Gallant vows: Israel will achieve its goals

PM, ministers issue defiant messages as Israel fumes over Biden’s threat of arms freeze

Netanyahu reposts days-old speech rejecting external pressure; Ben Gvir: Hamas loves Biden; Trump: ‘Crooked Joe’ siding with the terrorists; US Jewish groups, GOP, some Dems decry move

Demonstrators demand the continuation of fighting in the Gaza Strip outside the US Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv, May 7, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Demonstrators demand the continuation of fighting in the Gaza Strip outside the US Embassy Branch Office in Tel Aviv, May 7, 2024. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A threat by US President Joe Biden that some arms shipments will be frozen if Israel launches a planned offensive in Rafah was met with swift denunciation from government figures in Jerusalem on Thursday, who indicated that the military would push ahead regardless.

The comments from Biden also sparked harsh criticism against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by chief opposition rival Yair Lapid for what he said was the government’s “failed management” of ties with Washington.

In the US, some American Jewish groups and US lawmakers spoke out against the move and others indicated it was unlikely to go beyond words. Former US president Donald Trump accused Biden of siding with terrorists.

In what appeared to be a response to Biden’s decision to suspend key weapons shipments to Israel and his threat that more could follow, Netanyahu on Thursday shared footage of his speech at Yad Vashem earlier this week, in which he said that Israel will stand alone against Hamas if it must.

“Today, we again confront enemies bent on our destruction,” Netanyahu said in the clip posted on X, formerly Twitter, from a Holocaust Remembrance Day event in Jerusalem. “I say to the leaders of the world — no amount of pressure, no decision from any international forum, will stop Israel from defending itself.”

“If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone,” he pledged, adding, “We will defeat our genocidal enemies. Never again is now.”

Also Thursday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed that Israel “will achieve [its] goals in the north and south,” in a message intended for both the country’s “enemies and best friends.”

“The State of Israel cannot be subdued — not the IDF, not the Defense Ministry, not the defense establishment, not the State of Israel. We will stand, we will achieve our goals, we will hit Hamas, we will destroy Hezbollah, and we will bring security,” Gallant said during a ceremony ahead of Israel’s Memorial Day.

“Whatever the cost, we will ensure the existence of the State of Israel and remember well the directive we pledged to just a week ago during the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony, the words ‘Never Again.’ For me, it’s not just a directive, it’s a work plan,” he added.

Foreign Minister Israel Katz wrote on X on Thursday morning that “Israel will continue to fight Hamas until its destruction.”

“There is no war more just than this,” he added, without directly referencing Biden’s remarks.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich stated bluntly that the strong US opposition would only reinvigorate Israel’s drive to eliminate Hamas.

“We must continue this war until victory, despite, and to a certain extent precisely because of, the opposition of the administration Biden and the stopping of arms shipments,” he said in a statement. “We simply have no other choice that does not endanger our existence and security.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, a firebrand who leads the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, tweeted simply, “Hamas [loves] Biden,” to public outrage within Israel and criticism from President Isaac Herzog.

In New York, UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan called Biden’s remarks “difficult and very disappointing,” and expressed concern that they would be interpreted by Israel’s foes Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah as “something that gives them hope to succeed.”

On CNN Wednesday night, Biden announced that his administration would stop providing Israel with offensive weapons if it launches a ground invasion into populated parts of the southern Gaza city of Rafah as part of its campaign to topple Hamas.

“I’ve made it clear to Bibi and the war cabinet: They’re not going to get our support if they go [into] these population centers,” Biden said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

The interview marked Biden’s toughest public comments yet on the matter, and came shortly on the heels of his decision to put a transfer of 2,000- and 500-pound bombs on hold over concerns that that the IDF could use them in densely populated Rafah, as is has in other parts of Gaza.

President Joe Biden waves as he walks with White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre from Marine One as he arrives on the South Lawn of the White House, May 8, 2024, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

“I made it clear that 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, to deal with that problem,” Biden said.

Concern has grown in the administration that Israel is not planning to heed US warnings against a major offensive that the White House feels wouldn’t take into account the million-plus Palestinians sheltering in Gaza’s southernmost city.

The issue has become a major point of contention between Biden and Netanyahu, who insists a ground offensive into Rafah is necessary to fulfill the war goal of removing Hamas from power following the October 7 massacre. Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition partners have demanded that the offensive go ahead, threatening to bolt the government should it instead prioritize a truce agreement freeing hostages and halting the fighting.

“If Israel is restricted from entering an area as important and central as Rafah where there are thousands of terrorists, hostages and leaders of Hamas, how exactly are we supposed to achieve our goals?” Erdan asked, speaking to the Kan public broadcaster.

He also warned the move could hurt the president at the ballot box come November.

“There are many Jewish Americans who voted for the president and for the Democratic Party, and now they are hesitant,” Erdan said.

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting at UN headquarters in New York on March 25, 2024. (Angela Weiss/AFP)

Heritage Minister Amichay Eliyahu, from the hardline Otzma Yehudit party, accused Biden of following the path of former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who attempted to appease Nazi German dictator Adolf Hitler in 1938.

“Joe Biden can be [Winston] Churchill but he is choosing to be Chamberlain, he chooses dishonor and will get both dishonor and war,” he tweeted in Hebrew and English.

Lapid, who has repeatedly pointed to the frayed ties with Israel’s most important ally as a reason for Netanyahu to be ousted from power, said the Israeli leadership was at fault for allowing friction to reach this point.

“The failure of this becoming a public disagreement during wartime is entirely on the government,” he told Radio 103FM.

Relatives and supporters of hostages taken captive by Hamas on October 7 hold placards and wave flags during a demonstration calling for their release, Tel Aviv, May 6, 2024. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Trump, who is running against Biden for another term in the White House, wrote on his Truth Social platform: “Crooked Joe is taking the side of these terrorists just like he has sided with the Radical Mobs taking over our college campuses, because his donors are funding them.”

Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah tweeted, “We stand by allies, we don’t second guess them. Biden’s dithering on Israel weapons is bad policy and a terrible message to Israel, our allies and the world.”

Shortly before Biden spoke to CNN, US House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell penned a joint letter to the president blasting his decision last week to hold up the arms transfer to Israel.

The move “flies in the face of assurances provided regarding the timely delivery of security assistance to Israel” and “call[s] into question your pledge that your commitment to Israel’s security will remain ironclad,” the two wrote.

Across the aisle, progressive Democrats who have called for months for arms shipments to Israel to be halted or have more strings attached hailed the move as long overdue.

“Netanyahu should not have gotten a nickel so long as he continued this incredibly destructive war. I’m glad to see that the president is beginning to move in that direction,” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders told CNN.

Smoke billows from Israeli strikes on eastern Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 7, 2024. (AFP)

But some in Biden’s party openly rejected the idea of halting arms supplies for Israel, including US Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who commented, “Hard disagree and deeply disappointing.”

Representative Ritchie Torres of New York told Axios he suspects Biden was “pandering to the far left.”

“It looks like election year politics was driving it. That’s my impression,” he added. “I’d like the president to do right by Israel and recognize that the far left is not representative of the rest of the country.”

Ted Deutch, a longtime Democratic congressman who now heads the American Jewish Committee, expressed dismay that Biden was taking action against Israel as it fights the Hamas terror group.

“President Biden should not take steps that could impair Israel’s ability to prevent Hamas from attacking it again and again — as its leaders have promised,” he wrote on social media. “The US knows that defeating Hamas is critical to Israel’s long-term security and to defeating the global threat posed by the Iranian regime and its proxies.”

Pro-Israel lobby AIPAC said Biden’s comments were “dangerous and counter to American interest.”

Jacob Magid, Lazar Berman, Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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