IDF spokesman plays down US arms shipment holdup, says disagreements resolved privately

Daniel Hagari touts scale of support from Washington and cooperation with US military so far in Gaza war, warns controversial Rafah op won’t end terror attacks

Screen capture from video of IDF Spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari at a conference hosted by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in Tel Aviv, May 8, 2024. (Ynet. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of IDF Spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari at a conference hosted by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper in Tel Aviv, May 8, 2024. (Ynet. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The Israel Defense Forces appeared Wednesday to minimize the seemingly unprecedented holdup of an arms shipment by a US administration concerned by the prospect of a major Israeli operation in the southern Gazan city of Rafah, saying the allies resolve any disagreements “behind closed doors.”

Asked about the issue at a Tel Aviv conference hosted by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari described coordination between Israel and the United States as reaching “a scope without precedent, I think, in Israel’s history.”

Pressed about the stalled delivery of heavy bombs, Hagari said, “We are responsible for the security interests of Israel and we pay attention to the US interests in the arena.”

He lauded the scale of cooperation between IDF headquarters and the US military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) during the war, saying “there is something more important than security assistance and that is operational support.”

The Biden administration on Tuesday confirmed reports that it had recently held up a large shipment of 2,000- and 500-pound bombs that it feared Israel might use in a looming major ground operation in the densely populated southern Gaza city of Rafah.

It is the first time since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war that the US has held up a weapons shipment for the IDF, which it has been supplying on a near-constant basis since October 7.

Washington adamantly opposes a major offensive in Rafah, convinced that there is no way Israel could conduct one while ensuring the safety of the million-plus Palestinians sheltering there.

People inspect an impact crater at the site of a building that was hit by Israeli strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 8, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

According to Israeli defense officials, four of Hamas’s six remaining battalions are in the city, along with members of the terror group’s leadership and a significant number of the hostages it abducted from Israel during the October 7 onslaught that sparked the war in Gaza.

For months, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been declaring that Israeli troops will carry out an operation to root out the final Hamas strongholds in Rafah, regardless of whether an agreement is reached in ongoing hostage talks that envision an extended truce of at least several weeks in return for the release of some captives.

Hagari acknowledged the challenges facing a major Rafah offensive, explaining that it was not begun months ago because the “operational conditions” were not in place due to the multitudes of Gazans who have sought refuge in the city and its surroundings.

Rafah, he said, “is not as important as Khan Younis and northern Gaza,” referring to another areas of the Gaza Strip that the IDF has already operated in.

“We will deal with Rafah in a way that is right for us,” Hagari said and warned that “even after we deal with Rafah, there will be terrorism. Hamas will move north and try to regroup, even in the coming days. Wherever Hamas returns to, both in the north and in the center of the Strip, we will return to action.”

The IDF captured the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt on Tuesday, a day after it urged some 100,000 Palestinians to evacuate from eastern neighborhoods of the city. Washington appeared to signal its approval of the limited operation, saying its goals were legitimate.

Displaced Palestinians flee Rafah with their belongings to safer areas in the southern Gaza Strip on May 7, 2024 following an evacuation order by the Israeli army the previous day(Photo by AFP)

The war was sparked by the Hamas terror organization’s October 7 attack, in which some 1,200 people were killed in Israel and 252 were taken hostage, mostly civilians. One hundred and twenty-eight hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive. Two hundred and sixty-seven Israeli soldiers have been killed during the ground offensive against Hamas and amid operations along the Gaza border.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 34,000 people in the Strip have been killed in the fighting so far, a figure that cannot be independently verified and includes some 13,000 Hamas gunmen Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

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