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Biden threatens: If Israel launches large-scale operation in Rafah we won't supply it with bombs

US president declares for the first time that he will limit military aid to Israel; 'Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs'; But he says Israel 's actions so far have 'not yet' crossed his red line 

In a dramatic statement that raises tensions with the United States to a new high, U.S. President Joe Biden has threatened to stop sending bombs and artillery shells to Israel if it starts a large-scale military operation in Rafah, beyond the more limited operation that is currently underway which focuses only on the Rafah crossing itself.
In an interview with CNN aired overnight between Wednesday and Thursday, Biden said that heavy bombs, the kind of which his government is already delaying a large shipment, caused the widespread killing of civilians in the Strip; according to the president, if Israel begins the more extensive operation that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu keeps promising to carry out he will not be willing to supply these weapons.
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ממשלוחי הפצצות הכבדות האמריקאיות האחרונים שהגיעו לצה"ל במלחמה, לפני כחודשיים - ישירות ממפעלי בואינג בארצות הברית
ממשלוחי הפצצות הכבדות האמריקאיות האחרונים שהגיעו לצה"ל במלחמה, לפני כחודשיים - ישירות ממפעלי בואינג בארצות הברית
The last shipment of U.S. heavy bombs that arrived for the IDF during the war, about two months ago, directly from the Boeing factories
This is an unprecedented statement for the Democratic president, who throughout the war paid a heavy political price for standing by Israel, and so far has rejected the calls in the progressive camp to consider limiting military aid to Jerusalem. Biden made it clear in the interview that even if Israel launches an operation in Rafah he will continue to supply it with defensive weapons, such as Iron Dome interceptors.
“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centers,” said Biden, referring to the 900 kg bombs which are part of the delayed shipment. “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem.”
Biden added, "I made it clear to Bibi and the War Cabinet - you will not receive aid if you enter population centers in Rafah."
He emphasized that, for now, Israel has "not yet" crossed his red line. The Rafah crossing, where the IDF is currently operating, is close to the border with Israel and not in the more populated areas of the southernmost city in the Strip - where hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees are congregating. "They did not enter population centers . What they did is right on the border. Even though this causes problems now with Egypt, which I worked very hard to ensure that we would have relations and assistance (from it)."
The U.S. president made it clear that in any scenario, defensive military assistance to Israel will continue. "We're going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks like — came out of — the — in — the Middle East recently. But it's — it’s — it’s just wrong. We're not gonna — we're not gonna supply the weapons and the artillery shells used that have been used,” he said.
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ג'ו ביידן בנימין נתניהו
ג'ו ביידן בנימין נתניהו
U.S. President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
(Photos: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun, REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz)
Later, Biden added that he warned Netanyahu of the risks of remaining in the Strip, while acknowledging the U.S. operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. “When I went over [to Israel] immediately after that happened, I said to Bibi, ‘Don’t make the same mistake we made in America [after 9/11],” he said. "We wanted to get bin Laden. We will help you get Sinwar,'" he noted, referring to the Hamas leader in Gaza, “We will help you focus on getting the bad guys.”
Biden also referred to the demonstrations on campuses and chants of "Genocide Joe" against him, saying that he "definitely hears the message." According to him, “There’s a legitimate right to free speech and protest… There’s not a legitimate right to use hate speech; there’s not a legitimate right to threaten Jewish students; there’s not a legitimate right to block people’s access to class. That’s against the law.” Finally, Biden said that he is "working with Arab countries that are ready to rebuild Gaza, and are ready to help transition to a two-state solution."
Biden's words come hours after U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday night confirmed the reports in the U.S. about delaying the delivery of the weapons, while emphasizing that this was Biden's own decision that was made against the background of the fear of harming civilians in Rafah. Later, the State Department in Washington said that the U.S. is considering the possibility of delaying further arms shipments.
"We are committed to Israel's security and have proven this in recent weeks with Iran's attack, but we have very serious concerns about the operation in Rafah and about the fate of the civilian population that is there in great density, given Israel's actions in the past," said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. "Israel has not presented us with a proper plan to address these issues. We stopped one shipment and we are looking at others, but our long-term commitment to Israel has not changed."
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רפיח עזה
רפיח עזה
Bombs dropped on the Gaza Strip
(Photo: REUTERS/Hatem Khaled)
The weapons shipment now being delayed reportedly includes 1,800 900-kilogram bombs and 1,700 225-kilogram bombs. A U.S. official quoted by NBC said the Biden administration is "very focused" on ending Israel's use of heavy bombs in the war in Gaza, amid the widespread destruction caused when they were detonated in the Strip. The source emphasized that a final decision has not yet been made, and he noted that in a separate procedure the State Department is examining whether to approve future shipments of precision bombs, known as JDAMs. According to the NBC report, also the shipment of SDB-1 precision-guided glide bombs weighing 100 kg, has been halted.
In Israel there is a feeling of frustration and severe disappointment following the U.S. decision to delay the shipment of weapons. Jerusalem sees this is an American signal, almost a yellow flag, against its intention to expand the operation in Rafah, but they made it clear to Washington that the decision to delay the weapons shipment could harm the negotiations for the hostage deal, which is still in a sensitive situation. There is no solid indication in Israel that additional shipments will be delayed, but the fear is that if the operation in Rafah expands - mainly due to the difficulties in negotiating the hostage deal - the U.S. will delay additional shipments.
The US move is infuriating Republicans in Congress. Speaker of the House of Representatives Mike Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell sent a joint letter to Biden Wednesday, in which they demanded an explanation regarding the delay in the shipment of weapons to Israel. They claimed that they learned about the move through the media. "After we worked on a bipartisan basis to pass a law that included urgent aid to Israel, we were alarmed by the reports that your administration delayed the delivery of various arms shipments to Israel. This news contradicts the promises made regarding the timely delivery of security assistance to Israel," they said.
They added that, despite their requests, "we were unable to receive relevant information from the State Department or the Ministry of Defense", and demanded that Biden "provide relevant responses by the end of the week."

Sen. Lindsey Graham attacks U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin for delaying the shipment of weapons to Israel
(Video: C-SPAN3)

Earlier, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham attacked the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Charles Brown, and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin following the move. "Would you have supported dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II?" Graham asked Austin at a Senate hearing Wednesday night.
Graham gave a rather poignant speech at the hearing, and added: "In recent weeks, Israel has suffered attacks from Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah who wish for its destruction. You tell her how to fight when everyone around her wants to kill all the Jews? If we stop weapons necessary to destroy the enemies of the State of Israel at a time of great peril, we will pay a price. This is obscene. It is absurd. Give Israel what they need to fight the war they can’t afford to lose." He added that "It's Hiroshima and Nagasaki on steroids!"
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