Biden walks a tightrope in the Mideast war as Russia lurks in shadows waiting for Bibi to fall…

Vince Rizzo
11 min readApr 6, 2024

The recent criticism of the Biden Administration’s managing of the latest Mideast crisis has become a major domestic issue. The fallout threatens Biden’s Democratic coalition in the upcoming election. Ignoring complexities hidden among the various actors involved in the fray, critics see the conflict in one-dimensional terms ignoring the interests hidden among the various actors involved in the fray. This regional conflict has the very real potential to expand beyond Israel and Gaza. The turmoil that began with the October massacre of innocent Israeli citizens and the taking of over 200 hostages by Hamas may involve more than it appears. This conflict, as was the case in Syria and is now the case in Ukraine. has all the markings of being a proxy war that extends through Iran and into Russia. Biden’s stance has been that for there to be a lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians there must be a two-state solution. This solution is one that Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu rejects which has created a wedge between the allies that serves the purposes of the other bad actors in the conflict whose interests are aligned with Bibi’s. The questions for the Biden Administration are how a peaceful settlement can be accomplished and why Netanyahu’s conduct of the war is so threatening to the long-term interests of Israel.

In preparing this diary it was clear that Bibi Netanyahu had problems at home. Some of the citings noted here were pulled from opinion pieces written by journalists for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the oldest Israeli daily, founded in Jerusalem in 1919. and known for its liberal stances. It provides a sense of the domestic disapproval the embattled Prime Minister has been experiencing and gives a unique historical perspective based on the paper’s record for independent reporting. I found their reporting on Netanyahu to be instructive because he had been a national figure since Israel’s founding and was under fire for his extreme right-wing policies especially his criticism of the Israeli courts. Upon taking power again, the Israeli Prime Minister announced sweeping plans to reshape the courts and limit their power to review parliamentary decisions. It was not lost in the press that Bibi was facing serious charges in court for official crimes that had been pending since 2019. Here is how Haaretz was described in an NYTimes article written in 2017:

Haaretz is an Israeli newspaper. Admired by many foreigners and few Israelis, loathed by many, mostly Israelis. Read by few, denounced by many, it is a highly ideological, high-quality paper. It has a history of excellence. It has a history of independence. It has a history of counting Israel’s mistakes and misbehavior. It has a history of getting on Israel’s nerves.

NYTimes, by Shmuel Rosner

Netanyahu’s precarious political situation is much like the one facing Donald Trump- both men use their political power as a hedge to stave off indictments and their consequences. Netanyahu’s legal problems began in 2020 with three charges of fraud, bribery, and influence peddling. Bibi’s trial which began in May of 2020 has been prolonged because of COVID and now the war in Gaza. Like Trump, Netanyahu sees chaos and uncertainty as ways to avoid trials that make them vulnerable to their illegal acts while in power. His attacks on the courts mimic Trump’s tactics and to many in Israel appear to be a self-serving attempt to avoid prosecution.

Both men have also engaged in curious relationships with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin. According to Haaretz, Bibi’s indulgence of Moscow has not benefitted Israelis:

For a decade, Israel has been anxious to placate Moscow. But Netanyahu’s frankly embarrassing appeasement of Moscow has brought no noticeable gains. Instead, Putin has stepped up cooperation with Iran and hosted Hamas leaders, straight after the atrocities of October 7…

- Haaretz, “Why Is Israel’s Netanyahu Still Groveling to Putin and Russia?”. by Azriel Bermant

In 2014, after Russia invaded Crimea, Israel took a neutral stance in the UN angering the Obama Administration. Netanyahu’s position at the time, after a phone call with Putin and diplomatic attempts at getting the Israeli government to back the U.S. position, suggested to Washington that Netanyahu was putting Russia on equal terms with Israel’s closest ally and greatest benefactor:

White House and State Department officials in Washington have built up a great deal of anger over Jerusalem’s “neutrality” regarding Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula. Senior figures in the Obama administration have expressed great disappointment with the lack of support from Israel for the American position on the Ukraine crisis and with the fact that the Israeli government puts its relations with the United States and with Russia on the same plane.

- “U.S. Officials Angry: Israel Doesn’t Back Stance on Russia”. by Barak Ravid

While Israel did join the condemnation of Russia later in 2018, there is speculation that Bibi’s hesitance was fueled by his desire to annex Gaza at some time, believing that a two-state solution was not in Israel’s best interest- a position he holds today. Seen through this lens, the policy that Netanyahu has adopted in Gaza at odds with President Biden’s position takes on a new perspective. For instance, was Bibi surprised by Russia’s lack of support in the UN Security Council vote in which Russia refused to condemn Hamas for the October 7 attack? He certainly seemed disappointed by Putin’s conversation right after the attack according to a piece in the NYTimes by Matthew Mpoke Bigg:

Mr. Netanyahu said he was dissatisfied with positions that Moscow had adopted at the United Nations Security Council and “expressed sharp criticism of the dangerous cooperation between Russia and Iran,” according to a statement from his office.

For its part, the Kremlin said that the focus of the conversation was on the “catastrophic humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip.”

- Netanyahu and Putin Speak, and Offer Different Versions of What Was Said.”

Washington may have been angered and perplexed by Netanyahu’s surprising support for Putin’s invasion of Crimea back in 2014. Bibi, on the other hand, seemed shaken by the Russian leader’s backing of Iranian interests over those of Israel after the October 7 terror attack. Where was the “pro quo” for his earlier “quid?” The answer may lie in the Biden Administration’s tightrope walk supporting the Israeli people in their fight with Hamas while denouncing Bibi’s conduct of the war and his disregard for the humanitarian needs of Gazan innocents. Biden’s stance has made his administration vulnerable to criticisms both at home and in the Middle East. It is as if opposing the policies of a weakened and unpopular Netanyahu whose power and political future depend upon a prolonged war translates into an anti-Semitic, anti-Israel U.S. policy. Meanwhile, supporting the Israeli cause, demanding the release of hostages, and supporting retribution for slain Israelis is considered anti-Palestinian. The cognitive dissonance requiring a simplistic and narrow policy approach denies the ability to believe two concurrent truths. On the geopolitical chessboard, complexity is the name of the game and both Israel and innocent Gazans are victims of Hamas and its masters. Israel has the right and the duty to defend its borders and to seek retribution. The Palestinian people have a right to self-determination free from shadow governments installed and propped up by foreign masters whose interests lie in maintaining a terrorist cabal whose intent is to govern by uncertainty at the expense of the Palestinian people. Netanyahu’s government which helped support Hamas through Qatar ensured that the Palestinians living in Gaza remained pawns in a cynical ruse to upend any solution to the problem. These truths are not in conflict. What can also be true is that the draconian humanitarian crisis, the food insecurity, the indiscriminate bombing, and the refusal to provide for the safety of civilians as the IDF rooted out Hamas was an evil that infected both sides in the conflict.

There are clues, however, that can help predict underlying factors that lead to much darker conclusions. Like the discovery of Neptune through predictions of its position based upon observing blips in the orbit of Uranus, Netanyahu has left breadcrumbs to help us find underlying issues regarding his curious attraction to Putin. Consider the opinion of Israeli journalist James Snell in 2022:

Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Israel has been conspicuously silent. Any criticisms its leader have offered have been muted and pro forma. The same went for Netanyahu as leader of the opposition. Unlike e very one of its own allies, Israel has offered Ukraine no military aid.

- Haaretz, “Inside Netanyahu’s Strange Loyalty to Putin and Israel’s Refusal to Aid Ukraine.” 12.20. 2022

The hold that Putin seems to have on Netanyahu appears oddly similar to one he shares with Donald Trump. The question is what do the two have in common? Well, both have a strong autocratic bent, and Bibi and Trump face legal issues as discussed above- Bibi, once he leaves office and Trump now that he is no longer in power. Both men have been strangely silent not only regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea but also on his use of violence to maintain a stranglehold on the Russian presidency. Both steered clear of denouncing Russia’s role in Syria and its support of the Assad regime waged war on its own citizens in 2014.

Russia is the snake in the Middle East woodpile and Bibi Netanyahu knows that Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Houthi rebels are clients of Iran which in turn is aligned with Putin in its fight against the West. In this scenario, Putin may have decided to leverage the end of hostilities as well as the return of the hostages in return for Israelis ignoring Putin’s expansionist longings. The Russian leader is also capable of inciting Hamas through Iran causing the ripples that Americans are now witnessing affecting the Democratic Party coalition, stirring up animosities among left-of-center Democrats and Independents which aids Trump in his election bid. All this serves Russian interests at the expense of democratic interests worldwide. Biden seems left with a Hobson’s choice of picking sides. Instead, he has chosen to seek a solution that, if adopted, works for the Israelis and Palestinians at the expense of Hamas and its Russian-Iranian masters.

Biden no doubt understands the precarious nature of his options and the game that Netanyahu has chosen to play placing his interests above Israel’s. Bibi’s is a suckers bet, just like the one made by Trump and his Republican supporters in Congress. Putin is not in the business of making deals that benefit anyone but himself. The left-leaning Israeli press realizes this and has stated as much, but ultra-conservative Jews remain in the minority supporting Netanyahu:

Moscow has exploited the Middle East crisis to divert public attention from the war in Ukraine and last Friday, Russia launched one of the heaviest drone strikes on Ukraine in weeks, striking residential homes and critical infrastructure in the west and south of the country.

The loitering munitions used were produced in Iran, underscoring the continued close cooperation between Moscow and Tehran. Concerns are rising in Western capitals that Israel’s war against Hamas is deflecting attention away from the war in Ukraine at the very moment when Russia is stepping up its attacks on the country. The world’s attention on the Middle East is a perfect decoy for Russia’s goals of taking over Ukraine.

- Haaretz, “Why Is Israel’s Netanyahu Still Groveling to Putin and Russia?”. by Azriel Bermant

Bibi’s policy of prolonging the war to remain in power has even formed fissures among his conservative constituency. The law exempting ultra-conservative Yeshiva students from service in the IDF has expired this week and the Israeli High Court has issued its decision. The wider population in Israel has tired of these blanket exemptions to Haredim, as the Yeshiva students are known, exempting them from service and a government stipend while studying until age 26. The politically powerful ultra-conservatives are among Bibi’s strongest supporters and represent only 13% of the population. On Monday the exemptions were denied in a ruling that may have dire effects on Netanyahu’s ruling coalition:

Anshel Pfeffer, a political columnist on Haaretz newspaper, argued that threats from the ultra-Orthodox parties to walk out were empty and they were “in no rush to leave this governing coalition” as a centrist alternative would be worse for them.

Other political analysts and politicians, however, believe the issue could be the one that brings down Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. Naama Lazimi, a Knesset member for the centre-left Labor party, said the row could be “a gamechanger”.

Menahem Elison, 19, said he was confident that ultra-Orthodox parties representing his community would find a solution. “I trust our Haredi politicians,” he said. “They know we are not going to enlist in the army. They understand the importance of studying the Torah.”

- -The Guardian, “​​​​​​​I will never join the army’: ultra-Orthodox Jews vow to defy Israeli court orders,” by Lorenzo Tondo and Quique Kierszenbaum

To those who fault Biden for his position on the conflict for or against Israel’s conduct of the war ignore the geopolitical implications the president faces. Biden knows Putin and Netanyahu for who they are and he is unwilling to play into either’s hand. The Israeli people deserve the right to defend themselves and at the same time to seek out a solution that protects their future. Innocent Gazans must be protected from Hamas and from Bibi’s scorched earth war policy designed to drive Palestinians from their homes without a future. None of their Arab neighbors are willing to take them in leaving them adrift in the region which only supports the growth of more dangerous terrorist attacks further endangering Israel.

Netanyahu’s personal legal dilemma threatens not only Israelis but also plays into Vladimir Putin’s aggression toward NATO and the Western allies. For Israelis who are now solidly in favor of holding new elections and tossing Netanyahu to the courts, his legacy is written in failure no matter the outcome of the war:

It was only a couple of election cycles ago that Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was plastering tall buildings in Tel Aviv with oversize posters boasting that, thanks to his close ties with authoritarian allies Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, he was in a “different league” from his political competitors.

It wasn’t long ago that Netanyahu was crowing about the European “diplomatic wall” that he’d erected thanks to his right-wing populist buddies in Hungary and Poland. It wasn’t long ago that Turkey’s strongman president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was calling Netanyahu to congratulate him on his election win, with both leaders agreeing to “work together to create a new era in relations.”

It wasn’t long ago that most of the resources of the Netanyahu government were directed at gutting Israel’s democracy and building an Illiberal International with assorted hypernationalist populists, autocrats, antisemites and Holocaust deniers across the globe.

So was the sacrifice of basic moral capital, strategic focus and social cohesion worth it?

- “In Israel’s Hour of Need, Where Did Netanyahu’s Right-wing Populist Friends Go?” by Esther Solomon

Eighty-five percent of those polled in Israel want to oust Netanyahu after the war is over — an indication of why he tries to prolong it. Here at home, we are divided by our allegiances- the plight of Palestinians, the Jewish hostages, the innocent victims of October 7, and our support of Israel. Joe Biden recognizes the complexity and has been willing to spend political capital on finding a solution that is fair for the region. A solution in this case would thwart the bad actors in the region and bring pressure on Russia to end its illegal war in Ukraine. In this view, these are related. Biden understands the role being played by Russia and its impact on the world outside the Mideast. Biden’s approach reflects a strategy for future peace not only in the region but also in Ukraine and in the West. Contrarians are motivated by self-interested outsiders who have a stake in continuing the unrest.

A two-state solution can help alleviate much of the suffering and provide security for Israel and a home for Palestinians- but only after the war is over, and only after Bibi Netanyahu is gone.

Originally published at



Vince Rizzo

Former president of the International Association of Laboratory Schools (IALS) and a founder of a charter school based on MI theory.