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Biden Warns Netanyahu an Assault on Rafah Would Cross ‘Red Line’

How's it go again? All talk and no action? Joe continues to send them arms and money to fight this war while quietly whining..."can you ease up please".

What a spineless old wimp. Sorry, I gotta be me!

Biden Warns Netanyahu an Assault on Rafah Would Cross ‘Red Line’

More than a million Palestinians have taken refuge in city, which is Israel’s next target in war against Hamas

By Michael R. Gordon, Dion Nissenbaum, and Vivian Salama, WSJ

Updated March 10, 2024

WASHINGTON—The Biden administration is warning Israel of the risks of attacking the southern Gaza city of Rafah, intensifying efforts to get its Middle East ally to rethink the conduct of the five-month-old war.

The looming operation is a potential showdown between the White House and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which sees the assault as vital for the defeat of Hamas, the U.S.-designated terror group whose bloody Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel sparked the war.

Israeli officials want to press ahead in coming months against Hamas fighters in Rafah, where more than one million Palestinians displaced by fighting have taken refuge.

But senior U.S. officials said they are cautioning Israel against a direct ground and air attack, doubting it can develop an effective plan to move the civilian population out of harm’s way ahead of the assault.

In a sign of growing White House concern about Rafah, President Biden warned Saturday that an Israeli attack would cross a “red line” and left open the possibility that the U.S. might withhold some types of military assistance to Israel if the operation caused extensive civilian casualties.

He added that a complete cutoff of weapons shipments wasn’t an option.

“It is a red line, but I am never going to leave Israel. The defense of Israel is still critical. So there is no red line I am going to cut off all weapons, so they don’t have the Iron Dome to protect them,” Biden told MSNBC, referring to the antimissile interceptors. “But there’s red lines that if he crosses…. You cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz said that moving into Rafah is key to dismantling Hamas’s military and governance power and freeing hostages still held in Gaza, war goals that he said the U.S. and Biden support.

“Those objectives cannot be achieved without collapsing and clearing Hamas’s forces from Rafah,” Katz told Israeli radio on Sunday.

The White House has taken other steps in recent weeks to pressure or bypass Netanyahu, including more-pointed warnings on the Rafah operation and finding new ways to deliver aid to Palestinians in Gaza by air and sea.

The sharpening U.S. approach was on display in a closed-door meeting Vice President Kamala Harris had in recent days with the war cabinet member Benny Gantz, who argued that Israeli forces will need to move into Rafah to finish off Hamas’s fighters and ensure that they can’t regroup.

“Finishing the war without demilitarizing Rafah is like sending in firefighters to put out 80% of a fire,” Gantz told U.S. officials, according to an Israeli official familiar with his meetings.

Harris and other U.S. officials were deeply skeptical about the feasibility of the Rafah operation while expressing alarm about the plight of Palestinians in Gaza who are struggling to endure without adequate supplies of food, water and medicine.

Fueling the administration’s concern is the faltering effort to secure a six-week cease-fire before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when U.S. officials fear violence can surge in the midst of Palestinian protests.

Officials said that any decision on conditioning military aid rests with Biden’s willingness to confront the Israeli government, which could hurt him with supporters of Israel in the U.S. in the presidential election. On the other hand, putting conditions on military assistance could help Biden with Arab-American voters, especially in the swing state of Michigan.

Biden is under pressure from members of his party to consider conditioning transfers of U.S. weapons to Israel if it fails to safeguard Palestinian lives, a possibility that has been raised by some of the president’s staunchest political allies.

“This possible upcoming assault on Rafah is, in many ways, the biggest test this relationship will face in this conflict,” Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, said in an interview following his recent trip to Israel. On whether the U.S. will reach a point where it needs to question the terms of its military aid to Israel, Coons said: “I think we’re there.”

Yet another factor for the administration to consider, according to some experts, is whether withholding military aid would reduce pressure on Hamas to agree to release hostages, while prompting Israel to make greater use of the unguided bombs in its arsenal in a Rafah operation, instead of the precision guided weapons the Americans supply.

In his State of the Union address, President Biden said the U.S. military will install a temporary pier off the Gaza coast for cargo ships to unload humanitarian assistance. Photo:

Curtailing U.S. military assistance, they said, could likewise undermine Israel’s ability to deter Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese group that has been exchanging lower-level aerial attacks with Israeli forces since October.

“Biden understands he needs to make a difference, not a point,” said Aaron David Miller, a former U.S. Middle East peace negotiator and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Without an Israel-Hamas cease-fire deal for which he needs Netanyahu’s agreement, you might as well hang the ‘closed for the season’ sign on American policy.”

The White House said Thursday that the U.S. had joined a multination effort to ferry additional aid to Gaza by sea and that the Pentagon would construct a temporary pier along its coast for cargo ships to unload supplies. That followed a decision by the U.S. to begin military airdrops of food on March 2.

Brian Finucane, a former State Department official who now serves as a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, said the U.S. airdrops of aid are emblematic of the difficulty it has faced in securing Israeli’s cooperation. “It’s mind-boggling that it has come to this,” Finucane said.

Biden, in the State of the Union speech Thursday, issued one of the strongest warnings this year that Israel needed to do more to facilitate the supply of humanitarian aid.

Aid parcels airdropped over the Gaza Strip.

“Humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” Biden said, expressing alarm that more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed, according to Palestinian health authorities, most of them women and children. The numbers don’t distinguish between combatants and civilians.

Speaking to lawmakers in the House chamber after the speech, Biden was overheard saying that he would have even tougher words for Netanyahu in private.

“I told him, Bibi, and don’t repeat this, but you and I are going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting,” Biden confided to Sen. Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat, before an aide cautioned the president that his words were being broadcast on an open microphone.

Since the start of the war, Biden has embraced Israel’s goals of defeating Hamas and ousting its leaders so they can’t remain in control of Gaza and use its territory to mount attacks. But safeguarding Gazan citizens has also been a U.S. goal.

The State Department is looking at whether it could invoke a rarely used provision of the Foreign Assistance Act that requires a cutoff of financial and military support for any country that restricts delivery of humanitarian aid, officials said. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) is among the lawmakers calling on the Biden administration to use the provision to curtail aid to Israel.

“Anybody with eyes and ears and a brain can see that the Netanyahu government is restricting the delivery of humanitarian aid in Gaza,” said Van Hollen.

Israel has said there are no limits on the amount of food and other humanitarian aid that can enter Gaza.

U.S. officials have said they have discussed other steps, such as abstaining on a resolution at the United Nations opposed by Israel or not exercising its veto as a permanent Security Council member, as a way to bring pressure on Netanyahu.

Ali Vaez, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, said that Biden’s efforts to change Israel’s calculations have had minimal success so far and that U.S. influence might remain limited unless Biden is prepared to take much tougher steps.

“The U.S. has tremendous leverage, but very little influence,” he said.

Dov Lieber contributed to this article.

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