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Do the U.S. and Israel see eye to eye when it comes to Gaza?


A key member of Israel's war cabinet came to Washington this week where he met with some top Biden administration officials. Ron Dermer is the Israeli minister of strategic affairs and a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His visit comes as differences seem to be growing between the U.S. and Israel over the conduct of the war.

Our next guest, Aaron David Miller, is a Middle East analyst who's advised presidents of both parties. He's now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Good to have you back.

AARON DAVID MILLER: Oh, it's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: Well, based on their public statements, Biden and Netanyahu seem to be diverging from where they were at the start of the conflict, with the White House saying it wants to see more targeted operations in Gaza and less sweeping destruction, while Netanyahu put out a statement saying the fight is deepening, and, quote, "this will be a long battle" that's not close to ending. So are the U.S. and Israel even speaking the same language right now?

MILLER: There are divergences, although I think they're masked in large part by this president's preternatural support for Israel. Alone among American presidents, he seems to believe that he is literally part of the American story, and his relationship with Israeli prime ministers goes back decades. And I think those divergences are clear, and yet both sides have a real stake. And I think - we're now in the third month of this war without an open breach. I don't think there'll be one, in large part because...

SHAPIRO: An open breach between the U.S. and Israel, you mean.

MILLER: Exactly. I don't think there'll be one, in large part because - certainly from President Biden's perspective. And none of his predecessors felt any differently fighting with an Israeli prime minister publicly. It's messy. It's awkward. It's politically costly, and, more often than not, it's counterproductive.

SHAPIRO: And so do you think we are likely to see a shift towards what Biden is pushing for - more targeted attacks, less indiscriminate bombing? Or is Netanyahu going to forge ahead with what he says could be months more of this large-scale assault?

MILLER: No, I think the Israelis probably - and I think the IDF, or the Israeli Defense Forces, will call the shots even more than the United States. I suspect that the Israelis have reached a conclusion, both because mobilizing 360,000 reservists is having a terrible effect on Israeli morale and the Israeli economy. I think the Israelis, by the end of January, will, in fact, turn to much more intelligence-driven, focused operations - not so much heavy emphasis on artillery and comprehensive airstrikes. And I think that will do a lot, hopefully, to provide greater time and space for the surge. And we really do need a surge of humanitarian assistance into Gaza, and it should minimize Israeli - excuse me, Palestinian deaths and casualties.

But there's one other reality, and that is the Israelis are clearly going to be operating in Gaza at some level, I suspect, for months.

SHAPIRO: Well, and this raises the question of - what will happen after the conflict, after the war? Netanyahu has asked Ron Dermer to help lead the planning. And this is another place where the U.S. and Israel seem to part ways. The Biden administration wants to see the Palestinian Authority have a role. Netanyahu has rejected that. Do you think that difference can be reconciled?

MILLER: I think that because the prime minister has an interest in maintaining this coalition - which happens to have two of the most extremist right-wing ministers as part of it - that he's going to have to figure out a very, very fine line of navigating both rejecting the American advice on one hand but then also privately conveying that the possibility of a Palestinian Authority return may be possible. I think it's not possible now, so Mr. Netanyahu may actually benefit from the fact that it may take weeks, if not months, to do what the administration wants, which is to create a revitalized Palestinian Authority.

The real conflict, I think, may come with the Biden administration's insistence on tethering Gaza to a political solution, and it's clear the administration's view is, however problematic it may be, two states.

SHAPIRO: Just in a couple sentences, do you think this war has fundamentally changed the U.S.-Israel relationship, or does it remain more or less what it was?

MILLER: I think it's - it remains the same. It's going to be tense. And I think Israel needs a new prime minister in order to set that relationship between the U.S. and Israel on much firmer and stronger ground.

SHAPIRO: Aaron David Miller is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Thanks, as always, for talking with us.

MILLER: Thanks for having me, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Kathryn Fox
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.