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Biden is not the first US president to cut off arms supplies to Israel

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The president was furious. He had just seen pictures of civilians killed by Israeli shelling, including a small baby whose arm was blown off. He ordered his aides to call the Israeli prime minister and then gave him a sharp rebuke.

The president was Ronald Reagan, the year was 1982, and the battlefield was Lebanon, where the Israelis were attacking Palestinian militants.this Mr. Reagan’s conversation with Prime Minister Menachem Begin Aug. 12 was one of the few days aides heard such an exercise from the usually moderate president.

“This is a bloodbath,” Mr. Reagan angrily told Mr. Begin.

Mr. Begin, whose parents and brothers were murdered by the Nazis, snapped: “Mr. Begin.” Mr. President, I know all about the Holocaust. “

Still, Mr. Reagan countered, it had to stop. Mr Begin listened to the request. Twenty minutes later, he called back to tell the president that he had ordered the bombardment to stop. “I didn’t know I had such power,” Mr. Reagan marveled to aides afterwards.

This is not the only time he has used it to control Israel. In fact, Mr. Reagan repeatedly used the power of American weapons to influence Israel’s war policy, repeatedly ordering the delay or detention of warplanes and cluster munitions.Forty years later, as President Biden, his actions take on new meaning Delay in bomb delivery It also threatened to withhold other offensive weapons if Israel attacks Rafah in southern Gaza.

While Republicans complained about Biden, accusing him of abandoning allies in the war, supporters of the president’s decision pointed to Reagan’s precedent. They argue that if it is reasonable for a Republican presidential icon to limit weapons to impose his will on Israel, then the current Democratic president should do the same.

But what the Reagan comparison really highlights is how much Israeli politics in the United States has changed since the 1980s. Presidents and prime ministers have bickered for decades, without permanently damaging the strong relationship between the two countries. Today, however, Israel has become a political lightning rod, perhaps more important than ever.

During the Reagan era, Democrats were considered the more pro-Israel party, and he wanted to change that perception. In Mr. Reagan’s own words, “They never had a better friend in the White House than Israel.” Yet it was a friendship that was tested again and again.

In June 1981, less than five months after Reagan took office, Israel used US-made F-16 fighter jets Bombing of Iraq’s Osirak Nuclear Power PlantThe sudden attack angered many in Washington. Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberg, considered a friend of the Arabs, urged Mr. Reagan to stop sending weapons to Israel. Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., considered a friend of Israel, objected.

Ultimately, Mr. Reagan agreed to vote in the U.N. Security Council to censure Israel and delay the planned delivery of four F-16s this summer — Patrick Tyler on “A world full of trouble,He described the history of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East as “minimally condemnatory.”

But just weeks later, an Israeli airstrike killed some 300 civilians in a Palestinian neighborhood in Beirut, prompting Mr. Stopped 10 more F-16 and two F-15 jets. However, the stalemate did not last long. By August, he unfreeze.

Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982, forcing another confrontation in Lebanon.Mr. Reagan Stop shipping cluster artillery shells over concerns about the use of such munitions against civilians in violation of the agreement.Around the same time, he delayed the delivery of 75 F-16 fighter jets without explanation until March 1983, when he announced He won’t release the jets Until Israel withdraws its troops from Lebanon.

The move did not draw the same fierce criticism as this week in Washington. “Perhaps this is a necessary signal to Israel,” Mr. Reagan wrote mildly in his diary that evening, describing his decision. In the days that followed, the New York Times report did not include criticism from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. It was not until a week later that the Times’s conservative columnist William Safire accused Mr. Reagan of “Israel’s Tragic Transformation“,like he said.

“Reagan had public support because the Beirut bombings were witnessed on American television, so he withheld aid,” recalled Reagan biographer Lou Cannon. “Like Gaza, it was horrific.”

Since then, of course, Republicans have repositioned themselves as the party that unequivocally supports Israel, while Democrats, angry at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long conservative rule, have become even more divided on the issue. Today, Reagan no longer enjoys the mild respect he enjoys in both parties on foreign policy.

The bombings of August 1982 had a particularly strong impact on Mr. Reagan. Whatever his politics or policies, he had a visceral reaction to the photos he saw.

“Reagan was deeply disturbed by the bombing of Beirut,” Richard Murphy, his ambassador to Saudi Arabia, in an oral history by Deborah Hart Strobel and Gerald S. Strobel Zhong recalled. “He made it very clear that when the human side was pushed in his face, he wanted this to stop.”

Mr. Reagan showed no hesitation and was willing to put everything on the line. “I was angry,” he wrote in his diary last night, describing a tense conversation with Mr Begin. “I told him it had to stop or our entire future relationship would be in jeopardy.” And it did stop, at least temporarily.

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