Biden's warnings against Israel's Rafah invasion provoke Republican backlash

White House says major operation in southern Gaza city would not advance the goal of defeating Hamas

US President Joe Biden steps down from Air Force One in Chicago, Illinois. Reuters
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An all-out assault on Rafah will not help Israel destroy Hamas in Gaza, the White House said on Thursday, as Republicans suggested President Joe Biden should be impeached for withholding bombs from its ally.

Mr Biden for the first time threatened to withhold US weapons from Israel on Wednesday, after pausing a transfer in response to Israel's invasion of Rafah that is unfolding before the Biden administration is convinced Israel has done enough to protect the more than one million displaced civilians sheltering there.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that Mr Biden shares Israel's goal of defeating Hamas, but “smashing into Rafah, in his view, will not advance that objective of a sustainable, enduring defeat” of the militant group.

“If Israel proceeds with a major ground or mission in Rafah, we will not provide certain categories of weapons to support such an operation – the Israeli government has understood this for some time now,” Mr Kirby told reporters.

“If they go into Rafah in a big way, [Mr Biden] will make other decisions about the kind of support that we are providing Israel. We hope it doesn't come to that.”

It is the Biden administration's most direct language against Israel's conduct yet, after seven months of war that have killed more than 34,900 Palestinians, according to Gaza health authorities, and prompted a genocide investigation at the International Court of Justice.

The far-right Israeli government – and fellow conservatives in Washington's pro-Israel Congress – are livid.

Israel's right-wing National Security Minister tweeted in response to Mr Biden that “Hamas [loves] Biden”.

Republicans in the US Senate continued their campaign against the pause, voicing concerns over a potential indefinite block on weapons transfers.

Senator Tom Cotton, a far-right Republican who has threatened to sanction the International Criminal Court over its actions against Israeli officials, suggested that the decision to withhold ammunition from the US ally was an impeachable offence.

“Some people say Joe Biden is doing this for his re-election, which would be bad enough,” Mr Cotton told reporters.

“It would also, I have to add, be grounds for impeachment, under the Democrats' Trump-Ukraine standard, withholding foreign aid to help one's re-election – only with Joe Biden, it's true.”

Former president Donald Trump was impeached over allegedly threatening to hold aid to Ukraine hostage until Kyiv divulged compromising information about the Biden family.

Later on Thursday, Representative Cory Mills said in a post on X that he had submitted documents to House counsel that would charge Mr Biden with “abuse of power".

Mr Mills said he had used "verbatim" language used by Democrats to impeach Mr Trump for "quid pro quo" in withholding military aid to Israel in exchange for a change in military policy.

Senator Susan Collins, a more centrist Republican, charged that the “unilateral” decision by the administration was in defiance of Congress, which recently passed billions more in funding for the Israeli military.

And Representative Mike McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, issued a statement calling the decision to withhold arms “a dangerous mistake”.

“This shortsighted move will call into question US reliability around the world,” he said.

Ilan Berman, senior vice president at the American Foreign Policy Council, a conservative think tank in Washington, said the decision to delay a weapons shipment to Israel might see it keep more bombs in reserve, especially given tension along the Lebanese border.

“They have one eye on that northern front, the fight that everybody I talked to there is now convinced will come sooner or later with Hezbollah,” Mr Berman told The National.

“They're keeping weapons and munitions in reserve, because they anticipate that they're going to be fighting a northern front.”

Meanwhile, a growing number of members of Mr Biden's Democratic Party have raised concerns about how US assistance is being used in the Gaza war.

Under legislation known as the Leahy Law, US assistance to foreign security forces is prohibited when there is credible information that a unit has committed a “gross violation of human rights”.

Washington gives Israel more than $3.3 billion in military financing every year, and that aid is subject to those regulations. But assistance to Israel has rarely faced this – albeit relatively small – degree of scrutiny from US officials.

Arms sales are not subject to the Leahy Law because they are considered to be commercial transactions, not assistance.

Mr Berman suggested that Mr Biden, who is a self-described Zionist, acted partly out of self-interest by delaying the weapons shipment.

"All politics is local," he said.

"This is ultimately a political decision because I think the President is at pains to try to square the circle. He is very pro-Israel, in terms of his policy, but he's cognisant of the electoral process."

Thomas Watkins contributed to this report

Civilians ordered to flee eastern Rafah as Israel begins invasion - in pictures

Updated: May 09, 2024, 10:46 PM