US-Israel relations under strain after Biden and Netanyahu's tense call

US president is reported to be increasingly frustrated at Israel's conduct in the Gaza war

US President Joe Biden meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv in October. Reuters
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Relations between Israel and the US hit a new low after a tense phone call between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday night that widened a growing rift between Israel’s embattled leader and his most strategic ally.

The phone call between the two leaders comes at a critical juncture in the Gaza war. Officials in the prime minister’s office are straining to keep details of the discussion away from coalition partners, political sources told The National.

Mr Biden reportedly told Mr Netanyahu that future US support now depends on Israel “addressing civilian harm” and “humanitarian suffering” in Gaza.

The US President “emphasised that the strikes on humanitarian workers and the overall humanitarian situation are unacceptable”, the White House said in a statement.

Israel has become increasingly isolated globally after it struck a Gaza aid convoy belonging to NGO World Central Kitchen this week, killing seven aid workers, six of whom were foreign nationals from countries including the US and the UK, two of Israel's most vocal supporters.

Shortly after the strike on WCK personnel, reports surfaced that Mr Biden was “furious” over the killings. He publicly said he was "outraged and heartbroken" about the death of the aid workers.

Monday's attack fuelled international anger towards Israeli actions preventing aid from getting into Gaza, where relief organisations and the UN warn that a humanitarian crisis is fast expanding.

After Thursday’s call, Israel said it would open two new aid routes into northern Gaza, but concerns remain that dire needs will still not be met, particularly as humanitarian organisations are limiting or pausing their operations out of fear for the security of their staff.

The prospect of a widespread Israeli operation in the southern Gaza city of Rafah is also a source of tension with the US, which views military action there as potentially disastrous for the roughly 1.5 million Gazans seeking shelter from bombardment elsewhere in the strip.

A wave of condemnation this week, even from close allies that so far have stuck by Israel staunchly throughout the war, comes as tensions between Israel and Iran also spiked after a deadly strike on the Iranian embassy in Damascus earlier in the week.

The Israeli military said it had halted leave for all combat units on Thursday based on the “situational assessment” as it braced for a potential attack by Iran or one of its allied militias.

With a regional war pitting Israel against Iran and its many proxy forces increasingly likely, many in Israeli political circles deplore Mr Netanyahu’s combative approach to the Biden administration, which remains Israel's most important ally.

Despite fears Israel’s deep defence relationship with the US could be at risk, ministers from the current far-right government continue to confront the Biden administration.

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, one of Mr Netanyahu’s closest confidantes, reportedly shouted and waved his arms at senior Biden administration officials on Monday during a meeting about an operation in Rafah.

Despite the mounting distrust, the US nonetheless welcomed Israel's announcement that it is opening new aid routes.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken welcomed the move, but added that “the proof is in the results, and we will see those unfold in the coming days, in the coming weeks”.

Updated: April 05, 2024, 3:05 PM