Israel-Gaza War: Biden to stop some arms deliveries if Israel invades Rafah

  • Mike Wendling and Tom Bateman in Washington
  • BBC News

Image source, Getty Images

Legend, The comments constitute the president’s strongest warning yet to Israel regarding a possible ground invasion of Rafah.

President Joe Biden warned Israel that the United States would stop supplying certain weapons if it launched a major ground operation in the Gaza city of Rafah.

“If they enter Rafah, I am not providing them with the weapons that have historically been used to confront Rafah,” he said in an interview with CNN.

He added that he would “continue to guarantee Israel’s security.”

Despite strong and vocal opposition from the United States, Israel appears ready to stage a full-scale invasion of Rafah.

The congested southern part of Gaza is the last major Hamas stronghold in the territory. US officials have warned that an operation in the town – where the population has swelled with refugees from other parts of Gaza – could result in significant civilian casualties.

“We are not going to provide the weapons and the artillery shells,” Mr. Biden said in the interview broadcast Wednesday.

He said the United States does not define the current situation in Rafah as a ground operation. “They didn’t go to the population centers. What they did was right at the border,” he said.

“But I made it clear to (Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu) and the war cabinet that they would not get our support if they went to these population centers.”

Mr. Biden acknowledged that Israel used American weapons to kill civilians in Gaza.

Asked if Israel had crossed a “red line”, the US president replied “not yet”.

The comments constitute the president’s strongest warning yet about a possible ground invasion of Rafah, and mark the first time he has said the United States could stop American arms shipments to Israel.

Israel’s ambassador to the UN said the country was “very disappointed” by Mr Biden’s intervention.

“This is a difficult and very disappointing statement to hear from a president to whom we have been grateful since the beginning of the war,” Gilad Erdan told Israeli public radio Kan.

The United States has already delayed sending thousands of bombs to Israel and said it was reviewing future deliveries.

On Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed the delay in shipping the bombs — some of the most destructive munitions in Western military arsenals — during testimony before the Senate.

The weapons withheld by the United States are linked to future delivery, so this decision is unlikely to have an immediate impact. But given how quickly Israel is bombing, this will likely affect future strikes quite soon.

The Israeli military, meanwhile, said the two countries would resolve their disagreements “behind closed doors.”

President Biden faces growing domestic pressure – from some Democrats and parts of the US public – to curb Israeli operations in Gaza amid rising civilian deaths and worsening humanitarian situation.

US officials confirmed that no new aid has been delivered to Gaza through two southern gates since Israeli tanks entered southern Rafah and took control of the Palestinian side of the crossing with Egypt this week .

Israeli military spokesman Daniel Hagari said the United States had provided “unprecedented” security assistance since the start of the war, adding that disputes between the allies had been resolved “behind closed doors.” , in a concrete way “.

But a leading member of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party in Israel told the BBC’s Newshour on Wednesday that he believed US domestic political considerations were behind the decision to stop the bomb delivery.

“I absolutely disagree that the US elections have nothing to do with this,” said Boaz Bismuth, a member of the Israeli parliament and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Video caption, Watch: Gazans ask ‘where do we go now?’ » after Rafah evacuation orders

Rafah has been a key entry point for aid, and the only exit for those able to flee, since the war between Israel and Hamas began last October.

The Israeli military on Monday ordered tens of thousands of civilians to begin evacuating eastern parts of the city of Rafah, ahead of what it called a “limited” operation aimed at eliminating Hamas fighters and dismantle infrastructure.

Meanwhile, efforts continue to achieve a ceasefire, alongside the release of Israeli hostages and Palestinian prisoners. In Cairo, delegations from Israel and Hamas resumed negotiations through mediators.

A US official said negotiations with Israel were “ongoing and have not fully addressed our concerns” and that the US had been reviewing its arms transfers to Israel since April.

Israel launched a campaign to destroy Hamas in response to the group’s attack on southern Israel on October 7, in which about 1,200 people were killed and another 252 taken hostage, according to Israeli counts.

Since then, more than 34,780 people have been killed in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

A deal reached in November allowed Hamas to release 105 hostages in exchange for a one-week ceasefire and some 240 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Israel says 128 hostages are missing, 36 of whom are presumed dead.