Inside Biden’s decision to announce his ultimatum to Israel regarding Rafah


Washington
CNN

President Joe Biden The decision will be announced this week Warn him that A Major Israeli attack In the city of Rafah, it will lead to the cutting off of some American weapons, and it did not come easily or lightly.

This came after several rounds of phone calls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, starting in mid-February, urging him to reconsider his plans to invade the densely populated city in southern Gaza that served as a crucial conduit for humanitarian aid.

Hours and hours of virtual and in-person meetings between the Biden administration’s top national security aides and their Israeli counterparts were aimed at sending the same message, according to the officials: There are other ways to go after Hamas, as Biden aides have made clear, that stop short of occupation forces invading a city where he has taken refuge. More than a million Palestinians are searching for safety.

On multiple levels, the president and his team warned Netanyahu that a major invasion of Rafah would not be supported by American weapons. It was a message the White House believed was well understood government in israel, White House officials said Thursday.

However, these warnings are not made public It was a move Biden had long been wary of taking. Doing so would mark a turning point, and the biggest rupture in US-Israeli relations since the beginning of the war in Gaza following the October 7 Hamas terrorist attacks. Even under pressure from progressives in his party to take steps to reduce humanitarian suffering in Gaza, Biden was careful to avoid an open rift with Netanyahu.

However, in Netanyahu’s war cabinet meetings, a decision to go to Rafah seemed imminent. The IDF has now established a presence in Rafah and along its border, strangling two entry points for aid and warning of a larger attack to come.

Eventually, officials said, Biden came to believe his warnings were not heeded, so he changed course.

Last week, Biden signed a halt to sending 3,500 bombs to Israel, which administration officials feared would be dropped on Rafah. And on Wednesday, sitting at a Wisconsin community college for an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett, Biden made clear to the world what he said he had already made clear to Netanyahu privately.

“If they go to Rafah, I’m not going to provide them with the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with cities — that are dealing with this problem,” Biden told Burnett.

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The president’s aides said the letter should not have been a surprise to its intended recipient in Israel.

“I can assure you that the direct and frank nature with which he expressed himself and his concerns in that interview with Erin Burnett is consistent with the way he expressed himself to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israeli officials,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said. He said on Thursday.

Kirby said the Israeli government had “understood…for some time” the implications of a major attack on Rafah on the future of US arms shipments.

Whether Israeli officials were aware of the president’s views or not, they reacted with shock to the public announcement. Netanyahu was defiant.

“If we want to stand alone, we will stand alone. I said that if necessary, we will fight with our nails.” Israeli officials also sought to downplay the significance of Biden’s announcement. Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said Israel already has the weapons it needs for the missions it needs. Plan it.

In addition to the 2,000-pound bombs, Biden told CNN that artillery could be disabled in the event of an invasion of Rafah. Although smaller than bombs, the Biden administration views artillery as indiscriminate and imprecise weapons that can cause massive casualties in urban areas.

Israel has claimed that its current campaign in Rafah is “limited,” a description echoed by American officials. But behind the scenes, doubts remain about Israel’s intentions, CNN has learned, with the US providing limited clarity on how it plans to move forward.

Throughout the conflict, Biden’s frustration with Netanyahu has grown, even as the US president has publicly maintained that his support for the State of Israel is unwavering.

Biden has made clear that regardless of the path the war between Israel and Hamas takes, the United States will remain Israel’s strongest ally as long as he remains president. The advisors said that this conviction was separate and far from the development of the president’s relationship with Netanyahu.

“Israel is not like Netanyahu,” a senior Biden adviser told CNN.

Rafah was not the only source of nuisance in the relationship. According to Biden’s close advisers, the Israeli military’s accidental killing in early April of seven aid workers at World Central Kitchen in Gaza — one of whom was an American citizen — broke the president’s already exhausted patience.

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Advisers said Biden expressed anger upon learning of the news. He has made clear to his advisers that he views the killing of aid workers as an unacceptable “breakdown” in some of the fundamental ways in which Israel is expected to conduct its war, and that the moment calls for a new response. His team quickly arranged a phone call with Netanyahu.

Several weeks ago, Biden shared with his friends on Capitol Hill — in comments captured over a hot megaphone — that he and the prime minister were likely headed toward some kind of rupture. He expected the two leaders to be due for a “Come to Jesus” moment.

Many advisers did not deny that Biden’s phone call with Netanyahu in April was at least as close to a “come to Jesus” moment as the two leaders had been up to that point. In the short call, Biden issued a new warning to Netanyahu: If Israel does not correct its course, the United States will reconsider how it supports its ally in the conflict.

It was the clearest sign yet that after six months of war, Biden is beginning to seriously consider adapting American support for Israel. But even then, it was unknown what exactly those consequences would look like, and what actions Israel would take that would ultimately push Biden over the brink.

Since their call, the White House has praised Israel for taking steps to increase humanitarian aid, including opening additional crossings. However, Rafah continued to highlight the relationship, with Israeli officials insisting that Hamas must be pursued in the city, even as Biden aides said they did not see a plan to protect civilians there.

Meetings between the two sides failed to reach consensus on the issue, according to people familiar with the matter. White House officials were not convinced by Israel’s plans to protect civilians and made clear in public statements that an invasion of the city would be a humanitarian catastrophe.

“The president and his team have been clear for several weeks that we do not support a major ground operation in Rafah, where more than a million people are sheltering in place with nowhere safe to go,” Kirby said on Thursday. “The president has said that publicly and communicated that repeatedly and directly to Prime Minister Netanyahu.”

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After Biden’s interview with CNN, officials stressed that the White House’s position on conditioning aid is hypothetical: The United States will not reduce equipment and weapons provided to its longtime ally unless it launches the Rafah invasion.

But that did not prevent the president’s critics from accusing him of abandoning Israel, despite his clear statement that he “does not deviate from Israel’s security.” Across the spectrum of the Republican Party, from former President Donald Trump to Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, Biden’s political opponents likened the announcement to a message of abandonment amid an ongoing war with terrorists.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, who just survived Overthrow attemptHe even noted in an interview with Politico that Biden had a “high-profile moment” when he made the statement.

Some Democrats also expressed criticism. Pennsylvania Senator John Fetterman, a staunch supporter of Israel, said he did not agree with Biden’s plan to block some arms shipments to Israel, warning that the move “shows Hamas that it is winning the public relations war.”

“I’m concerned about that, and I don’t agree with the president,” he told CNN’s Manu Raju.

“I think he should be released,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a vulnerable Democrat from Montana, when asked about Biden’s handling of gun shipments. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Ben Cardin said he planned to speak with administration officials about the details of their plan later Thursday.

“I’m trying to find out legally what they are doing and the reasons for it,” he said. “So, until I have the opportunity to speak with management, I will hold off on making any specific comments,” he added.

Although the president’s stance marked his harshest public stance toward Israel since the beginning of the war, he also appeared to do little to satisfy those in his own party who called for an end to American support.

“I think it’s a good step forward. I think we have to do more,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic socialist from Vermont, told CNN, adding that Biden’s warning about gun conditioning “should have come much earlier.”

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