Netanyahu: I hope Biden and I can overcome rift

IDF: We have enough arms for Rafah; PM: ‘We’ll fight with our fingernails’ if needed

War cabinet minister Gantz pushes back on criticism of Washington, hailing its efforts to support Israel during war; delegations leave Cairo as latest talks on hostage deal end

Smoke billows from Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 9, 2024. (AFP)
Smoke billows from Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 9, 2024. (AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces asserted Thursday that the military had enough munitions for its planned missions, after United States President Joe Biden threatened that some arms shipments would be frozen if Israel launched a planned offensive in southern Gaza’s Rafah.

“The IDF has armaments for the missions it is planning, including missions in Rafah. We have what we need,” IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said, responding to a question at a press conference.

While some commentators have agreed the military likely has munitions needed for a Rafah offensive, it may be hard-pressed to face Hezbollah if the conflict in the north develops into all-out war and Washington continues to withhold munitions.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his first direct response Thursday to Biden’s warning, said that if Israel “has to stand alone, we will stand alone.”

“During the War of Independence 76 years ago, we were few against many,” he said. “We had no weapons, there was an arms embargo on Israel, but with the strength of the soul, the bravery and the unity within us — we won.”

“Today we are much stronger,” Netanyahu continued. “We are determined and we are united to defeat our enemy and those who seek to destroy us… If we need to, we will fight with our fingernails. But we have much more than fingernails.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, May 9, 2024 (GPO screenshot)

The IDF’s operation in Rafah has so far been limited to the eastern outskirts of the city and the border crossing with Egypt. In the city itself, more than one million Palestinians are thought to be sheltering. The US offered tepid support for the limited operation to remove Hamas from the Rafah Crossing area, but warned that its stance could shift if the offensive widened or if the delivery of humanitarian aid was hampered for a sustained period.

The White House on Wednesday confirmed a delay in the transfer of 2,000- and 500-pound bombs over concerns that the IDF could use them in densely populated Rafah, as it has in other parts of Gaza.

“The US has so far provided security assistance to the State of Israel and the IDF in an unprecedented manner during the war,” Hagari said.

Highlighting the coordination between the militaries, he said IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks regularly with US CENTCOM chief Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla.

US President Joe Biden speaks to CNN, May 8, 2024. (CNN screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“Even when there are disagreements between us, we resolve them behind closed doors,” Hagari stated. “Israel has security interests, but we are also aware of the interests of the US, and that’s how we will continue to act.”

In comments aired Thursday night but taped before Biden announced his threat, Netanyahu told an American interviewer that he hoped to smooth out the ruffles in his relationship with Biden which have arisen due to the war.

“We often have our agreements but we’ve also had our disagreements. We’ve been able to overcome them. I hope we can overcome them now, but we will do what we have to do to protect our country,” Netanyahu told US media personality Phil McGraw of the “Dr. Phil Primetime” show.

But he added that Israel “has no choice” but to destroy Hamas’s remaining battalions in Rafah, a move he has maintained can only be achieved via an intensive ground campaign.

“Rational-minded people understand that we don’t have a choice,” he contended.

On CNN Wednesday night, Biden announced that his administration would stop providing Israel with offensive weapons if it launched a full-on ground invasion into populated parts 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 hold on the transfer of bombs.

In addition to the warning from Washington, Channel 12 news reported Thursday that Israeli security chiefs believe the country must plan for who will govern Gaza after the war before launching an expanded operation in the city. The report was unsourced.

Aside from a document in which he committed to installing “local officials” unaffiliated with terrorism to administer services in the Strip instead of Hamas, Netanyahu has postponed security cabinet discussions regarding the so-called “day after” the war, possibly fearing this could lead to fractures in his mainly right-wing coalition.

Channel 12’s military reporter Nir Dvori said Thursday he had been told by officials that Israel’s position is that it will move forward with the operation in Rafah even without US backing, and that this had been made clear to Washington in recent days.

Palestinians carry their furniture in trucks and flee from the east of the city of Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 9, 2024. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Biden’s warning was met Thursday with condemnations by numerous Israeli politicians. Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir went further than anyone when he wrote on X that “Hamas [loves] Biden,” complete with a heart emoji.

Pushing back on the more negative reactions to Washington, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz criticized attacks on the US by government ministers.

“The US stood by Israel in its most difficult hour and the attacks on it by irresponsible ministers are ingratitude intended for domestic purposes and stemming from political considerations,” Gantz said in a statement that didn’t mention anyone by name.

Commenting on Biden’s ultimatum, Gantz said he believed vital arm shipments will continue.

“Israel has a moral and security obligation to continue fighting to return our hostages and remove the threat of Hamas from the country’s south, and the US has a moral and strategic obligation to provide Israel with the tools required for this mission,” he added.

File: War cabinet minister Benny Gantz holds a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Cairo hostage-truce talks break up

Amid the promises to continue the offensive in Rafah, both Israeli and Hamas delegations left indirect hostage-truce talks in Cairo earlier Thursday, according to media reports. Before departing, Israel’s negotiators put in writing their specific objections to a document issued by Hamas on Monday night that purportedly accepted a deal.

Channel 12 said that CIA director Bill Burns had also departed the region and headed back to the US.

According to an Egyptian source quoted by Al-Qahera, efforts by Egyptian, Qatari and US mediators “are ongoing to bring the two sides’ points of view closer.”

However, Channel 12 reported that the current round of talks, at least, was over. It said that in their talks with Burns Wednesday, Israeli leaders criticized the CIA chief for continuing the Cairo talks in the wake of what they have called Hamas’s unacceptable terms, saying his presence risked creating the incorrect impression that the Hamas document could serve as a basis for progress.

The terms that Hamas said Monday it had accepted differ in numerous key aspects from a proposal that Israel approved and that the US described as “extremely generous,” with officials in the terror group claiming the deal would yield an end to the war. Israel, however, has said repeatedly that it will not accept a deal that involves ending the war and that it fully intends to resume its campaign to destroy Hamas once any deal has been carried out.

Among the differences: The Hamas proposal would see the release of 33 Israeli hostages, alive or dead, whereas the Israeli text requires the release of 33 living hostages; the Hamas proposal removes the veto Israel demanded on the release of certain Palestinian security prisoners, and raises the number of Palestinian security prisoners to be freed; the Hamas proposal provides for the free movement of Gazans back to the north of the Strip, without security checks as required by Israel to prevent Hamas gunmen returning north.

The Hamas proposal also changes the timing of hostage releases within the phases, and some of the specifics on Israeli troop withdrawals. It also demands the release of all Palestinian security prisoners freed in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner deal who have since been rearrested.

Significantly, Hamas said on Monday night that it regards itself as having accepted terms for an end to the war, whereas both the Israeli-backed text and the Hamas response refer to restoring “sustainable calm.” In an introductory paragraph, the Hamas text says the “framework agreement aims for… a return to sustainable calm in a way that achieves a permanent ceasefire.”

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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