Biden administration officials think Netanyahu is bluffing

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The Biden administration is dismissing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pronouncement that a date has been set for a ground offensive into Rafah as bluster that is in no small part fueled by the Israeli prime minister’s tenuous political standing at home, senior administration officials told CNN.
Privately, multiple senior administration officials chalked up Netanyahu’s pronouncement – which was followed Tuesday by a declaration that that“no force in the world” will stop Israeli troops from entering Rafah – to bravado.
Israeli officials argue that four Hamas battalions remain in Rafah that must be taken out.
Biden remains sensitive to Netanyahu’s current political standing, including how much the prime minister is beholden to his ultra-conservative government, the most right-wing in Israeli history, one senior administration official told CNN.
Still, US officials – everyone from Biden on down – have been largely careful to stay away from publicly commenting on Israeli politics throughout the course of the Israel-Hamas war.
Speaking to donors in Washington in December, Biden criticized Israel’s hardline government as he called on Netanyahu to alter his approach to the war.
Israeli officials did not provide comprehensive answers to the questions in the meeting, the sources said.
Hamas would rebuild from the remaining battalions there, the officials told their US counterparts.


The announcement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that a date has been set for a ground invasion into Rafah is being written off by the Biden administration as posturing driven, at least in part, by the prime minister’s precarious political position at home, senior administration officials told CNN.

Since Tuesday, senior Biden national security officials have stated in public that they have not been provided with a date for Israel’s planned large-scale offensive into the southern Gaza city, the administration has been openly challenging Netanyahu’s remarks from Monday.

Netanyahu’s statement, which was followed on Tuesday by a claim that “no force in the world” will prevent Israeli troops from entering Rafah, was viewed as mere bravado by a number of very senior administration officials.

With the pressure mounting to achieve a ceasefire that would free Israeli hostages, the prime minister has been finding it difficult to strike a balance between his declared objective of defeating Hamas. Four Hamas battalions are still in Rafah, according to Israeli officials, and they need to be removed.

Netanyahu might also be facing a ticking clock because, following the war, Israel is anticipated to face political reckoning and the possible disintegration of his precarious far-right governing coalition.

Rejecting Netanyahu’s plans for Rafah, US officials have reaffirmed that they have not seen anything approaching a detailed plan from the Israelis on how they would conduct such an operation, including the evacuation of the vast majority of the estimated 11.4 million civilians from Rafah first.

According to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, “I don’t see anything imminent,” and “we do not have a date for any Rafah operation, at least one that’s been communicated to us by the Israelis.”. “.

According to Jake Sullivan, national security adviser to President Joe Biden, the former hasn’t disclosed any dates to reporters.

Additionally, multiple people with knowledge of the conversation told CNN that Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant did not mention a date for the operation during a call with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Monday. Gallant stated that Israel is still organizing a plan for a potential invasion of Rafah and making the necessary preparations, including for the protection of civilians.

According to a top administration official who spoke to CNN, Biden is still cognizant of Netanyahu’s current political position, particularly the extent to which the prime minister is subject to his ultra-conservative government—the most right-wing in Israeli history.

Nevertheless, throughout the Israel-Hamas conflict, US officials, starting with Biden, have generally taken care to avoid making any public remarks about Israeli politics.

There have been occasions when those personal insights have been made public. Biden urged Netanyahu to change his strategy for the war while denouncing Israel’s rigid government during a December speech to donors in Washington.

Biden described Netanyahu’s administration as the “most conservative government in Israel’s history” and stated, “I think he has to change, and this government, this government in Israel is making it very difficult for him to move.”. “.

He also stated that Netanyahu’s coalition “doesn’t want a two-state solution,” warning that public support for Israel’s military operation was eroding amid the intense bombardment of Gaza. “.

Top Biden national security officials questioned Ron Dermer, the minister of strategic affairs, and Tzachi Hanegbi, the national security adviser, virtually last week about how the Israel Defense Forces would evacuate such a sizable civilian population from Rafah. Based on information from two sources briefed on the talks and one senior administration official, they inquired about practical details such as where those individuals would be housed and how much food and water they would require.

According to the sources, Israeli officials did not give thorough responses to the questions posed during the meeting. Since then, the parties have spoken again, and an in-person follow-up meeting is scheduled for next week, according to Blinken’s statement on Tuesday.

One of the briefed sources claims that Israeli officials also claimed in last week’s call that pulling out of Rafah would be a waste of the efforts made to destroy Hamas in the first half of the conflict. The officials informed their US counterparts that Hamas would reconstruct from the leftover battalions situated there.

This report was assisted by Oren Liebermann and Natasha Bertrand of CNN.

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