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Rafah: Biden’s threat to halt weapons deliveries sparks anger and infighting among Israeli officials


Israeli officials have criticized the United States and descended into a crisis of infighting over US President Joe Biden said he would halt some US arms shipments to Israel if a large-scale ground operation was launched in the city of Rafah.

After Biden made the remarks, in an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, said he believed the decision “may embolden the enemies of the Israeli state.” ‘Israel and the Israeli nation’, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the announcement by publishing a short excerpt from a speech he gave a few days ago, in which he said: ‘If Israel is obliged to remain alone, Israel will be alone. »

Netanyahu reiterated the sentiment on Thursday, on the eve of the country’s Independence Day, saying: “In the War of Independence 76 years ago, we were few against many. We had no weapons, there was an arms embargo against Israel, but thanks to greatness of spirit, courage and unity among us, we won. »

The US president’s announcement that he was prepared to condition American weapons on Israel’s actions constitutes a turning point in the seven-month conflict between Israel and Hamas. And his acknowledgment that American bombs had been used to kill civilians in Gaza was a clear acknowledgment of the United States’ role in the war.

The president has come under extraordinary pressure, including from members of his own party, to limit arms deliveries amid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Biden’s comment to CNN is a major setback for Israel’s war. The United States is by far Israel’s most important and powerful ally, and without its support, Israel’s firepower and ambitions in Gaza would be weakened.

The Biden administration has for months been pressuring Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza and to ensure more humanitarian aid can get there.

The United States has also repeatedly called on Netanyahu and his government to reconsider plans for a full-scale invasion of Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost town where more than a million people are sheltering after fleeing fighting elsewhere. in the band.

Israel has so far carried out a limited operation around the city, taking control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing – a crucial entry point for aid to Gaza – and carrying out military strikes on the outskirts of the city.

New satellite images obtained by CNN from Planet Labs show that the Israeli attack in Rafah has expanded in recent days from airstrikes to ground operations.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Monday asked some people in eastern Rafah to “evacuate immediately” ahead of a military operation in the city. They were told to go to Al-Mawasi, a coastal town near the city of Khan Younis that aid groups described as overcrowded and unfit for habitation. The United Nations Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) estimates that nearly 79,000 people have fled the city since Monday.

Despite growing international pressure, the Biden administration has stood firm by Israel thus far, providing it with arms and other support. Wednesday’s threat came just a day after Biden used his speech at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to remind people of the horrors of the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel, when Hamas-led fighters killed approximately 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped more than 250. Many hostages taken to Gaza that day are still being held in the Strip.

“Too many people deny, minimize, rationalize and ignore the horrors of the Holocaust and October 7 – including Hamas’ appalling use of sexual violence to torture and terrorize Jews. This is absolutely despicable – and it must stop,” he said on Tuesday, raising his voice.

But the president struck a very different tone on Wednesday. “I made it clear that if they went to Rafah – they haven’t gone to Rafah yet – if they went to Rafah, I would not provide them with the weapons that were historically used to deal with Rafah, to taking care of the cities – that solve this problem,” Biden said, adding that the United States would continue to provide defensive weapons to Israel.

Netanyahu said Biden made a mistake in an interview with the American talk show host known as Dr. Phil, which will air Thursday evening. Netanyahu said Israeli forces were doing everything they could to allow people to leave Rafah and that he hoped the two leaders would find a way to overcome their differences.

“I have known Joe Biden for many years, 40 years and counting. We have often had our agreements, but we have had our disagreements. We were able to overcome them. I hope we can overcome them now,” Netanyahu said.

Biden’s comments sparked considerable anger among some Israeli politicians.

Speaking at an event honoring fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terrorist attacks, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said: “I turn to Israel’s enemies as well as our best friends and I say: the State of Israel cannot be subjugated, not the IDF. , not the defense establishment, nor the State of Israel. We will remain strong, we will achieve our goals: we will hit Hamas, we will hit Hezbollah and we will achieve security. »

Miki Zohar, Netanyahu’s Likud minister, said it was “astonishing to discover that the world has forgotten what happened in Israel on October 7.”

“We will not compromise our security and we will never agree to submit to demands that harm Israel’s national security,” he added in a message on X, formerly known as Twitter.

When asked Thursday whether the Israeli military was prepared to launch a major attack on Rafah without U.S. weapons, IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said weapons would not be a problem.

“The IDF has weapons for the missions it plans. And also for the missions in Rafah, we have the weapons we need.”

The announcement also highlighted the deep divisions between Israel’s different political parties.

Far-right Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir criticized Biden on X, saying: “Hamas ❤️ Biden.”

The statement sparked a reaction from President Isaac Herzog, who warned against “baseless, irresponsible and insulting statements and tweets” during a speech marking the VE Day anniversary.

Other senior Israeli officials have also criticized Ben Gvir. Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid party responded: “If Netanyahu does not fire Ben Gvir today, he is endangering all IDF soldiers and all citizens of the State of Israel. »

Israeli Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli said that “Netanyahu and his government continue to worsen Israel’s strategic situation.”

This story has been updated.

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