US and Israel argue publicly over looming Rafah operation

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admits the two had a ‘debate’ over the need to enter the Gazan city

Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledges debate with US over plan to invade Rafah

Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledges debate with US over plan to invade Rafah
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A defiant Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset on Tuesday that the country remained committed to an incursion into the southern Gazan city of Rafah, despite clear objections from US President Joe Biden.

“I made it as clear as possible to the President that we are determined to complete the elimination of these [Hamas] battalions in Rafah, and there is no way to do this without a ground incursion,” Mr Netanyahu told the Knesset’s foreign affairs and defence committee.

Rafah, at the southern end of Gaza and bordering Egypt, has been a last refuge for more than one million Palestinians displaced from their homes in the enclave.

The city has become a major sticking point between Israel and its strongest supporter, Washington.

The US administration has said repeatedly that Israel should not go into the city without a clear plan for getting civilians to safety.

Mr Netanyahu and Mr Biden spoke on the phone on Monday for the first time in more than a month.

“We have a debate with the Americans about the need to enter Rafah,” Mr Netanyahu said. “Not over the need to eliminate Hamas, but the need to enter Rafah.”

During the call, Mr Biden again urged him to carefully think the situation through.

“The President reiterated his deep concerns about the prospect of Israel conducting a major ground operation in Rafah,” the White House said.

On Tuesday, the State Department admitted that on the subject of Rafah, the US and Israel remained far apart.

“It should come as no surprise that when it comes to this, we are just squarely in a different place and have a different viewpoint than our Israeli partners,” State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

According to Mr Netanyahu, the two sides have agreed to ways in which they can communicate and share ideas about the situation.

The White House said that Mr Netanyahu agreed to Mr Biden's request for a high-level delegation meeting in Washington, where Israeli members can hear US concerns about a Rafah operation.

Meanwhile, Reuters reported that Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant will meet US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon next week.

The war in Gaza, which has now stretched into its fifth month, has been by far the deadliest war in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Israel has killed more than 31,800 Gazans, according to Palestinian health officials, and much of the enclave has been reduced to rubble.

The war began after Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7, killing about 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages, Israel said.

The US has been Israel's biggest supporter throughout the conflict, supplying the military with weapons and ammunition.

But as the conflict has dragged on, the US has become more vocal in its criticism of how Israel is approaching the war.

Mr Biden, who has lost considerable support from Democrats, has described the military operation as “over the top” and Washington has increasingly called for more aid to reach Palestinians in need.

Updated: March 20, 2024, 12:50 AM