Netanyahu signals intention to defy Biden on Rafah invasion

The PM also said the IDF must control the Gaza-Egypt border and that work is being done on an Israeli-controlled crossing to replace the one from Sinai


US President Joe Biden (L), sits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting, in Tel Aviv in October 2023 (Photo by MIRIAM ALSTER/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

(JNS) The IDF will clear Rafah of terrorists despite American opposition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during Tuesday’s closed-door session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Security Committee.

Netanyahu told colleagues that the United States asked that the offensive in the south Gaza not take place, but that he’d pushed back, emphasising that he felt Israel “has no other choice.”

In a phone conversation on Monday, their first in more than a month, President Joe Biden told Netanyahu that he could not support a major military offensive in Rafah. Instead, the administration favors a limited operation aimed at high-value Hamas targets and securing the Gaza-Egypt border.

“I made it clear to the president in our conversation, in the clearest way, that we are determined to complete the elimination of these battalions in Rafah. And there is no way to do it, other than the entrance ground of ground forces,” Netanyahu said at Tuesday’s meeting.

During Monday’s White House daily press briefing, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that despite Biden’s opposition to a military operation in Rafah, the president did not threaten to cut off military aid to Israel during the call, and the administration’s “red lines” reported in the news are a media construction that does not reflect administration policy.

The senior US official added that Biden’s concerns about Rafah should not be understood as a lack of US commitment to root out Hamas.

“The president has rejected, and did again today, the strawman that raising questions about Rafah is the same as raising questions about defeating Hamas,” Sullivan said.

“But a major ground operation there would be a mistake,” he added. “It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza and further isolate Israel internationally.”

Netanyahu approved the Israel Defense Forces’ operational plans for the city along the Sinai border last week. The IDF is preparing operationally for this next stage of the war while also readying for the evacuation of Gazan civilians from Rafah.

“We have an argument that I put on the table, and everyone knows it, even Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said it yesterday. We have an argument with the Americans about the need to enter Rafah. Not about the need to eliminate Hamas, the need to enter Rafah. We see no way to eliminate Hamas militarily without destroying these remaining battalions. We are determined to do it,” Netanyahu said at Tuesday’s meeting.

Additionally, Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israel must control the 8.7-mile-long Philadelphi Corridor separating the Gaza Strip from the Sinai Peninsula.

He told the meeting that Israel is working on a new border crossing at the Kerem Shalom Israel-Gaza-Egypt triangle to replace the Rafah crossing with Egypt, one where Israel will have full control.

Netanyahu also said that Israel is working on preventing a humanitarian disaster in Gaza. “We are checking how to distribute the aid through non-local entities because Hamas thwarted the attempts to distribute it through locals. Private companies are also being checked,” he noted.

The premier once more rejected the idea of the Palestinian Authority playing a role in a post-Hamas Gaza, saying that “the uncompromising ambition of the entire Palestinian leadership in all its shades is the elimination of Zionism.”

Netanyahu said “The US attacks are targeting me because I prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

As for the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank, Netanyahu said that he asked the military to return to using checkpoints. “I asked the army to come up with a plan to respect the checkpoints in the West Bank,” he said.

No matter what happens, only Israel should have security control between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, he added.

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