Israel’s new far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has sparked controversy after criticizing President Joe Biden’s support for Israel and praising former President Donald Trump in an interview published this weekend. The comments come at a sensitive time for U.S.-Israel relations and have drawn rebukes from across Israel’s political spectrum.
Ben-Gvir Claims Biden Has Not Been Supportive Enough of Israeli Military Campaigns
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Saturday, Ben-Gvir asserted that the U.S. stance towards Israel would be “completely different” under Trump compared to Biden. He argued that Biden has not provided robust enough support for recent Israeli military campaigns against Palestinian militants in Gaza.
“I have no doubt that if the policy in Gaza was determined by Trump and [former President Donald] Trump’s people, I have no doubt the situation would be completely different,” Ben-Gvir said.
Ben-Gvir suggested Trump would have given Israel “a green light, and backing as well” to step up its offensive against Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants in Gaza last year. He criticized the Biden administration’s calls for de-escalation during the conflict.
Comments Spark Widespread Condemnation Within Israel’s Governing Coalition
Ben-Gvir’s inflammatory remarks attacking Biden and praising Trump prompted rare public rebukes from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior figures within Israel’s new right-wing governing coalition.
Netanyahu indirectly contradicted Ben-Gvir’s assertions, thanking Biden for U.S. support during the Gaza fighting last year:
“I thanked President Biden and the U.S. administration for the steadfast support of Israel during Operation Breaking Dawn,” Netanyahu tweeted. “I told him that we do not need any mediator to navigate our relationship with our important ally.”
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen also condemned Ben-Gvir’s comments as harmful to U.S.-Israel ties. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid accused Ben-Gvir of undermining Israeli national security for his own political gain.
Tensions With Biden Administration Likely to Grow Under New Israeli Government
While the Biden administration has publicly downplayed the impacts of Ben-Gvir’s remarks, tensions between the U.S. and Israel are likely to increase with Netanyahu back in power leading the most right-wing government in Israel’s history.
Ben-Gvir and fellow far-right politician Bezalel Smotrich hold unprecedented power and influence in the new coalition. Their policy agenda threatens to exacerbate tensions with Palestinians and alienate liberal American Jews critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.
What’s Next: Careful Management of Relations or Further Deterioration?
In the near term, Netanyahu will likely aim to carefully manage relations with the U.S. to avoid direct clashes with the Biden administration. However, if Ben-Gvir and his ideological allies continue to make provocative statements against Biden, a further deterioration in ties cannot be ruled out.
With two more years left in Biden’s term, major foreign policy divides could emerge surrounding any potential Israeli annexation moves in the West Bank or military campaigns targeting Gaza. Netanyahu may find it politically challenging to control his far-right coalition partners as decision time nears on these explosive issues.
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