update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Sullivan to visit Israel, Saudi Arabia amid Rafah tensions

The Biden administration has reportedly reached an understanding with Jerusalem that the IDF operation in the city will not be significantly expanded until after the visit.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Credit: U.S. Virtual Embassy Iran.
U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. Credit: U.S. Virtual Embassy Iran.

U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is scheduled to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia later this week to discuss normalization between Jerusalem and Riyadh and the Israeli military operation in Rafah in southern Gaza.

A senior U.S. official told the Axios news site that the Biden administration had reached an understanding with the Israeli government that the scale of the Israel Defense Forces operation in the last Hamas stronghold would not be significantly expanded ahead of Sullivan’s visit.

The Biden administration is opposed to a full-scale invasion of Rafah, threatening to withhold weapons should a wider ground offensive take place. The IDF last week began what Israel described as a “precision operation” in eastern Rafah, including the mass evacuation of the city’s noncombatants to the Al-Mawasi humanitarian zone.

Jerusalem remains adamant that destroying the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah is essential to winning the war and preventing the terror group from regrouping and once again threatening Israel.

According to Axios, the White House hopes to extend Israel’s alleged commitment to not start a full-scale offensive in Rafah until a high-level meeting between Israeli and American officials in Washington soon after Sullivan’s trip.

Meanwhile, Sullivan is aiming to secure a major agreement with Saudi Arabia that would see the leading Sunni Muslim state join the Abraham Accords by establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.

The Biden administration argues that a wider operation in Rafah would threaten a normalization deal with the Saudis.

 “Israel’s long-term security depends on being integrated into the region and enjoying normal relations with the Arab states, including Saudi Arabia,” Sullivan told reporters on Monday, emphasizing that Israel should consider potential Saudi ties when weighing a Rafah operation.

“We shouldn’t miss a historic opportunity to achieve the vision of a secure Israel flanked by strong regional partners, presenting a powerful front to deter aggression and uphold regional stability,” Sullivan continued.

Brett McGurk, the U.S. National Security Council’s coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, will join Sullivan on the weekend trip, along with U.S. envoy Amos Hochstein and State Department counselor Derek Chollet. They are expected to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Netanyahu and other Saudi and Israeli officials.

Israeli War Cabinet member Benny Gantz said on Tuesday that he had held a telephone conversation with Sullivan during which they discussed the war in Gaza, Saudi normalization and other topics.

“I emphasized in our call the imperative of increasing the international pressure on Hamas in addition to continuing the military pressure to secure an arrangement to return the hostages and remove the threat of Hamas,” Gantz tweeted.

“We discussed further the efforts to reach an agreement to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia, expand the regional alliance of moderates and the subject of Gaza ‘the day-after,’” he added.

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