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Biden’s Stronger Position Sparks Israeli Outrage on Rafah Offensive

Biden's Rafah warning sends immediate shockwaves

On Thursday, Israel responded with a blend of apprehension and anger to President Joe Biden‘s threat to cease weapons shipments to the nation’s military if it proceeds with a large-scale attack on Rafah, a city in southern Gaza housing over 1 million Palestinians.

The warning, a departure from Washington’s previous stance on the conflict, came after the Biden administration stopped delivery of bombs last week due to concerns over Israel’s intentions to invade Rafah despite ongoing ceasefire negotiations with Hamas.

The U.S. has historically provided arms to Israel, and Biden’s admonition follows months of escalating tensions between the two nations as the president faces mounting domestic pressure to take a tougher stance on the conflict. Israeli officials expressed concerns about the potentially far-reaching implications of the fallout.

Biden warns Israel against an offensive in Rafah

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, described the U.S. pause as “a very disappointing decision, even frustrating.” He hinted in an interview with Israeli Channel 12 TV news that Biden may have been influenced by pressure from both Congress and protests on U.S. college campuses.

“In an apparent response to Biden’s threat, Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Israel Katz declared, “Israel will continue to combat Hamas until its eradication.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refrained from directly addressing Biden’s comments but reposted a video on X from a previous speech in which he asserted, “If Israel is compelled to stand alone, Israel will stand alone.”

Members of Netanyahu’s far-right government swiftly expressed their indignation at the threat.

Right-wing National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir issued a brief but scathing response on X. “Hamas ❤️ Biden,” he remarked. His office did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for further comment.

Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who leads the ultranationalist Religious Zionist Party, accused Biden of implementing an “arms embargo.” He asserted on X that Israel would achieve “complete victory” in the conflict despite President Biden’s opposition.

“We have no option; this conflict is existential, and anything less than total victory jeopardizes the existence of the Jewish state,” Smotrich stated.

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, sought to temper the backlash, seemingly rebuking the right-wing ministers.

Expressing gratitude to Biden for being a “great friend of the State of Israel,” Herzog emphasized the need for constructive dialogue even in the middle of disagreements. He cautioned against making baseless and damaging statements that could harm Israel’s national security and interests.

Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, reiterated his military’s appreciation for U.S. arms support. He assured that the IDF possessed sufficient weaponry for planned operations, including potential incursions into Rafah.

Despite this, Israeli military experts expressed concerns about Biden’s statement.

Kobi Michael, a senior researcher at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, questioned Biden’s approach, particularly his willingness to supply defensive interceptors like Iron Dome and Arrow but not offensive munitions. Michael highlighted the tension between Israel and the U.S., noting that the halted weapons shipment signaled deeper discord between the two allies.

An Israeli official revealed frustrations within the government over the U.S. decision, emphasizing concerns about civilian casualties resulting from the use of heavy bombs in densely populated areas. Biden cited civilian deaths in Gaza as a consequence of such munitions during an interview on CNN.

This development revealed the Biden administration’s delay in submitting a crucial report to Congress regarding Israel’s compliance with international law in its use of U.S.-supplied weapons. The report’s impact on Israel’s offensive in Gaza, where over 34,900 people have been killed, remains uncertain.

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