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There is only one word that mattered in President Joe Biden’s remarks on the terrorist attack on Israel—and it was a word he didn’t say.
For those who care about actual U.S. policy rather than feel-good schmaltz, the point of Biden’s speech was not the oft-repeated dubious anecdote about meeting with Golda Meir during the Yom Kippur War. Nor was it Biden’s rich declarations about how he was raised in synagogues—along with being raised in Puerto Rican communities and growing up in Black churches. Rather, the entire speech was centered around the absence of one word: Iran.
Biden’s glaring omission of Iran, the chief sponsor, funder, and weapons supplier of Hamas, and the intended beneficiary of its monstrous suicide attack, was an affirmation that his administration’s policies remain unchanged after a weekend of unprecedented horror in Israel. Namely, Biden still fully intends to continue providing cover for the Iranian regime, to whom he released $16 billion of held funds before the attack—in addition to the tens of billions more that the administration has gifted Iran by not enforcing sanctions on its oil sales.
Instead, the administration has rather bizarrely been expending all its diplomatic capital since the attack to avoid connecting Iran in any way to a massacre perpetrated by a terror group that Iran clearly funds, arms, trains and directs. The administration has expended particularly large amounts of energy responding to an inconvenient Wall Street Journal article that reported that the Iranians planned the attack in the joint operations room they have established in Lebanon (the existence of which Hezbollah media had announced in 2021 after the last Gaza war).
Responding to the Journal article, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan told the press that they have absolutely no “confirmation”—zero, none—to back up the claim of Iranian foreknowledge, planning, or help in directing this particular attack. Yet in nearly the same breath, Sullivan called Iran “complicit” in Hamas’ attack. “They have provided the lion’s share of the funding for the military wing of Hamas. They provide training, they have provided capabilities, they have provided support, and they have had engagement in contact with Hamas over the years and years.” Come again? NSC spokesman John Kirby then added that there was nothing that suggests the Iranians were “witting, involved in the planning, or involved in the resourcing and the training that went into this very complex set of attacks over the weekend.”
Biden’s address was actually the second statement the administration put out that deliberately avoided mentioning Iran. On Monday, the U.S. released a joint statement with the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom, which not only avoided to mention Iran by name (never mind holding it responsible) but also made sure to include the administration’s term of art for its pro-Iran policy: “integration.” That is, the moral of the bloodiest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust was that Iran and its regional assets like Hezbollah must continue to be “integrated” into the American regional architecture by forcing them down the throats of old allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. They should not only “share the neighborhood” with those who seek their destruction, but they must prop up the polities these terrorists control.
What we heard in Biden’s speech, therefore, wasn’t the most moving articulation of the longstanding American alliance with Israel ever in human history, as a deluge of pro-administration propagandists rather stridently insisted. Rather, what we heard was the deliberate obfuscation of a reality that is plain, stark, and staring everyone in the face.
The reason the word “Iran” can’t be mentioned in public by the White House is that the Hamas massacre on Saturday is the direct product of a decade of U.S. regional policy directed at funding and reinforcing and strengthening a terrorist and terror-sponsoring regime in Tehran. It’s a vision built on a realignment of U.S. interests with this regime, to be cemented with gifting them a nuclear bomb. It’s a statement of ongoing commitment to this policy, which explains a comment made by a senior administration official in a briefing with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he spoke of “future initiatives” with Iran that the administration doesn’t want to see jeopardized. In other words, the administration’s priority is to ensure that none of the ugly business in Israel on Saturday is allowed to interfere with “future initiatives” with the mullahs.
Well, take a good look. What happened on Saturday is so ugly in part because that’s what the administration’s Iran policy looks like. Yes, the pictures, videos, and recorded voice calls are distastefully harrowing to some. But that’s the policy—which is often referred to as Barack Obama’s “legacy” or “signature initiative.” The policy is that Iran must be allowed a free hand to conduct its massacres through its regional Jew-hating proxies, while being given de facto immunity by the United States from Israeli retribution.
But wait, didn’t Biden say, as he again told American Jewish community leaders yesterday, that his administration was “enhancing” the U.S. posture by sending a U.S. carrier fleet to the eastern Mediterranean, which a senior defense official explained was sent to serve as “a deterrent signal” (whatever that means) to Iran and Hezbollah? Didn’t he say that sending the ship made it “very clear” to the Iranians to “be careful”?
So what do you suppose that aircraft carrier means? We already know, because Jake Sullivan said so explicitly, that the USS Gerald Ford is not in the region to strike Hamas. It’s there to ensure, as one administration official after another has said, that the war doesn’t expand to other fronts. But Hezbollah has spent days launching and orchestrating attacks from south Lebanon. Did they miss the “deterrent signal”? On the contrary. They understood exactly what it means, and to whom it’s intended: Israel is being deterred by the United States from striking them.
Senior administration officials told CNN that they “do not believe at this point that Hezbollah is likely to join Hamas’ war in force against Israel.” They also “think the warnings are having an impact even though there has been some escalation on the border.” So, Hezbollah will continue to use Lebanon as a launching pad against Israel, but not “in force.” Sure, there will be “some escalation,” but Israel will need to absorb those attacks, in order to “avoid igniting a larger regional war”—with Iran.
In other words, what the U.S. is signaling is Iran and Hezbollah’s preferred scenario: cost-free attacks from south Lebanon without fear of devastating Israeli retaliation. The U.S. carrier group, in other words, is there to ensure Israel does not attack Iran or Hezbollah, even if it wanted to. Integrate. Don’t escalate.
Israel just suffered the biggest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. It cannot afford to indulge in wishful thinking and fanciful readings of the U.S. strategic posture. Nor should it misread the vociferous statements of condemnations of Hamas as support for Israel, except insofar as it is willing to accept its new regional status as a punching bag for Iran.
After two days of radio silence, the architect of America’s Iran policy, Barack Obama, finally offered a single tweet.
All Americans should be horrified and outraged by the brazen terrorist attacks on Israel and the slaughter of innocent civilians. We grieve for those who died, pray for the safe return of those who’ve been held hostage, and stand squarely alongside our ally, Israel, as it dismantles Hamas. As we support Israel’s right to defend itself against terror, we must keep striving for a just and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Apparently, terrorists who kill 1,200 people in their homes and at a music festival is not the kind of thing you comment on at once. It takes a good 48 hours to think it through. That was the message.
Yet the text of Obama’s tweet is not entirely unimportant. It clarifies the point of American policy, which is to compel Israel to focus on Hamas in isolation, and not attempt to climb the escalation ladder against America’s preferred Middle Eastern partner. Yes, go ahead, “dismantle Hamas.” The trap is already set, as evidenced in Biden’s speech and in the “advice” of the deputy national security council adviser, Jon Finer, who reminded Benjamin Netanyahu of the need to act according to the rule of law. “We uphold the laws of war. It matters.”
Israeli retaliation was built into both the Iranian war plan and Obama’s info op. In other words, Israel is being encouraged to retaliate against Hamas—at which point it will be duly roasted for killing civilians. Release your anger, Luke. But whatever you do, don’t hit the Iranians.
This dichotomy is an important article of faith for Team Obama-Biden, and is in clear contrast to the policies of President Trump, who ended the fictional distinctions between Iran and its terror tentacles in the region. Trump’s regional policy was based on backing Israel and the Gulf states against Iran. By contrast, the current policy, disguised with florid promises about “having Israel’s back,” is designed precisely to protect Iran while it dismembers America’s allies—quite literally.
Tony Badran is Tablet’s news editor and Levant analyst.