update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Netanyahu to Biden: Impossible to complete victory without entering Rafah

"We always did what was necessary for our safety, and we will do so this time as well," the premier said in an address to Israeli citizens.

U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to reporters in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
U.S. President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speak to reporters in Tel Aviv, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

Israel Defense Forces troops will enter the Hamas stronghold of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip with or without support from the United States, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed on Wednesday.

“There were times we agreed with our friends, and there were times we did not agree with them,” the premier said in a pre-recorded video address to Israeli citizens. “Ultimately, we always did what was necessary for our safety, and we will do so this time as well.”

During a phone call with Netanyahu on Monday, U.S. President Joe Biden stated that he could not support a major military offensive against Hamas in Rafah. Instead, the White House favors a limited operation aimed at high-value targets and securing the Gaza-Egypt border.

Netanyahu on Wednesday confirmed that “President Biden, whose support I appreciate, asked to present us with proposals by his people, both regarding the humanitarian field and on other issues.

“In the beginning [of the current war], I told the president: Hamas cannot be defeated without the IDF entering Gaza. In our latest conversation, I told him that it is impossible to complete the victory without the IDF entering Rafah and eliminating the remaining Hamas battalions,” he continued.

Netanyahu stressed that “from the very beginning, we agreed that Hamas should be eliminated. However, it’s no secret that during the war, we had differences of opinion about the best way to achieve this goal.”

The Israeli leader also emphasized that he had already approved the IDF’s operational plans for Rafah and would “soon” green-light an outline for the evacuation of noncombatants from the city.

“While we prepare to enter Rafah, which will take some time, we continue to operate with all our might. We continue to operate in Khan Yunis, in the central [Strip’s] camps, in eliminating and capturing senior Hamas officials—as we did just now in Shifa [in Gaza City]—in eliminating many hundreds of terrorists,” he said.

“As I promised you over and over again—we are determined to achieve a decisive victory, and we will achieve it,” said Netanyahu.

Earlier this month, two Israeli hostages were rescued from Rafah by IDF special forces. Many of the 134 captives still in the hands of Hamas after 165 days are believed to be held in the area. It is feared that some of them could have been smuggled to Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula via tunnels.

During Monday’s White House daily press briefing, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that despite Biden’s opposition to the Rafah operation, the president did not threaten to cut off military aid.

The senior official added that Biden’s concerns about Rafah should not be understood as a lack of U.S. commitment to root out Hamas.

“The president has rejected, and did again today, the strawman that raising questions about Rafah is the same as raising questions about defeating Hamas,” Sullivan stated.

On Tuesday night, the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem announced that Netanyahu would be sending two of his trusted associates, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, to Washington to discuss the pending battle.

They will be joined by an official from the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli Defense Ministry unit responsible for humanitarian and civilian affairs in the disputed territories.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant will make a separate trip to the U.S. next week, in what will be his first official visit since Oct. 7. Gallant will fly to Washington at the invitation of U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Addressing troops in western Gaza City last week, Gallant seemed to indicate that the IDF operation in Rafah would happen soon. “Even those who think that we are delaying will soon see that we will reach everyone,” he stated, according to a Defense Ministry readout.

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