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If Biden betrayed Israel, so did Reagan

A U.S. president pushed for a cease-fire, Israel resisted, and the president withheld military equipment to try to get Israel to agree. Sound familiar?

It was the summer of 1981, and this was the headline in the Washington Post: Reagan Halts F16s for Israel.”

Here is what the Post reported: “President Reagan tonight indefinitely delayed shipment of U.S. F16 fighter-bombers to Israel, in an effort to restrain what Secretary of State Alexander Haig called, ‘the escalating cycle of violence in the Middle East.’”

At the time, Israel was in the middle of a military conflict with Palestinian dissidents in Lebanon. And President Ronald Reagan was pushing Israel to agree to a cease-fire, one that Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin did not want to agree to.

Biden — like Reagan before him — is threatening to withhold weapons shipments to Israel.

NBC News reported that Begin and the American envoy, Philip Habib, met for nearly two hours to discuss America’s desire for a cease-fire in Lebanon and Israel’s 12-day offensive against the Palestinians. But Begin rejected the American appeal, and Israel’s war went on.

A spokesman for Begin said he and Habib had not discussed America’s suspension of the F-16 deliveries, but other Israeli officials called their suspension an unjustified attempt to pressure Israel.

So to recap: An American president pushed Israel for a cease-fire, Israel resisted those calls, and the president withheld transfers of military equipment to try to get Israel to agree. Sound familiar?

This week, President Joe Biden dispatched negotiators to try and broker a cease-fire agreement between the Netanyahu government and Hamas. Those talks stalled, and the Netanyahu government is now threatening a full-scale invasion of Rafah, the area in the south of Gaza where most Palestinian civilians are sheltering. So Biden — like Reagan before him — is threatening to withhold weapons shipments to Israel.

This week, Biden offered some insight into his decision. “Israel has killed civilians with these bombs,” he said, “And with the way they go after population centers…if they go into Rafah, I am not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, to deal with that problem.”

Republicans wasted no time in pouncing on the president’s decision. Donald Trump posted on his social media site that “Crooked Joe is taking the side of these terrorists.”

Later Thursday, Republican senators held a press conference. This was Sen. Ted Budd of North Carolina: “President Biden’s decision to withhold critical ammunition to Israel is a total betrayal of our friend and our ally.” Here was Sen. Katie Britt of Alabama: “I urge the president of the United States to not be the very first president to not stand with Israel.” Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas had this to say: “The Biden White House has been the most anti-Israel administration this nation has ever seen.” And Sen. James Risch of Idaho said, simply, “This is unprecedented.”


The Biden administration is taking a tougher line with Israel. It is new, but it is far from unprecedented. In fact, it is exactly what Republican President Ronald Reagan did 43 years ago to broker an end to hostilities in the region.

If Biden just betrayed Israel, then so did Reagan.

This is an adapted excerpt from the May 9 episode of “Alex Wagner Tonight.