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War in Gaza Presents Biden With Challenges at Home and Abroad

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War in Gaza Presents Biden With Challenges at Home and Abroad

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Nearly five months since Hamas militants attacked and killed about 1,200 people in Israel, President Biden has been swept into the resulting upheaval in the region. As he prepares to address the nation, he finds himself navigating a wider Middle East emergency with profound moral, political and security implications for his presidency.

Early sympathy for Israel after the Oct. 7 attacks has given way to domestic and international anger over the suffering in Gaza. Israel’s subsequent military campaign to crush Hamas has now killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to officials in Gaza, with dire shortages of food, water and medicine creating a humanitarian crisis.

Because Israel’s military heavily depends on American-supplied weapons and munitions, Mr. Biden is under pressure at home and abroad to rein in Israel and alleviate the suffering in Gaza. But despite increasingly adamant calls for Israel to do more to protect civilians and provide them with aid, U.S. officials say that is not happening.

Even so, Mr. Biden has restrained his criticism of Israel’s right-wing government and resisted demands for restricting American aid to Israel, often reminding the world that Israel was brutally attacked and has a right to self-defense. He has ordered airdrops of aid into Gaza to supplement the limited truck convoys that enter the territory from Israel. But aid workers say those aerial supplies will make little difference.

Seeking to do more, Mr. Biden will announce a plan for the United States to build a floating pier off Gaza that can receive more supplies.

U.S. officials say their best hope is to help broker a deal between Israel and Hamas to pause the fighting for several weeks, allow for the release of Israeli hostages held by Hamas, and enable a surge of humanitarian supplies into the territory. Some U.S. officials think that such a pause in combat could evolve into a longer-term cease-fire. Talks among several nations to strike a deal have been underway for weeks, and U.S. officials say that Israel has signed off on an offer. But Hamas has yet to agree.

Looming in the background is the threat that the violence poses to Mr. Biden’s re-election campaign. Many progressive voters are outraged that Mr. Biden has not done more to rebuke Israel or moved to cut off weapons shipments to the country.

At the same time, many analysts say that Mr. Biden’s defense of an Israeli military campaign that he has called “indiscriminate” has undermined America’s moral high ground as it denounces Russia for brutality in Ukraine. (Israeli officials call such criticism unwarranted, saying that they take unusual steps to warn civilians of coming attacks and that Hamas invites civilian casualties by operating in crowded areas.)

Compounding the problem for Mr. Biden are the regional shock waves of Oct. 7 and Israel’s response. Israel is also trading fire with Iran-allied Hezbollah militants along its border with southern Lebanon, where some Israeli officials warn they could launch a major attack on Hezbollah strongholds. That would risk drawing Iran into the conflict — an escalation that might, in turn, draw in the United States.

But Mr. Biden has already resorted to military action: Since Oct. 7 Iran-backed militias have repeatedly attacked U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, killing three American soldiers in January. Those attacks have prompted several U.S. airstrikes against those groups.

Mr. Biden has also ordered dozens of strikes against Yemen’s insurgent Houthi militia, which has shown solidarity with Gaza by attacking international shipping vessels in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, disrupting global commerce and, on Wednesday, killing at least two civilian sailors.

Even as Mr. Biden’s diplomats work frantically to bring calm to the region, his political advisers are struggling to limit any damage to his re-election campaign. His State of the Union address could include an attempt to do some of both.

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