In the shadow of the tensions between the United States and Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Joe Biden talked Sunday evening for 45 minutes, for the first time in three weeks. An official in the Biden administration said before the conversation that it would focus on the issue of the hostages.
During the call, Biden told Netanyahu that Israel should not proceed with a military operation in Rafah without a plan to ensure the safety of the roughly 1 million people sheltering there, the White House said. Netanyahu replied that just as Israel acted throughout the war to act according to international law and to the highest standards, "we will know how to do the same" in Rafah. Netanyahu also emphasized that the operation in Rafah is necessary and Israel will do everything to minimize harm to civilians.
Biden asked Netanyahu in their conversation to send an Israeli delegation to the talks on the hostages in Cairo, even if "you don't see a horizon." Israeli officials said that Biden asked Netanyahu to maintain the central principle of humanitarian aid, and to make sure that the established quota of 200 trucks per day is reached.
The White House said that Biden confirmed in his conversation with Netanyahu the common goal of seeing Hamas defeated and ensuring the long-term security of Israel and its citizens. According to the White House statement, the president and the prime minister discussed the ongoing efforts to secure the release of all the hostages remaining in the hands of Hamas.
"The president emphasized the need to take advantage of the progress achieved in the negotiations to ensure the release of all hostages as soon as possible, and called for urgent and specific measures to be taken to increase the output and consistency of humanitarian aid to innocent Palestinian citizens," it said. "Biden reaffirmed his position that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a reliable and feasible plan to ensure the safety and support of the more than one million people sheltered there. The two leaders agreed to remain in close contact."
Netanyahu said earlier on Sunday in an interview with the American Fox News network that he had not spoken with Biden after the U.S. president claimed that the operation in the Gaza Strip was "over the top."
Biden said during a briefing with White House reporters on Thursday that the "conduct of the response" in the Gaza was "over the top." It was later confirmed by the White House that Gaza was referring to Israel's military operation. It is the harshest language Biden has used to criticize the IDF operation in Gaza since the Hamas attack on October 7.
In the meantime, the U.S. newspaper The Washington Post reported that Biden and his senior aides are closer to a rupture in relations with Netanyahu than at any other time since the outbreak of the war, and they no longer see him as a productive partner who can be influenced even on a private level, citing several sources familiar with the internal discussions on the subject.
Last week, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that "the United States will not support major Israeli military operations in Rafah." This morning it was reported that Netanyahu said in an interview with the American ABC network that the IDF will enter Rafah and subdue Hamas forces in the city. "Those who say that we should not operate there in any way are actually telling us to leave Hamas there and lose the war," Netanyahu said.
In the Washington Post, the sources, who spoke anonymously, reported that the growing frustration with Netanyahu caused some of Biden's aides to urge him to express more public criticism of Netanyahu for the military operation in Gaza. The U.S. newspaper noted that the president is a staunch supporter of Israel and has known Netanyahu for more than 40 years, and therefore has refrained from expressing his frustration until now. According to the sources, the U.S. president has been changing his position recently, while Netanyahu continues to arouse the anger of senior officials in the Biden administration, according to them, either by public humiliation or by rejecting the basic demands of the United States.
The last time Netanyahu and Biden spoke was on January 19. In the prime minister's interview Sunday with ABC, he was asked about Biden's statement that Israel's response in Gaza was "over the top" and he replied: "I appreciate President Biden's support for Israel since the beginning of the war. I don't know exactly what he meant by that." The prime minister said in an interview that "enough of the hostages remaining in the captivity of Hamas are alive" to justify the fighting in Gaza. He also said that for every civilian killed in Gaza, a Hamas terrorist was also killed.
In the same statement over the weekend, Biden said that "it is very difficult to get humanitarian aid in Gaza. There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, in trouble and dying," the president added. "It's got to stop."
During Netanyahu's interview with ABC, he was asked about the special prosecutor's report that pointed to Biden's "memory problems," The prime minister said: "I had dozens of conversations with Biden, and he came to Israel during the war and I found him to be very clear and very focused." According to Netanyahu, "We agreed on the goals of the war and other things, we had disagreements, but they were not born from a lack of understanding on his or my part. This is what I can tell you, I did not see" (memory problems).
In the shadow of international criticism of Israel's intention to operate militarily in Rafah, Netanyahu claimed today before the ministers at the weekly Cabinet meeting: "We are telling the Americans and other friends in the world - we cannot leave battalions in Rafah. Not four battalions and not one battalion. Just like the Americans would not agree to leave a small ISIS enclave in the war in Iraq." Netanyahu informed the ministers that he would speak with Biden during the day, and said that the issues would come up during the conversation.
In an interview with Fox News Netanyahu said that he "agrees with the U.S. that a plan for the coming decades should be given to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip. We are not fighting them, we are fighting terrorists." When asked about the plans for an IDF ground operation there, Netanyahu explained: "We have destroyed most of the Hamas infrastructure in the rest of Gaza's streets, so now there are places in the north for the citizens - and we are going to encourage them and direct them with the help of leaflets and phone calls to move to a safe area. This is the direction I gave the army now."
"There is no other army on earth that takes precautions to prevent harm to civilians," Netanyahu said in an interview. "We spread leaflets and we call Palestinians and tell them to get out of their homes." Netanyahu stressed: "Israel is responding in a responsible way, guaranteeing the safe exit of the civilians and at the same time working with determination to wipe Hamas off the face of the earth." The prime minister claimed: "If we defeat Hamas, the circle of peace will expand dramatically. We have a bright future if we do this and we will do it soon."
Netanyahu and his ministers visited the Yahalom unit base Sunday and received a security review of the war from IDF Chief of Staff Major General Herzi Halevi, and other commanders. Similar to what he said in his Sunday morning interviews in the U.S., Netanyahu stated that: We are on the way to victory. It will take time as it has been said correctly. But – contrary to what is being said – it will not take years. It is within reach. It is a difficult battle, but one we are winning."
Netanyahu spoke about the increasing pressures from the international community. "The goal is no less than the victory we have been discussing. It is within reach. It requires that we also withstand the increasing pressure. I must tell you the truth: They are increasing, and each one of you who comes into contact with foreign elements can tell about this, each one in his or her own way."
He added: "We want, in effect, to bring about the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. This requires our security control and our comprehensive security responsibility over all territory west of the Jordan River, including the Gaza Strip. There is no alternative to this in the foreseeable future."
"We are also saying this to the international community, and to the president of the US, and to all leaders. There is no alternative to this. This is to say, security control will always be ours, and if this requires a presence inside, then there will be a presence inside. If it requires that we be able to go in anywhere, as the IDF is capable of going anywhere, at any time, this will be said here and this will also be the case in the future," the prime minister said.
During the security review, the Chief-of-Staff briefed the ministers about the combat in the Gaza Strip and discussed both the impressive military achievements to date and the plans for the continuation of the fighting. 162nd Division Commander Brig.-Gen. Itzik Cohen and Palmachim Air Base Commander Brig.-Gen. Omri Dor briefed the ministers about the combined air-ground incursion being carried out by the IDF in the Gaza Strip in a way that is without parallel in the world.
First published: 17:22, 02.11.24