In Threatening Israel, Biden Hopes to Avoid a Rupture

By the time President Biden hung up the phone, he had finally delivered the threat he had refused to make for months: Israel had to change course, he told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or the United States would take action.

But as the conversation ended on Thursday, aides to Mr. Biden said, the president had reason to hope that the message had gotten through and that he would not have to carry out his threat after all.

During the call, Mr. Biden outlined several specific commitments he wanted Israel to make to avoid losing his support for the war against Hamas. Rather than pushing back, according to people informed about the call, Mr. Netanyahu promised that he would announce more humanitarian aid for Gaza within hours and signaled that he would respond to Mr. Biden’s other demands in days to come.

Mr. Netanyahu’s government followed through later that night, authorizing the opening of a key port and another land crossing for food and other supplies. The White House expects Israel to soon issue new military procedures to avoid killing civilians and relief workers, and administration officials will be watching carefully this weekend when Israeli negotiators join William J. Burns, the C.I.A. director, and Egyptian and Qatari intermediaries in Cairo to try again to broker a temporary cease-fire.

Whether it will be enough to avoid the rupture that Mr. Biden never wanted in the first place remains unclear. Administration officials insisted that the president’s threat was not an idle one and that he was “very strident,” as one described him, in making his points to Mr. Netanyahu. At the same time, officials said, Mr. Biden did not specifically threaten to limit or cut off U.S. arms supplies during the call, as some Democrats have urged him to do, nor did he set a deadline for Israeli action. The “or else” remained unclear and undefined.

“Biden has put Netanyahu on probation,” said Aaron David Miller, a longtime Middle East peace negotiator now at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The president “doesn’t want to fight and has given him a test he can pass, certainly on humanitarian assistance and perhaps on negotiations with Hamas. U.S. red lines have a way of turning pink. The only question is: Does Netanyahu want to fight?”

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