Biden debate performance raises alarm in Israel

JERUSALEM – Israelis expressed growing concern on June 30 that President Joe Biden’s shaky debate performance could spur on the country’s Middle Eastern foes at what many view as a critical time for US leadership in the region.

Israeli commentators from across the political spectrum warned that Iran and its proxies could try to exploit Mr Biden’s apparent weakness as Israel fights Hamas in the Gaza Strip and weighs the prospect of an all-out conflict with the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

US officials have been working to broker a diplomatic solution to the tensions between Israel and Hezbollah in an attempt to avert a wider regional war that they fear could draw in both Iran and the United States.

The Biden administration is also involved in intense efforts with other mediators to try to advance a truce deal for Gaza that would involve exchanging the remaining hostages there for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

And Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has publicly pressured the Biden administration to speed up munitions supplies before any conflagration with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Several of Israel’s June 30 newspapers featured the debate on their front pages in a kind of delayed reaction: The debate took place before dawn on June 28 local time, after the weekend papers had gone to press. And Hebrew dailies are not published on June 29, the Sabbath.

Analysts for Israel Hayom, a right-wing free paper, and the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper differed sharply in tone but both raised the specter of enemies of Israel and the United States testing the administration’s resolve.

“Will Hezbollah and Iran assess that Biden is too busy now to back Israel in case all-out war breaks out in Lebanon this summer?” Haaretz’s military affairs analyst Amos Harel wrote on June 30.

While some on the Israeli right have mocked Mr Biden’s debate performance, hoping for a victory by Donald Trump, Mr Harel continued, that was a display of ungratefulness after the U.S. president stood by Israel and supplied it with large quantities of weapons. “Moreover,” he added, “Trump is a feeble reed to rely on.”

Mr Amnon Lord, a columnist for Israel Hayom, asserted on June 30 that Mr Biden’s performance in the debate proved persistent claims that “an extreme progressive group” of aides was driving US foreign policy.

“In a world rife with aggressive forces,” he wrote, “the unflattering image of an American president – the leader of the free world – appearing weak and incoherent encourages them to exploit opportunities.”

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