How Hamas Attacks On Israel Is Biden's Big Challenge Ahead Of US Polls
The attack has given Republicans an opportunity to double down on their charge that Biden is soft on Iran
In the five days since Hamas' shocking terror attack on Israel cities, US President Joe Biden has spoken to Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thrice over the phone, posted eight tweets underlining Washington's support to Tel Aviv and taken The White House podium twice to speak about the attacks.
The US' unequivocal support is not unexpected, considering the decades-long ties between the two allies, and the fact that at least 14 US citizens have been killed in the Hamas' attack on Israel. However, Biden's strong words and Washington's swift moves to rush military aid to Tel Aviv must also be seen against the backdrop of US' domestic politics in the run-up to the election, and how the attacks have opened a new front at home.
The Republican Attack
At a Republican event on Wednesday, former US President Donald Trump, who may take on Biden next year, said the Netanyahu government was not prepared for the Hamas attack. "And under Trump, they wouldn't have had to be prepared," he added, in a veiled swipe at his Democrat successor.
Trump's remarks are part of the Republican charge that claims that the US, under the Biden administration, is perceived as weak in the geopolitical landscape. Indian-American Republican leader and US President hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy has pointed to US intelligence failure in pre-empting the Hamas attacks. Nikki Haley, also a frontrunner for the Republican presidential candidate, has pointed to the US-Iran prisoner swap deal, alleging that the Biden administration's move to release $6 billion to Iran under a prisoner exchange deal may have indirectly funded the Hamas attacks.
The $6 Billion Question
The Hamas attack has given Republican leaders an opportunity to double down on their charge that the Biden administration is soft on Iran. At the centre of their offensive is the US-Iran Prisoner swap deal. Under this deal, Tehran released five US citizens it had detained. In return, the US released five Iran nationals and unfroze $6 billion Iranian funds in South Korean banks. This money was blocked after former US President Trump banned Iran oil exports and imposed sanctions on its banks in 2019. The funds, however, have not been dispersed to Iran. Qatar's central bank is overseeing the funds.
Amid allegations that Iran may have backed the Hamas attack, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said Tehran has not been able to spend a single dollar of the $6 billion yet. US officials have said the sum can only be used for humanitarian purposes. Responding to this, Haley said it is "irresponsible" to say the money could not have been used for the attacks. "Hamas knows and Iran knows, they're moving money around as we speak because they know USD 6 billion is going to be released. That's the reality," she said, according to Fox News.
US On Iran Involvement
Biden has warned Iran against getting involved in Israel's war on Hamas. Biden told a meeting of Jewish community leaders that the US' deployment of military ships and aircraft closer to Israel should be seen as a signal to Iran, known to back Hamas, news agency AFP has reported. "We made it clear to the Iranians: Be careful," Biden said.
"To any country, any organisation, anyone thinking of taking advantage of this situation, I have one word: don't," the US President said in a White House address earlier.
The US has said it is yet to find any evidence of direct Iranian involvement in the attack. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Tuesday said there is no evidence yet of Iran's "direct involvement" in the attacks on Israel.
Tehran has backed Hamas for years, Austin said, adding, "But in this particular instance, we don't have any evidence that there was direct involvement in the planning or the execution of this attack."
The US State Department echoed this, with a rider that it would be "premature to draw any final conclusions" at this point.
Iran's Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has denied Tehran's involvement in Hamas' attacks, but pledged its support to Palestine and called upon "the whole Islamic world" to back them.
Biden's Home Challenge
Eighty-year-old Biden faces a tough fight as he seeks re-election next year. The Hamas attacks on Israel have only made this fight tougher. The veteran Democrat's approval ratings have been sliding since 2021 and have now dropped below 40 per cent, according to US website FiveThirtyEight. He is likely to be up against his predecessor and Republican leader Donald Trump, who has lost no opportunity is claiming that under his regime, the attack on Israel would not have taken place.
While the US has vowed "rock-solid" support to Tel Aviv, Biden will face hurdles in walking the talk. The US provides billions annually to Israel but Biden will need the Congress's backing if he wants to send more now. This means he has to work with the Republicans, who are blocking the annual budget. The situation also comes amid concerns about the state of the US economy. Recently, a government shutdown was narrowly averted, as the US House passed a stopgap funding Bill.
The need to strongly back Israel and appear tough on Iran while navigating the choppy waters of the economy is a tall task that Biden faces now.