Joe Biden's trip to Israel could be good for his image but is fraught with risk

Joe Biden is expected to visit Israel on Wednesday. Credit: AP

For the first time in history, an American President will visit Israel during a war. The security risks of such a well-publicised trip are obvious.

Reporters arriving last week had to throw themselves on the ground as air raid sirens sounded at Ben Gurion airport.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was forced to shelter in Tel Aviv during his visit.

The Secret Service will have been involved in intricate security planning by the time Air Force One lands, but even the best close protection outfit in the world can’t completely mitigate the risk of rockets being launched from Gaza.

His team will take comfort from the effectiveness of the Iron Dome anti-missile system which has been able to take out many of the Hamas rockets aimed at Israel, but some do get through.

President Biden won’t be lingering outside any longer than necessary.

Joe Biden has been keen to show the US backs Israel. Credit: AP

The upside to the trip is obvious to a man seeking re-election in just over a year. Another visit to an active war zone, eight months after he was in Ukraine, will burnish his credentials as Commander-in-Chief, a leader who not only talks about supporting America’s allies but is willing to put himself at personal risk to show his solidarity in person.

There are, however, also political risks that come with this trip. It will further bind Biden to the conflict and its consequences, linking his attempts to free hostages, broker safe passage for civilians and secure humanitarian supplies, to the results on the ground.

If he is successful, he will be able to claim he avoided a wider war, helped to free those held by Hamas and lessened the impact on the civilian population, of the inevitable Israeli military response.

His political enemies will seize on any suggestion of failure. If an Israeli ground offensive still goes ahead, with significant casualties on both sides and no discernible compromise by Prime Minister Netanyahu, Biden will look weak.

Joe Biden will have to balance Israel's right to defend itself with the desire to prevent the deaths of innocent Palestinians. Credit: AP

Being labelled both weak and old could seriously damage his chances next November, even if it is against Donald Trump, a man who is facing multiple indictments.

Biden pushed for this trip though, despite the jeopardy, not just so he looks tough. He is driven by a deep moral imperative.

His officials have repeatedly set out how he is determined to show America stands shoulder to shoulder with Israel, but he also wants Israel’s reaction to the horrific terrorist attacks to be within the rules of war.

He will try to balance these two objectives this week: supporting Israel, while also standing up for innocent civilians in Gaza who are caught in the middle of a conflict for which they bear no responsibility.

He has already said an Israeli occupation of Gaza would be a mistake. So what then is his proposal if Hamas is dismantled?

One thing is certain: more than two million Gazans are not going anywhere. They need government and deserve better than Hamas.

Perhaps the key challenge for President Biden is formulating a longer-term strategy for the future of Gaza which is acceptable to the Israelis, its Arab neighbours and the people of Gaza themselves.

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