Did Biden give Israel green light to assault Gaza's Rafah city?

Did Biden give Israel green light to assault Gaza's Rafah city?
The US has supported Israel's war effort militarily and diplomatically, sending arms shipments to Israel and rejecting ceasefire efforts within the UN.
4 min read
12 February, 2024
US President Joe Biden has continued to publicly support Israel's war on Gaza even as that support hurts his polling among certain democrat voters [Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images]

The US has given Israel support the green light to launch a military assault on Gaza's southern city of Rafah, a leading Palestinian politician has reported, despite reports that relations between Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu are at breaking point.

Mustafa Barghouti, General Secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, told Al-Jazeera that Biden's warning to Israel that it should not launch an attack without a plan to safeguard the city's inhabitants is de-facto support for a military campaign, which NGOs warn could kill thousands.

Without publicly backing a ceasefire, Biden is effectively giving Israel the green light to assault Rafah, whose population has swelled from around 180,000 to 1.5 million since the war on Gaza began on 7 October.

"Rafah is the only area that is not destroyed completely in Gaza," he told Al Jazeera. "Israel never gave up on its plan to ethnically cleanse the Palestinian population into Egypt. That's what the US president should have opposed. But he doesn't."

Barghouti's comments come following a White House statement that confirmed Biden spoke to Netanyahu in a call on the situation in Rafah on Sunday.

During the call, Biden said an attack on Rafah should not be launched "without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there", but did not oppose the operation. 

Israel then launched a large-scale bombardment of the city, despite most residents living in tents or makeshift shelters, allegedly to rescue two hostages.

The "diversionary" barrage led to a massacre of around 100 people, including many women and children.

Monica Marks, Professor of Middle East Politics at  New York University Abu Dhabi, said the rescue of the two Israeli hostages likely strengthened Netanyahu's case for a ground assault on Rafah.

Biden's implicit green light for the Rafah offensive comes amid reports that many in his administration are growing frustrated with Netanyahu's attitude and the bloody war on Gaza.

Biden aides are beginning to argue that the US should shift its support away from Netanyahu with the impact this stance is having on the president ahead of upcoming elections, The Washington Post reported.

Likewise, officials added that the pair's 40-year-old relationship is another reason for the lack of criticism, with Biden reportedly telling Netanyahu: "I love you, Bibi, even if I can't stand you."

However, White House officials are beginning to conclude that Netanyahu is focused on his political survival at the expense of other Israeli goals and is using public rebuttals of the US to shore up his domestic support.

Particularly frustrating to Biden is Israel's continued reluctance to increase aid deliveries into Gaza, with one US official telling The Washington Post the issue is "constantly on his mind".

The lack of aid entering Gaza is contributing to an increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the enclave, which aid agencies warn is on the brink of famine, amid increasing reports of the spread of diseases.

Likewise, US officials are frustrated with key sticking points, including Israel's claims it has destroyed two-thirds of Hamas's fighting force, with officials telling Congress that Israel is not close to destroying the group.

This also includes Netanyahu's recent rejection of a proposed hostage deal which reportedly left Biden and his staff livid.

The deal would have seen a four-month ceasefire for the return of Israeli hostages in Gaza, the release of Palestinian prisoners, and increased aid flow into the enclave.

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Netanyahu has also defied earlier US opposition to a planned military operation in Rafah, which currently hosts around half of Gaza's total population, and has rejected US calls for a Palestinian state.

The report comes following Biden's recent remarks that Israel's military operations in Gaza are "over the top" and that the killing of innocent people must end.

Israel's war on Gaza, which has been ongoing since 7 October, has killed 28,340 Palestinians, mostly women and children, and wounded a further 67,984, according to figures from Gaza's health authorities.

The US has also recently placed sanctions on four Israeli settlers over their attacks on Palestinian civilians in the occupied West Bank, a move that drew anger from far-right Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.

Since the start of the war, Biden has refused to place conditions on Israel's war on Gaza.

The US has provided tens of thousands of artillery shells alongside bunker-busting bombs and armoured vehicles to support Israel's war.

It has also repeatedly rejected diplomatic initiatives within the UN Security Council and General Assembly aimed at implementing a ceasefire and has rejected the International Court of Justice's preliminary verdict that it is plausible Israel's war on Gaza could constitute acts of genocide.