The US looks to keep the rift from widening

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WASHINGTON — After several days of tough talk from the Biden administration over Israel’s handling of the war in Gaza and the publication of a US intelligence report forecasting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political demise, Washington appears to now want to dial back tensions with Jerusalem.
On Tuesday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan repeatedly defended Israel against critical lines of questioning from reporters during a White House press briefing, rejecting the notion that US President Joe Biden had characterized an Israeli military operation in Rafah as a “red line” and pouring cold water on speculation that Washington is considering withholding security aid if the Israel Defense Forces move into the southern Gaza city.
“We’re not going to engage in hypotheticals about what comes down the line, and the reports that purport to describe the president’s thinking are uninformed speculation,” Sullivan said, adding that the policy to date has been against restricting Israel’s aid.
“I would just note — having been around a little while — that I know all of you are obsessed with this concept of the red line, [but] the president didn’t make any declarations or pronouncements or announcements,” he told reporters.
Sullivan was referring to the answer Biden gave in an MSNBC interview on Saturday when Biden was asked whether an Israeli operation in Rafah would be a “red line.” He responded, “It is a red line,” before appearing to backtrack and saying, “I’m never going to leave Israel.
The defense of Israel is still critical.
There’s no red line [in which] I’m going to cut off all weapons so that they don’t have the Iron Dome [missile defense system] to protect them.”Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Edition by email and never miss our top stories Newsletter email address Get it By signing up, you agree to the termsIsrael says it must go into Rafah in order to dismantle Hamas’s remaining battalions, after the IDF gradually fought its way through Gaza from north to south.
The US has indicated that it is prepared to support such an operation, but only if Israel presents a plan for the mass evacuation of civilians from the city, where more than half of the enclave’s 2.3 million people are sheltering.
The US says Israel has still not offered such a plan, though Jerusalem insists it intends to do so before moving forward.
A senior US official told The Times of Israel last week that Washington is highly skeptical that there is another area within leveled Gaza where one million-plus people can be transferred, and an Israeli official said there are similar concerns within Israel’s own security establishment.
AdvertisementRegardless, no such operation is expected to take place imminently, given that Israel has massively reduced its force presence in Gaza, after tens of thousands of reservists spent over 100 days straight fighting in the Strip, before returning home over the past month.
The US official acknowledged that much of the talk regarding an imminent Rafah operation has been geared toward keeping pressure on Hamas to stay at the negotiating table and agree to the six-week truce and hostage deal that has been discussed over the past month.
Lashing Israel over aidBiden’s comments on Rafah came together with a flood of other criticism from him and other top US officials over the past week.
In his State of the Union address on Thursday, the president used the unverified casualty count from the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza — a source he had dismissed earlier on in the war — in order to lament the human cost of the war for Palestinians.
In that same speech, he warned Israel against using humanitarian assistance as a “bargaining chip,” before being caught on a hot mic afterward saying that he and Netanyahu would need to have a tough conversation, a “come to Jesus” talk.
Two days later, US Vice President Kamala Harris stressed, “It’s important for us to distinguish or at least not conflate the Israeli government with the Israeli people.”AdvertisementWhile she may have been highlighting Biden and their administration’s deep affinity for the Jewish state, contrasting that love with his rockier relationship with Netanyahu, such differentiations by American politicians between citizens and leaders of foreign countries are typically reserved for totalitarian regimes, not the closest allies of the United States.
A senior US official stressed that the frustration in Washington was genuine — and not just influenced by the approaching presidential election — particularly after the February 29 aid convoy incident, in which dozens of desperate Palestinians were killed while rushing for humanitarian assistance in largely cut-off northern Gaza.
The administration feels that the tragedy highlighted how Israel has ignored Washington’s repeated warnings regarding the need to avert the humanitarian crisis and provide viable alternatives to Hamas rule, in order to avoid creating the kind of power vacuum that contributed to

Washington seems to want to ease tensions with Jerusalem after the Biden administration had been criticizing Israel for how it was handling the Gaza war and for the release of a US intelligence report that predicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would lose his election.

Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, refuted reports that US President Joe Biden had called an Israeli military operation in Rafah a “red line” and shot down rumors that Washington would withhold security assistance if the Israel Defense Forces advance into the southern Gaza city during a press briefing at the White House on Tuesday.

Restricting aid to Israel has not been the policy up to this point, according to Sullivan. “We’re not going to engage in hypotheticals about what comes down the line,” Sullivan said, adding that reports claiming to describe the president’s thinking are merely rash speculation.

“As someone who has been around for a while, I would just like to point out that, although I know all of you are crazy about the red line idea, the president made no announcements, declarations, or declarations,” he said to reporters.

When asked whether an Israeli operation in Rafah would be a “red line,” Biden responded in an MSNBC interview on Saturday. Sullivan was referring to Biden’s response. “That is a red line,” he replied, before seeming to retract his statement and declare, “I’m never going to leave Israel.”. Israel’s defense is still vital. Without the Iron Dome [missile defense system] to defend them, there is no red line [in which] I will cut off all weapons. “.

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After the IDF progressively fought its way through Gaza from north to south, Israel claims it must enter Rafah in order to destroy Hamas’s remaining battalions.

The United States has expressed its willingness to back such an operation, provided Israel offers a strategy for the widespread removal of civilians from the city, where over half of the 2.3 million residents of the enclave are taking refuge. The United States claims that Israel has yet to present such a plan, despite Jerusalem’s insistence that it will before proceeding.

An Israeli official stated that there are similar concerns within Israel’s own security establishment, and a senior US official told The Times of Israel last week that Washington is extremely dubious that there is another area within leveled Gaza where one million or more people can be transferred.

Promoting something.

However, considering that Israel has drastically scaled back its force presence in Gaza following tens of thousands of reservists who fought for more than a month without a break before returning home, no such operation is anticipated to occur anytime soon.

The US official admitted that much of the discussion about an impending Rafah operation has been directed toward maintaining pressure on Hamas to continue negotiations and accept the hostage deal and six-week truce that have been deliberated over the last month.

criticizing Israel for assistance.

Along with a barrage of other criticism over the course of the previous week from him and other senior US officials, Biden also made remarks regarding Rafah.

Using the unconfirmed death toll from the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, which he had previously disregarded, the president bemoaned the war’s human cost for Palestinians during his State of the Union speech on Thursday.

He forewarned Israel against using humanitarian aid as a “bargaining chip” in that same speech, and he was later caught on camera stating that he and Netanyahu would need to have a difficult talk, a “come to Jesus” talk.

US Vice President Kamala Harris emphasized two days later that it is critical that we distinguish between the Israeli government and the Israeli people, or at the very least, not conflate them. “.

Promoting something.

While she might have been emphasizing Biden and their administration’s strong ties to the Jewish state and drawing attention to them in contrast to his rocky relationship with Netanyahu, American politicians tend to reserve these distinctions between their citizens and foreign leaders for totalitarian regimes rather than the country’s closest allies.

A senior US official emphasized that Washington’s frustration was real and not just a result of the impending presidential election, especially in light of the February 29 aid convoy incident that claimed the lives of scores of desperate Palestinians who were rushing to receive aid in the mostly closed-off northern Gaza.

In order to prevent the kind of power vacuum that led to the convoy disaster, the administration believes that the tragedy demonstrated how Israel has disregarded Washington’s repeated warnings regarding the need to avert the humanitarian crisis and provide workable alternatives to Hamas rule.

These messages were repeated to Israel’s ambassador Michael Herzog on Tuesday after he was called to the White House for a private meeting with Sullivan, according to a US official. They were first communicated to war cabinet minister Benny Gantz during his meetings with top Biden aides in Washington last week.

A US official described the meeting as “frank,” during which the national security adviser informed the Israeli envoy that Washington believes Israel is solely to blame for the humanitarian crisis and that Washington expects Jerusalem to find a solution. Herzog took advantage of the occasion to discuss some of the recent actions Israel has taken to enhance the distribution of aid. The discussion was deemed “constructive” by an Israeli embassy representative. “.

Unlike when Herzog was called in last year, the US did not release a readout on the meeting, seemingly in an attempt to downplay the criticism.

rage in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu, though, did not seem to be interested in waiting for the dust to settle, especially since the threat assessment had already been made public.

The public’s mistrust of Netanyahu’s ability to rule has grown from its pre-war high levels, and significant demonstrations calling for his resignation and fresh elections are anticipated. The assessment stated that “a different, more moderate government is a possibility.”.

Promoting something.

The report was probably written by a mid-level researcher, but Jerusalem was immediately alerted to its release during such a delicate moment in US-Israel relations.

A “very senior” Israeli official briefed reporters after the premier’s office read the intelligence report as an attempt to remove Netanyahu from office. “Those who elect the prime minister of Israel are the citizens of Israel and no one else,” the official stated.

“Israel is an independent democratic nation whose people choose its leaders; it is not a US protectorate. We anticipate that our friends will take action to topple Hamas’ terror regime rather than Israel’s duly elected government, the official continued.

Sullivan took the podium moments after the statement was made public.

The opening remarks of the national security adviser were all about Haiti and Ukraine, but reporters’ questions naturally turned to Israel, as has been the case for the majority of the last few months.

Sullivan made every effort to utilize the chance to dispel the idea that there was a crisis in ties.

According to Sullivan, “you have the president, who from the first day this crisis began… with a horrific, vicious, brutal assault by Hamas on the people of Israel killing 1,200 people, raping and pillaging and causing the most death for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.”.

Publicity.

Israel would never be alone, declared the president as he got up to speak. Declaring, “I have Israel’s back,” he visited Israel as the first American president to do so during a war. Furthermore, he has supported Israel. The aircraft carriers he sent to the Mediterranean shortly after the October 7 attacks served as evidence that “he has backed up those words with deeds throughout, and not just in terms of providing for Israel’s security against Hamas and Hezbollah, but a broader constellation of steps in terms of military deterrence to keep this war from spinning out in ways that Israel could not handle,” the speaker continued.

After a reporter accused the US of “bear-hugging Netanyahu and his extremist government,” Sullivan countered that the reporter was downplaying the threat posed to Israel by Hamas and ignoring the massacre that the terrorist organization had carried out.

While the top Biden aide reaffirmed the US expectation that Israel protect civilians and make sure they receive aid, she also emphasized how Hamas’s rejection of the current six-week hostage deal “says a lot to me about [its] regard for innocent Palestinian civilians.”. “.

Women, the elderly, and injured civilians are the subjects of discussion in the first phase, and this is one of the things that I have noticed is somewhat missing from the coverage. “.

“The fact that [Hamas is] holding on to those folks [is blocking a ceasefire], which would not only bring calm to the fighting, but also create an enormous opportunity to flow humanitarian assistance in, in much greater quantities,” according to the statement. Given the ongoing fighting, humanitarian aid has not been able to reach all parts of Gaza.

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