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Sunday, April 14, 2024

US to Israel: Don’t do something you’ll regret

US to Israel: Don’t do something you’ll regret

In private calls and public moves, President Joe Biden and his aides are pointing to reasons to look for an off-ramp.

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) greets US President Joe Biden upon his arrival at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion.

“In a call after Iran launched the attack, Biden told Netanyahu that the U.S. would not join an offensive counter-strike on Iran, though he did not say the U.S. would oppose it, according to two of the people.

Iran and Israel have each carried out one major strike against the other now. But Iran’s attack was larger than many expected, and it came directly from Tehran as well as proxy militias elsewhere in the region. So although Israel was left with little damage, it could feel compelled to somehow return fire.

The senior administration official told reporters Sunday afternoon that Israeli officials let their U.S. counterparts know “they’re not looking for a significant escalation with Iran.” The official, asked by POLITICO if the U.S. did not want Israel to respond, said “this is a decision for them,” refusing to answer the question specifically.

Iranian leaders said Tehran’s retaliation against Israel was over — unless Israel struck back.

“At this point, the Islamic Republic of Iran has no intention of continuing defensive operations, but if necessary it will not hesitate to protect its legitimate interests against any new aggression,” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stated on social media.

In what could be a thinly veiled signal from the White House, Sen. Chris Coons(D-Del.), a close Biden ally, said Sunday on CNN that Israel should “pause for the moment, consult with its close allies and partners, assess the damage and the activity, and then decide what is the most appropriate response.”

But Biden risks being painted as weak in urging caution — and Republicans could wield that criticism against him this election year.

“I think Israel should be looking at this as an opportunity to destroy Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which is the existential threat that Israel faces,” John Bolton, Donald Trump’s third national security adviser, said on CNN on Sunday. “If Joe Biden, as some press reports have it, is urging the Israelis not to retaliate at all, he is an embarrassment to the United States.”

Netanyahu has long agitated against Tehran. He and many other Israelis see it as partially responsible for the Gaza war because of Iran’s military support for Hamas. But Netanyahu also can be cautious in taking on an adversary such as Iran, often preferring more covert methods.“

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