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Biden tells Netanyahu: No Rafah operation, send a team to discuss alternatives

Leaders speak for the first time in a month amid growing US-Israel rift

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with United States President Joe Biden in Tel Aviv, October 18, 2023.(Photo: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone on Monday evening, for the first time since Feb. 15 and amid a growing public rift between their administrations.

Among the key issues discussed was the biggest sore point between the leaders – Israel’s plan to invade Rafah, the last major bastion of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and shelter for over one million Palestinian refugees.

While Biden in the past has demanded that Israel present “credible plans” on how to prevent harming civilians during the planned large-scale military operation – while not completely ruling it out – he now apparently opposes any large Israeli operation in Rafah.

The White House readout of the phone call stated that the U.S. president “reiterated his deep concerns” and also that the leaders had agreed Israel would send a team to Washington to “exchange views and discuss alternative approaches that would target key elements of Hamas and secure the Egypt-Gaza border without a major ground operation in Rafah.”

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan confirmed the apparent change of mind in his remarks following the conversation at a White House press briefing.

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

Netanyahu has repeatedly emphasized the need to capture the southernmost town in the Gaza Strip to dismantle the remaining Hamas battalions and has given the green light for the IDF’s plans to do so.

Biden and other senior Democrats have since escalated their personal criticisms of Netanyahu, culminating on Friday as Biden agreed with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, calling Netanyahu an “obstacle to peace” in the region and urging Israel to hold new elections.

“The prime minister raised his concerns about a variety of things that have come out in the U.S. press. From President Biden’s perspective this is not a question of politics but policy and strategy,” Sullivan said on Monday.

He added that Israel meddled in U.S. politics more than Washington did in Israeli politics and reiterated that Israel has not yet presented the U.S. with a plan of where the civilians sheltering in Rafah would go, or who would supply them with food and shelter.

Sullivan also noted that an Israeli operation would make it harder to get aid into Gaza via Egypt.

Despite the apparent U.S. opposition to any Rafah operation, Sullivan emphasized that this didn’t mean Israel had lost support for the war against Hamas.

The national security advisor called Netanyahu's assertion that the IDF must operate in Rafah in order to win the war a "strawman" and responded: “That’s just nonsense.”

“Our position is that Hamas should not be allowed a safe haven in Rafah or anywhere else. The key goals Israel wants to achieve in Rafah can be done by other means,” Sullivan said.

“Obviously, [Netanyahu] has his own point of view on a Rafah operation, but he agreed that he would send a team to Washington to have this discussion, and we look forward to those discussions,” he added.

“I continued to affirm that Israel has a right to go after Hamas, a group of terrorists responsible for the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust,” Biden agreed in a statement posted to 𝕏.

The two leaders also discussed the ongoing Israeli hostage release negotiations taking place in Qatar, and the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza, the White House reported.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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