

From The New York Times:

The security risk of such a trip was clear on Monday when sirens warning of incoming rockets or missiles went off while Mr. Blinken, who was in Israel for his second visit in a week, was meeting at a military base with Mr. Netanyahu and his war cabinet. Mr. Blinken and his hosts were rushed to a bunker and sheltered there for five minutes before resuming their discussions. (There was a similar warning when Mr. Biden was touring a few blocks of Kyiv with Mr. Zelensky in February.)

But the physical risks in Tel Aviv were considered low enough, Mr. Kirby said, that “it was deemed appropriate that we can talk about it beforehand.” The trip to Kyiv, where there were no American forces present to back up the Secret Service, was kept secret.

You may have noticed that the much-discussed, widely expected Israeli invasion and occupation of the Gaza Strip has not begun yet. The New York Times cited three senior Israeli military officers saying, “The invasion was initially planned for the weekend, but was delayed by a few days at least in part because of weather conditions that would have made it harder for Israeli pilots and drone operators to provide ground forces with air cover, the officers said.”

But presumably separate sources told the Jerusalem Post, “one factor has been a growing concern that Hezbollah is waiting for the moment that most IDF ground forces are committed to Gaza to open a full front with the IDF in the north.”

Biden arrives Wednesday. Could Israel launch a massive new ground offensive into Gaza while the U.S. president is visiting? It’s possible but unlikely; you figure the Israeli government would want to hold off both to minimize the distraction of the presidential visit and to reduce the risk of a counterattack by Hezbollah or anyone else while the U.S. president is on Israeli soil.

Is time on the side of Israel, or Hamas? Isn’t there a fear that as more time passes, the world will revert to its usual attitudes toward Israel and call upon the Israelis to demonstrate “restraint” and “mercy” upon the terrorists who are currently holding roughly 200 hostages from 30 countries — including, it is believed, 13 Americans?

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