update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Biden admin dismisses Netanyahu’s Rafah invasion date claim

Senior U.S. officials believe that political considerations are at play in the pronouncement.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, March 31, 2024. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem, March 31, 2024. Photo by Marc Israel Sellem/POOL.

The United States is attributing Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pronouncement earlier this week that a date had been set for the Israel Defense Forces to enter Rafah to political posturing.

According to a CNN report on Tuesday citing senior Biden administration officials, the White House considers the statement “bluster” and “bravado.” U.S. security officials have publicly stated that no date for a military invasion of Rafah has been shared with them.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Tuesday that the administration has not been given a date for the operation.

Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman, told reporters on Monday, “To my knowledge, we have not been briefed on that date.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also contradicted Netanyahu, telling Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin in a Monday phone call that a date has not been set for the major ground offensive in the last Hamas stronghold, where the terror group’s final four battalions, comprising some 3,000 fighters, are concentrated and which Jerusalem says is necessary to win the war.

Gallant told Austin that Israel is still finalizing plans to evacuate some 1.5 million Gazans sheltering in the city to other parts of the coastal enclave before the offensive. Israel is purchasing 40,000 tents for this purpose.

The Biden administration opposes a wide-scale attack on Rafah in favor of a more targeted approach.

Gallant’s call with Austin took place hours after Netanyahu said that Israel had set a date for the military offensive.

“We are constantly working to achieve our goals—first and foremost the release of all our hostages and achieving a complete victory over Hamas.
This victory requires entry into Rafah and the elimination of the terrorist battalions there,” the premier said in a video released by his office.

“It will happen; there is a date,” he added.

The premier reiterated on Tuesday that the Hamas battalions in Rafah will be defeated.

“We will complete the elimination of Hamas’s battalions, including in Rafah. No force in the world will stop us…. After what [Hamas] has done, it will not do this again. Neither will it exist,” the premier said at a reception for IDF recruits at Tel Hashomer base in Ramat Gan.

Earlier in the week the IDF announced the withdrawal of ground forces from southern Gaza after four months of fighting in Khan Yunis and six months of war, leaving only one brigade in the Strip.

The Israeli government has repeatedly emphasized that telling Israel to refrain from operating in Rafah is equivalent to demanding that it lose the war. Many of the 133 hostages still in the hands of Hamas after 184 days are believed to be held in Rafah. Two captives were rescued from the city by special forces in a daring military operation in February.

Netanyahu on Tuesday also repeated his oft-stated war goals of eliminating Hamas, returning the hostages and ensuring that Gaza never again poses a threat to Israel.

“There is a fourth objective: Hamas is part of Iran’s axis of evil, which aims to destroy us. And when we defeat Hamas, it is not only defeating Hamas–it is defeating the axis. Everyone in the Middle East and beyond is sitting in the stands and watching who will win on this field, Israel or Iran and its proxies. You already know who will win,” added Netanyahu.

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