update deskIsrael at War

Biden may condition military aid if IDF enters Rafah

Four U.S. officials confirmed to "Politico" the president is mulling the option.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. President Joe Biden in New York, Sept. 20. 2023. Credit: Cameron Smith/Official White House photo.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with U.S. President Joe Biden in New York, Sept. 20. 2023. Credit: Cameron Smith/Official White House photo.

U.S. President Joe Biden will consider conditioning military aid to Israel if Jerusalem moves forward with its conquest of the last Hamas stronghold of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.

Politico on Monday cited four U.S. officials “with knowledge of internal administration thinking,” with one saying that “it’s something he’s definitely thought about.”

In an interview with MSNBC over the weekend, Biden said that invading Rafah is a “red line,” before quickly clarifying that “I’m never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical, so there’s no red line [where] I’m going to cut off all weapons so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them.”

He then suggested that more civilian casualties would be a red line, citing the Hamas figures of 30,000 Palestinians allegedly killed in the war.

According to Israel, at least 13,000 terrorists are among the dead.

“You cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead,” said Biden, who is pushing for a six-week ceasefire as part of a hostages-for-terrorists exchange deal during Ramadan.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Biden’s “red line” remarks on Monday, telling Fox News that destroying the final Hamas battalions in the city along the Egyptian border is essential to winning the war.

“I mean, we have to have that victory. We can’t have three-quarters of a victory. We can’t have two-thirds of a victory, because Hamas will reconstitute itself with these four battalions in Rafah, reconquer the Gaza Strip and do the October 7th massacre over and over and over again. And for us, for Israel, not merely for me, but for the people of Israel, that’s a red line. We can’t let Hamas survive,” the premier said.

An Israeli military official told Politico that the Rafah incursion was not imminent, saying that civilians needed to be evacuated and Israeli forces needed to prepare for the battle.

Around three-quarters of Jewish Israelis and a majority of Israelis overall support expanding the military’s Gaza operations against Hamas to Rafah, according to polling conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute.

Respondents were given the choice of either favoring the nixing of an incursion into Rafah—so as not to endanger relations with Egypt and ongoing hostage-release talks—or expanding operations into the city on the Egyptian border to pressure Hamas to agree to better terms for a deal.

Seventy-four percent of Jewish Israelis and 64.5% overall—including 88% of right-wing Jews and 63% of centrist Jews—said they were in favor of expanding operations into Rafah. In contrast, just 30% of left-wing Jews and 17% of Arab Israelis said they support the IDF going into Rafah.

Notably, 44.5% of left-wing Jews, a plurality but not a majority, oppose a Rafah operation, as do a majority (64.5%) of Arab citizens.

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