ESTRICH: No good answers

The balance Biden has attempted to forge is collapsing

President Joe Biden appears at the NAACP Detroit branch Fight for Freedom Fund dinner in Detroit on Sunday. (Paul Sancya / AP Photo)

There are no good answers to the current situation in the Gaza War.

President Joe Biden is trying to use a pause in weapons shipments to force Israel to do more to protect civilians against “collateral damage” that a bombing campaign in Rafah would no doubt entail. But United States military officials admit that that is easier said than done.

How do you move a million people to safety? How do you protect the hostages who are being used as human shields? And how does Israel complete its mission, which is to dismantle a terrorist organization that has threatened to repeat the massacre of Oct. 7 10,000 times?

There are no good answers.

Rafah is the last remaining stronghold of Hamas. Israelis understand that it cannot be ignored. The war is not over. But a massive bombing campaign will kill thousands of innocent civilians.

Israel is increasingly isolated in the international community. But so long as Rafah remains in Hamas control, it is also in immediate jeopardy. Sloganeering is what you hear on college campuses, but it is not an answer to anything.

Biden is in a bind. Conditioning U.S. aid, which is what he appears to be doing (even though Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reaffirmed that our support for Israel is “ironclad”) will not quiet the protestors. It will not quiet Donald Trump, who told talk radio station WPHT in Philadelphia that “If anybody that’s Jewish votes for him or Democrats, they have to have their head examined. They are being treated so badly and have been for years.” In fact, Biden has been a good friend to Israel and has stood by Israel at some significant political cost to him since Oct. 7, while Trump snipes from the sidelines.

But the balance Biden has attempted to forge is collapsing.

Hamas is hiding in the tunnels in Rafah, using hostages as human shields. Big bombs are effective against the reinforced tunnels but cause unacceptable civilian casualties. More precise methods may not be workable at all. What is Israel supposed to do? It cannot coexist with Hamas. It tried that, and Oct. 7 was the result. Hamas doesn’t care about its own people. The world expects Israel to care more about the Gazan people than Hamas does.

In his Senate testimony this week, Austin, while reaffirming the administration’s commitment to support Israel, said, “Israel shouldn’t launch a major attack into Rafah without accounting for and protecting the civilians that are in that battle space.” But U.S. military officials don’t say how that can be done. Israelis have issued warnings to leave Rafah, but no one doubts that could be difficult and dangerous, with Hamas threatening the safety of those who try to leave.

Israel has made clear that its battle is with Hamas and not the people of Gaza. The New York Times, based on interviews with senior administration officials and military leaders, is reporting that “Mr. Biden initially took the position that Israel should not attack Rafah without a plan to effectively minimize civilian casualties, but in recent weeks the White House has increasingly indicated that it did not believe such a plan was possible.”

So is the administration conditioning aid on Israel doing the impossible?

And how does that square with the commitment to “ironclad” support?

This is a difficult time to stand by Israel. It is difficult in the world community, difficult on college campuses — where a noisy minority of students is intimidating and frightening others, difficult in the media. But it bears remembering how this war started, and why, and that those who protest the loudest with simplistic sloganeering are not in fact offering any answers for how Israel can defend itself against those who would deny its very right to exist.