May 13, 2024 - World

A history of U.S. presidents drawing red lines with Israel

Biden and Netanyahu

President Joe Biden with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv in Oct. 2023. Photo: Miriam Alster/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden made waves last week by threatening to withhold military aid to Israel if it invades Rafah, but he's not the first American president to set boundaries regarding assistance to the country.

Why it matters: Biden's warning was met with defiance from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in yet another sign of the deteriorating relationship between the two leaders.

The big picture: Biden first brought up the prospect of a "red line" with Israel in regard to the Rafah operation back in March. Netanyahu responded by saying that his own red line was preventing a repeat of Hamas' Oct. 7 attack.

  • Last week Israeli forces took over the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza — one of the main delivery routes for humanitarian aid into the enclave.
  • However, the White House doesn't yet believe that Israel's actions have crossed Biden's red line, which would warrant a change in U.S. policy, Axios' Barak Ravid reports.
  • Secretary of State Tony Blinken said Sunday the U.S. hasn't seen a plan from Israel for protecting civilians in Gaza ahead of the Rafah operation.

State of play: "If they go into Rafah, I'm not supplying the weapons," Biden said last week in an interview with CNN. His words were met with anger from a number of Republicans.

  • Biden has been the "greatest friend" to Hamas and Hezbollah "that there is on planet Earth," Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said at a press conference Thursday.
  • "This is a disgraceful betrayal of our ally for political reasons," Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) wrote on X.
  • Former Vice President Mike Pence dubbed Biden's pledge "totally unacceptable."

The other side: Biden's move was cheered by a number of progressive Democrats.

  • "President Biden is right – the United States cannot continue to provide more bombs and artillery shells to support Netanyahu's disastrous and inhumane war policies," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said in a statement.
  • Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) called Biden's enforcing of conditions on Israel aid the "responsible, secure, and just thing to do."

Other U.S. presidents have also threatened to withhold aid from Israel.

Dwight Eisenhower

During the Suez Crisis of the 1950s, then-President Dwight Eisenhower leveraged the threat of sanctions to convince Israel to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula, per AP.

  • In 1953, the Eisenhower administration also temporarily delayed $26 million in funding to Israel over its construction of a hydroelectric project on the Jordan River.

Ronald Reagan

Back in 1981, former President Ronald Reagan indefinitely delayed two shipments of F-16 fighter jets to Israel over the ''escalating level of violence'' in the Middle East.

  • The following year, the Reagan administration warned Congress that Israel might have violated its arms agreement with the U.S. by using American-made weapons during its invasion of Lebanon, the New York Times reported.
  • In 1983, Reagan reaffirmed that he would not send F-16 jets to Israel until Israel withdrew its forces from Lebanon.
  • "While these forces are in the position of occupying another country that now has asked them to leave, we are forbidden by law to release those planes,' he said.

George H.W. Bush

In 1992, the Bush administration threatened to withhold the delivery of $10 billion in loan guarantees to Israel if it continued building settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, the Washington Post reported.

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