June 13, 2024

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to fight Hamas with his fingernails as he dismissed US President Joe Biden’s warning that he would not provide arms for a major military operation in Rafah.

“If we need to stand alone, we will stand alone,” Netanyahu said in a message he issued on Thursday night. “I have said that if necessary – we will fight with our fingernails.”

“But we have much more than fingernails and with that same strength of spirit, with G-d’s help, together we will win,” he said.

Arms have never before been withheld

He spoke Biden told CNN Wednesday “I’ve made it clear that if they [Israel] go into Rafah… I’m not supplying the weapons that have historically been used to deal with Rafah,”

That statement followed one made earlier that day by US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that a shipment of precision munitions designated for Gaza had been paused. 

SMOKE RISES after an Israeli strike in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, this week. (credit: Hatem Khaled/Reuters)

Should Biden make good on his pledge, it would mark the first tie-in presidency and indeed in over 40 years of American-Israel relations, that arms were withheld from Israel.

It was a move that displayed the growing enmity between Washington and Jerusalem over the Gaza war. Israel has insisted that a major military operation in Rafah was necessary to defeat Hamas and the Biden administration has been adamant that there were other ways to neutralize the threat.

Pundits warned that Biden’s statement sent a dangerous signal to Israel’s enemies, even as the Jewish state waged an existential war, that the United States did not have did not have Israel’s back.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir posted on X a simple message that went straight to that point, stating “Hamas loves Biden.”

Israel has viewed the Rafah operation as an important pressure lever to sway Hamas to finale a hostage deal, negotiations for which have taken place on and off in Cairo all week.

On Thursday, in the aftermath of Biden’s statement opposing a Rafah operation, KAN news reported that talks had fallen apart and that Israel’s delegation had returned home.

CIA Director William Burns left the region after shuttling between Cairo, Dohan, and Jerusalem this week in an attempt to make a deal. US National Security Advisor John Kirby told reporters that his departure was prescheduled and that talks were still ongoing in Cairo.

In Washington Republicans rallied behind Israel, issuing blistering attacks against Biden, heightening the extent to which the Gaza war is now a partisan issue in the Presidential race. 

Trump condemns Biden

Former President Donald Trump, who is the presumptive Republican nominee, “Crooked Joe” is taking the side of Hamas just like he sided with the “radical mobs” taking over college campuses.” 

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said that Biden has long had a bitter history with Israel, as he recalled that as a Senator he had threatened to cut off military aid to Israel over its actions in Lebanon.

We have no choice but to enter Rafah

Cruz recalled how former Prime Minister Menachem Begin famously responded, “Don’t threaten us with cutting off your aid. It will not work. I am not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history.”

“Even though Joe Biden wants to abandon Israel and even though the Democrats in the Senate and House apparently support him in wanting to abandon Israel, America does not and we should not let him we should stand together and say America stand united with Israel and Hamas should be utterly destroyed,” Cruz stated.

In Israel Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz, vowed to press forward with the Rafah operation.

“We have no choice,” Gallant stated. “We have no other country. We will do whatever is necessary, and I repeat – whatever is necessary, to defend the citizens of Israel, to remove the evil threats against us, and to stand up to those who attempt to destroy us.” 

“We will work to crush the Hamas terrorist organization,” he stressed.

Gantz underscored the strong bonds between the US and Israel, but said, that the Jewish state “has a moral and security obligation to continue to defend itself to ensure the return of the hostages and remove the threat Hamas poses to Southern Israel.”

“The US,” he stressed, “has the moral and strategic obligation to supply Israel with the necessary tools to complete its mission.”

President Isaac Herzog came to Biden’s defense, calling Biden a “great friend of the State of Israel, and who proved as such from the first day of the war.”

Kirby defended Biden’s record on Israel, in talking to reporters in Washington, stating, “The arguments that somehow we’re walking away from Israel fly in the face of the facts,” Kirby said as he touted Biden’s record in support of Israel, particularly since October 7.

This included, Kirby explained, visiting Israel and sending massive amounts of military aid as well as defending it from the first-ever Iranian drone and missile attack, together with a coalition of armies from France, Great Britain, Jordan, and Israel.

Biden has long stressed to Israel that he believes a military operation in Rafah would create a humanitarian disaster given that over 1.3 million Palestinians are in that area. Many of them fled there in the early stages of the war to avoid bombings in the north.

“We propose alternative methods of defeating Hamas that do not involve a major ground operation in Rafah,” Kirby said, adding that talks with Israel on those options were ongoing.

He clarified that the US has not yet withheld the shipments of certain kinds of weapons but that it would do so if Israel proceeded with the operation.

Israel has understood that this is Biden’s position for some time, he said. Kirby stressed that the US would continue to provide Israel with other weapons that it needs to defend itself “against all of its enemies, including Hamas.”

The Biden administration wants to provide Israel with all the assistance it needs to defeat Hamas, Kirby said.

“Smashing into Rafha in his view, will not advance that objective,” Kirby stated.

 Yahya Sinwar (credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
Yahya Sinwar (credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem, May 6, 2024.  (credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen/Pool/File Photo)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem, May 6, 2024. (credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen/Pool/File Photo)

The US will help ensure that the Egyptian border is not used to smuggle weapons into Gaza and would help Israel target the Hamas leaders, including Yahya Sinwar, Kirby said.

The Biden administration would also work with Israel to create an alternative governance structure in Gaza, that does not include Hamas.

“Whatever post-conflict Gaza looks like, it can’t look like what it does now with Hamas in control,” Kirby said.

He also noted that a Rafah operation would strengthen Hamas’s hand at the negotiating table for a hostage deal and would weaken Israel’s,’ he said. 

The high civilian casualty count resulting from an IDF military operation in Rafah would also feed Hamas’s anti-Israel narrative.

“It could cast Israel in the worst possible way” and would give Hamas “more ammunition for its twisted narrative,” Kirby said.