Pictured: Convicted Palestinian terrorists, who were released from Israeli prisons, wave Hamas flags and are carried on the shoulders of people in a crowd celebrating their release, in Ramallah on November 26, 2023. (Photo by Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images)

While the release of the first groups of hostages held by Hamas has inevitably raised hopes about the fate of the remaining Israeli hostages, it also exposes the Biden administration’s worrying lack of commitment to supporting Israel’s declared aim of destroying the Islamist terror group.

In the immediate aftermath of Hamas terrorists committing the worst terrorist atrocity in Israel’s history on October 7, US President Joe Biden was quick to reassure Jerusalem that Washington fully supported Israel’s right to defend itself.

After speaking with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the White House issued a statement declaring:

“The United States unequivocally condemns this appalling assault against Israel by Hamas terrorists from Gaza, and I made clear to Prime Minister Netanyahu that we stand ready to offer all appropriate means of support to the Government and people of Israel.

“Terrorism is never justified. Israel has a right to defend itself and its people… My Administration’s support for Israel’s security is rock solid and unwavering.”

Biden emphasised his commitment to Israel’s defence by dispatching two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region to deter other malevolent actors, such as Iran, from seeking to exploit the crisis by escalating the conflict into a broader Middle East war.

Seven weeks into Israel’s military offensive to destroy Hamas as a military and political entity, the Biden administration now seems to be adopting a very different stance, one where it appears ready to scale down its commitment to supporting Israel’s right to self-defence, and destroying Hamas, in favour of a ceasefire deal that would essentially gift victory to Hamas.

The Biden administration has made clear that it pressured the Netanyahu government into accepting the Qatar-sponsored hostage deal, which has resulted in a number of Israeli women and children being released in exchange for the release of convicted Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons.

Biden also expressed hope that the four-day “pause” in Israel’s military offensive, which is being observed to allow the hostage release deal to take place, might ultimately lead to a broader ceasefire. Asked by reporters whether the four-day pause could be extended, Biden replied, “I think the chances are real.”

While conceding that Israel’s quest to destroy Hamas was “legitimate”, Biden revealed that his administration’s key objective was to end the fighting at the earliest available opportunity.

“My expectation and hope is that as we move forward, the rest of the Arab world and the region is also putting pressure on all sides to slow this down, to bring this to an end as quickly as we can,” Biden said.

Netanyahu has made no secret of his personal reservations about the hostage deal, arguing that any pause in Israel’s military offensive would simply allow Hamas to regroup. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), in particular, had been opposed to the deal because they wanted to maintain the pressure against Hamas on the ground in Gaza.

Israeli commanders certainly understood the fickleness of Washington’s declared support for their military offensive from the start, as Washington has an undistinguished record of abandoning its Israeli ally in times of peril.

During the IDF’s military incursions in Gaza in 2009 and 2014, for example, the Israelis were forced to stop fighting within three weeks, with ceasefires brokered on both occasions by Egypt and forced on Israel by Washington.

Indeed, Washington’s willingness to impose ceasefires on Israel when its forces have clearly established a military advantage on the battlefield against their enemies has been a constant feature throughout Israel’s 75-year existence.

And, judging from the Biden administration’s current enthusiasm for a ceasefire, it appears Washington is determined to follow a similar path of appeasement with regard to the current Gaza crisis, even if the Israeli government remains determined to maintain its offensive until Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Gaza has been completely eradicated.

Israel will certainly be under no illusions about the pitfalls of the hostage deal that has so far resulted in the release of only a small proportion of the estimated 240 Israeli hostages seized by Hamas during the October 7 attack.

The Israelis will certainly be concerned at the role played by Qatar, which is one of Hamas’s main military backers, in the negotiations. While the Qataris like to claim that they are simply using their contacts with Hamas to defuse tensions, the fact that Ismail Haniyeh, who masterminded the massacres, directed the attacks from his five-star hotel in Qatar, where he has been granted a safe haven, means the Israelis have every reason to be wary of Qatar’s motives.

Israel will also, with good reason, have concerns that the hostage deal as currently constructed, with Israel being obliged to release convicted terrorists in return for innocent Israeli civilians, will simply bolster Hamas’ credentials.

The boost Hamas has received from the deal was evident when the first Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli prisons and returned to their homes in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

IDF soldiers guarding Ofer Prison, near Ramallah, fired tear gas to disperse crowds of Palestinians who chanted “the people want Hamas” while awaiting the release of the first batch of 39 convicted Palestinian terrorists.

One of the reasons the US and its allies have previously ruled out negotiating with terror groups is that, by doing so, there is a danger of legitimising the terrorists’ activities.

The Biden administration’s willingness to abandon this long-held principle in favour of negotiating with Hamas, therefore, runs the risk of boosting support for Hamas at the very time that Israel is actively seeking to destroy the terrorist group, a policy that completely undermines Washington’s claim that it supports Israel’s right to self-defence.


Con Coughlin is the Telegraph‘s Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.

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