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Biden’s threat to halt weapons deliveries sparks anger and infighting among Israeli officials

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Israeli officials have slammed the United States and descended into a bout of infighting over US President Joe Biden’s remarks that he would halt some shipments of American weapons to Israel if a full-scale ground operation is launched into the city of Rafah.

Netanyahu reiterated the sentiment on Thursday, on the eve of the country’s Independence Day, saying: “In the War of Independence 76 years ago, we were few against many. We had no weapons, there was an arms embargo on Israel, but with the greatness of spirit, bravery and unity among us – we won.”

The US president’s announcement that he was prepared to condition American weaponry on Israel’s actions is a turning point in the seven-month conflict between Israel and Hamas. And his acknowledgement that American bombs had been used to kill civilians in Gaza was a stark recognition of the United States’ role in the war.

The president has come under extraordinary pressure, including from members of his own party, to limit shipments of arms amid a humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

The Biden administration has for months been putting pressure on Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza and to ensure more humanitarian aid can be delivered there.

The US has also repeatedly called on Netanyahu and his government to reconsider its plans for a full-scale invasion of Rafah, the southernmost city of Gaza where more than 1 million people are sheltering after fleeing from fighting elsewhere in the strip.

Israel has, so far, carried out a limited operation around the city, taking control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing — a crucial entry point for aid into Gaza — and carrying out military strikes on the city’s fringes.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Monday told some people in eastern Rafah to “evacuate immediately” ahead of a military operation in the city. They were told to go to Al-Mawasi, a coastal town near the city of Khan Younis that aid groups have described as overcrowded and not appropriate for habitation. The UN’s agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) estimated that nearly 79,000 people have fled the city since Monday.

Despite mounting international pressure, the Biden administration has stood firm with Israel until now, delivering weapons and other support. The threat on Wednesday came just a day after Biden used his speech at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum to remind people of the horrors of the October 7 attacks on Israel, when Hamas-led fighters killed around 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped more than 250. Many of the hostages taken into Gaza on that day are still being held in the strip.

“Too many people denying, downplaying, rationalizing and ignoring the horrors of the Holocaust and October 7 — including Hamas’ appalling use of sexual violence to torture and terrorize Jews. It’s absolutely despicable – and it must stop,” he said on Tuesday, raising his voice.

But the president struck a very different note on Wednesday. “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone in Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem,” Biden said, adding that the US would continue supplying defensive weapons to Israel.

Netanyahu said Biden had made a mistake in an interview with the American talk show host known as Dr. Phil, to be broadcast on Thursday night. Netanyahu said Israeli forces are doing what they can to let the people leave Rafah, and that he hoped that the two leaders would find a way to overcome their differences.

“I’ve known Joe Biden for many years, 40 years and more. We often had our agreements, but we’ve had our disagreements. We’ve been able to overcome them. I hope we can overcome them now,” Netanyahu said.

Biden’s comments have sparked significant anger among some Israeli politicians.

Speaking at an event honoring fallen Israeli soldiers and victims of terror attacks, Israel’s Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant said: “I turn to Israel’s enemies as well as to our best of friends and say – the State of Israel cannot be subdued, not the IDF, not the defense establishment, and not the State of Israel. We will stand strong, we will achieve our goals – we will hit Hamas, we will hit Hezbollah, and we will achieve security.”

Miki Zohar, a minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said it was “amazing to discover that the world has forgotten what happened in Israel on October 7.”

“We will not compromise our security, and we will never agree to submit to any demands that harm Israel’s national security,” he added in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Asked Thursday whether the Israel military is ready for a major assault in Rafah without US weapons, IDF spokesperson spokesperson Daniel Hagari said weaponry would not be an issue.

“The IDF has weapons for the missions it is planning. And also for the missions in Rafah, we have the weapons we require.”

The announcement has also exposed the deep divisions between Israel’s various political parties.

Israel’s far-right Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, criticized Biden on X, saying: “Hamas Biden.”

That statement had prompted a reaction from the country’s President Isaac Herzog, who warned against “baseless, irresponsible and insulting statements and tweets” during a speech marking the anniversary of the Victory Day.

Other top Israeli officials also criticized Ben Gvir. Yair Lapid, from the centrist Yesh Atid party, responded: “If Netanyahu does not fire Ben Gvir today, he is endangering every soldier in the IDF and every citizen in the State of Israel.”

The leader of the Israeli Labor Party, Merav Michaeli, said that “Netanyahu and his government continue to make Israel’s strategic situation worse.”

This story has been updated.

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