Netanyahu says he won’t budge on Rafah assault

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that while he’s confident he can iron out mounting discord with the U.S. over Israel’s military operations in Rafah, his country would press on and do “what we have to do to win this war.”

In a sit-down interview with CNBC’s Sara Eisen in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said his decadeslong friendship with President Joe Biden had been “laced with disagreements” as he acknowledged the White House’s growing frustrations with Israel’s conduct in Gaza.

“Yes, we do have a disagreement on Gaza. Rather, on Rafah. But we have to do what we have to do,” he said.

Netanyahu, 74, said he was doing “everything in my power to minimize these disagreements and maybe even come on to the same page.”

“Would the United States leave an enemy right at its border?” he added.

The Israeli leader’s comments come as Israel faces mounting backlash, including from its closest ally, over its operations in Gaza, where more than 35,000 people have been killed, according to health officials in the enclave, since the war began after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks.

They also come as Israeli forces push deeper into Rafah, the city in southern Gaza once designated a “safe zone” by Israel and where hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge.

Nearly 450,000 people have fled the city, which borders Egypt, since Israel began its operations there last week, according to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

“People face constant exhaustion, hunger and fear. Nowhere is safe,” UNRWA said Tuesday in a post on X.

Netanyahu has also faced growing protests within Israel, as frustration and despair grows over his handling of the hostage crisis and the direction of his government — the most right-wing in Israel’s history.

While Biden, Netanyahu and others have mourned what they call the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust, in which militants killed some 1,200 people, kidnapped some 250 and shook Israel to its core, the attack punctured Netanyahu’s image as an effective defender.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.Debbie Hill / AFP – Getty Images

While remaining a steadfast supporter of Israel and its most important supplier of military equipment, the Biden administration has warned against launching a full-scale ground assault on Rafah without a credible and actionable plan to ensure the safety of civilians.

And on Sunday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that such an assault would fail to achieve Israel’s goal of eliminating Hamas.

Instead, he said in an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that Israel was on “the trajectory, potentially, to inherit an insurgency with many armed Hamas left or, if it leaves, a vacuum filled by chaos, filled by anarchy and probably refilled by Hamas.”

In some of the U.S.’s most scathing comments yet on Israel’s offensive in Gaza, Blinken added that the assault by Israeli forces had already led to a “horrible loss of life of innocent civilians.”

His comments came after the Biden administration issued a report finding that Israel’s use of weapons provided by the U.S. likely violated international humanitarian law.

Blinken said that instead of focusing on an assault on Rafah, Israel should prioritize putting forward a credible post-war plan for Gaza.

Netanyahu said any post-war plan cannot include the presence in Gaza of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that has controlled the enclave for nearly two decades and has pledged to destroy Israel.

For the moment, he said his focus remained on eliminating the militant group’s presence.


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