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R. David Harden is the former assistant administrator at USAID’s bureau for democracy, conflict and humanitarian assistance. He led USAID operations in the West Bank and Gaza, Iraq and Yemen from 2005 to 2018.

In March, 2010, my son and I were on the lawn of the American consulate in Jerusalem, waiting for then-vice-president Joe Biden to arrive. But as he was landing, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government announced it was building 1,600 houses in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem – an announcement that seemed timed to embarrass Mr. Biden just as Barack Obama’s administration was holding negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis.

This was hardly a one-off for Mr. Netanyahu. A year after actively thwarting two-state negotiations, Mr. Netanyahu travelled to Washington to publicly rebuke Mr. Obama over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement with Iran in a speech to Congress. Mr. Netanyahu opposed the deal, which sought to contain Iran’s breakout period to nuclear weapons, because he did not believe it went far enough to deter Iranian threats, including from Hamas and Hezbollah. Mr. Obama ignored Mr. Netanyahu and refused to invite him to the White House; he went on to sign the JCPOA, which Donald Trump promptly vacated when he became president.

Last week, however, Mr. Netanyahu appeared to have crossed a red line when he repeatedly rejected Mr. Biden’s vision for a Palestinian state, arguing that Israel must have security control over all the land west of the Jordan River. His statements come at a time when the Israeli Defence Forces are making inconsistent progress against Hamas. The IDF has degraded Hamas’s rocket capabilities, killed or captured about 30 per cent of its fighting force, and destroyed some of the tunnels in Gaza, but Hamas still holds roughly 130 hostages, its senior leadership is able to launch operations and conduct international negotiations, and most of its militia remains intact. Just last week, Hamas launched at least 25 rockets from northern Gaza, which Israel had purportedly cleared; on Monday, 24 Israeli soldiers were killed in the deadliest day of the war for the IDF. The Israelis themselves see a long fight ahead in Gaza amid the risk of mass starvation and an unprecedented humanitarian crisis for the people there.

Mr. Netanyahu is risking a break with the United States as the war spins out of control. With conflicts last week in the West Bank and Gaza, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Pakistan, Syria and Yemen, Mr. Biden faces an enormous challenge: delivering an end-state in Gaza that maintains a stable international order led by the U.S.

His task is complicated by a presidential election in November where American voters are deeply skeptical about U.S. involvement in another war. This past weekend, two American service members were injured when the Al-Asad Airbase in Iraq came under fire from Iran-backed militias, the latest of roughly 140 strikes against U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria since the war in Gaza began. Iran also has the tacit support of both Beijing and Moscow, adversaries that may seek to exploit a distracted American President to press their ambitions in Taiwan and Ukraine.

Yemen poses the biggest escalatory risk. The U.S. has launched nine strikes against the Iran-backed Houthi rebel group this month, which failed to deter its attacks against shipping vessels in the Red Sea; now, the Biden administration is planning for a sustained campaign to degrade Houthi military capabilities. But these U.S. attacks may simply validate the Houthis’ official slogan: “God Is the Greatest, Death to America, Death to Israel, A Curse Upon the Jews, Victory to Islam.” And in recent years, in spite of Saudi air strikes, the Houthis have managed to consolidate power, adapt Iranian technologies and push Saudi Arabia out of northern Yemen.

To defeat the Houthis, the U.S. will have to partner with the Southern Transitional Council and the internationally recognized Yemeni government to intercept Iranian weapons and take territory away from Houthi control. But while the U.S. supports freedom of navigation, the U.S.-led coalition is defending a shipping route that primarily benefits neutral-party free riders, as well as private-sector buyers in Europe and sellers in Asia. A war against the Houthis is simply not a compelling American interest.

The Biden administration, then, must decide if U.S. national-security priorities align with Mr. Netanyahu’s vision of a more expansive war. America’s unconditional support for Israel after Hamas’s barbarous attacks on civilians has led to a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Gaza, fighting between the U.S. and the Houthis, and the increased likelihood of conflict with Iran, all while the war in Ukraine rages on and Taiwan remains a hot spot, amid a U.S. presidential election. And Mr. Biden could lose it all in support of an Israeli Prime Minister with a long record of humiliating American leaders.

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