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Netanyahu after Biden phone call: ‘No way to eliminate Hamas without Rafah incursion’

‘No debate over need to eliminate Hamas,’ Netanyahu says in attempt to soften disagreements

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking at a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting, March 19, 2024 (Photo: Screenshot)

After the first phone call held with U.S. President Joe Biden in over a month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempted to highlight common beliefs and downplay disagreements with the United States, while reiterating his insistence on an IDF ground operation into the town of Rafah.

“We have a debate with the Americans over the need to enter Rafah, not over the need to eliminate Hamas, but the need to enter Rafah,” Netanyahu said at a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday.

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

“We have a debate that I will put on the table, and we all know it,” Netanyahu said, addressing the growing public rift. “We see no way to eliminate Hamas militarily without destroying these remaining battalions.”

According to statements by Netanyahu and Israel Defense Forces, four of the six remaining intact Hamas battalions are located in Rafah, which is located in southern Gaza, near the border with Egypt.

“We are determined to do this. Out of respect for the President, we agreed on a way in which they can present us with their ideas, especially on the humanitarian side; of course, we fully share this desire to facilitate an orderly exit of the population and the providing of humanitarian aid to the civilian population,” the prime minister continued.

According to the White House readout of the phone call on Monday evening, 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.”

Despite this, Netanyahu said he “made it as clear as possible to the President that we are determined to complete the elimination of these battalions in Rafah, and there is no way to do this without a ground incursion.”

The Israeli premier explained his rationale for the IDF's large-scale incursion into the city, arguing that eliminating Hamas is a necessary condition to win the war.

“We cannot go around it; neither can we say, ‘We will destroy 80% of Hamas and leave 20%,’ because from that 20%, they will reorganize and take over the Strip again and – of course – constitute a new threat to Israel.”

“Therefore, we are determined to complete the elimination of Hamas. This requires the elimination of the remaining battalions in Rafah and – of course – the 1.5 battalions in the camps in the center [of the Gaza Strip].”

Netanyahu emphasized his strong rejection of international pressure for a ceasefire. “We are – of course – under growing international pressure, which we are rejecting in order to achieve the goals of the war,” he said.

“We are in a dual campaign – a military campaign and a diplomatic campaign. Of course, they are inter-connected, the diplomatic fight gives us the time and the resources to reach the full results of the war,” the prime minister stressed.

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

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