US loses patience with Israel as Biden pressures Netanyahu for Gaza ceasefire

Washington intensifies calls for an end to hostilities

In his fourth call to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu since violence erupted in Gaza this month, US President Joe Biden left no ambiguity.

Unlike previous discussions between the two leaders, the conversation on Wednesday included a call for a ceasefire and a timeline in which to achieve it.

“The president conveyed to the prime minister that he expected a significant de-escalation today on the path to a ceasefire,” the White House said.

In parallel with Mr Biden’s push, US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin held his third call on Wednesday with his Israeli counterpart Benny Gantz. The message from the Pentagon also focused on de-escalation.

“Secretary Austin underscored his continued support for Israel’s right to defend itself, reviewed assessments of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and urged de-escalation of the conflict,” the statement said.

The change in tone and sense of urgency from Washington come as Mr Netanyahu works to stall ceasefire talks, regional sources told The National.

Mr Netanyahu told foreign ambassadors "You can either conquer them, and that's always an open possibility, or you can deter them, and we are engaged right now in forceful deterrence"

"But I have to say we don't rule out anything."

But with pressure from Congress on the White House increasing and fear inside the US military about further instability in the region, calls for a ceasefire have intensified.

France presented a draft resolution to the UN Security Council on Tuesday calling for a ceasefire, adding impetus to the Biden team to reach the goal before it comes to a vote.

Ghaith Al Omari, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the French proposal could increase US leverage.

“There are many leverage points for the Biden team and one of the strongest ones is Netanyahu’s desire not to have a conflictual relationship with another US president,” Mr Al Omari told The National.

As to the UN’s actions and Mr Biden’s blocking, three times, a statement calling for ceasefire, the expert said it is in Israel’s interest to maintain this support.

“The US has so far shielded Israel in the [Security Council]. As action – like the French draft – starts, Israel would want to maintain US support and will be careful not to clash with Washington.”

The four calls from Mr Biden to Israel, he said, “green-light wider international diplomatic action” if no ceasefire is reached beforehand.

The US has been working behind the scenes to works towards a cessation of hostilities, reaching out to Gulf allies, Morocco, France and Germany to help with reconstruction after the ceasefire, while leaning heavily on Egypt and Jordan to broker an end to the fighting.

Regional sources are still hopeful that a ceasefire – or at least a 48-hour truce – could be achieved soon, but only if the US exercises its leverage and brings Israel on board.

Updated: May 20, 2021 04:24 PM

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