Nicholas Kristof: If only Biden had used leverage sooner

The president is right to delay bomb shipments to Israel. Used earlier it could have saved children.

By Nicholas Kristof / The New York Times

For seven months, President Joe Biden has called on Israel to show more restraint in its war in the Gaza Strip and to allow more aid into the territory, and he has been mostly ignored. Now, belatedly and reluctantly, he is doing what presidents do all over the world: He is applying leverage.

Biden has delayed the transfer of 3,500 bombs to Israel and has warned that an all-out Israeli invasion of the packed southern Gaza city of Rafah would lead to further suspensions in the weapons flow. It was the only way to get the attention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli leadership.

Republicans have denounced Biden’s move as weakening Israel and impeding its war effort, but the United States is continuing to provide defensive weaponry to Israel. The new moves affect only munitions that would be used to pulverize Rafah and cause thousands more civilian casualties there.

President Ronald Reagan likewise delayed arms shipments after Israel’s reckless invasion of Lebanon in 1982 led to enormous civilian casualties.

As I see it, Biden had to act, for both humanitarian and practical reasons. United Nations agencies have been warning that an invasion of Rafah would result in a catastrophic civilian toll. The United States would be complicit in that blood bath, through the use of U.S. munitions and U.S. backing for the war.

I only wish that Biden had taken such actions months ago. That might have saved the lives of so many children in Gaza and prevented people from starving to death as aid flows were constricted.

It’s not clear how Israel will respond. Netanyahu may defy Biden, seeing an invasion of Rafah as his path to staying in power by retaining support from extremist parties in his country.

While Biden’s focus is on preventing an all-out invasion of Rafah, I hope he will also use this leverage to press Israel to allow more aid into the territory. Cindy McCain, the head of the World Food Program, warns that there is already full-blown famine in parts of Gaza, even as trucks with food are lined up outside the Israel-controlled entry points on the border. This is unconscionable.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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