White House suggests Netanyahu manufacturing crisis in US-Israel ties

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

White House National Security Council  adviser John Kirby answers questions about Israel during a press briefing, March 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
White House National Security Council adviser John Kirby answers questions about Israel during a press briefing, March 25, 2024. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The White House suggests Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to manufacture a crisis in US-Israel ties over the Biden administration’s decision to allow the adoption of a UN Security Council resolution calling for an immediate Gaza ceasefire and hostage release.

“It seems like the Prime Minister’s Office is choosing to create a perception of daylight here when they don’t need to do that,” White House National Security Council John Kirby says in a press briefing, after Netanyahu announced his decision to cancel a planned Israeli delegation to Washington aimed at discussing a potential IDF invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

“We’re kind of perplexed by this. It’s a non-binding resolution, so there’s no impact at all on Israel’s ability to continue to go after Hamas,” Kirby says. “The Prime Minister’s Office seems to be indicating through public statements that we’ve somehow changed here. We haven’t,” he says after Netanyahu’s office claimed the US had shifted its stance by not blocking the resolution that did not explicitly condition a ceasefire on the release of the hostages.

Kirby adds that Netanyahu is wrong to claim that the US abstention will give Hamas hope that it can secure a ceasefire through means other than a hostage release.

But he clarifies, “We still have Israel’s back. As you and I are speaking, we are still providing tools, capabilities and weapons systems so that Israel can defend itself against what we agree is still a viable threat [from] Hamas.”

Pressed on whether the US might now begin conditioning aid to Israel, the White House spokesman indicates that this is not in the cards, “I would take issue with this idea that we’re not leveraging everything we can. [But] it’s not a leveraging exercise. It’s not about trying to use some sort of power dynamics here with our good friend and ally, Israel. It’s about helping them defend themselves,” Kirby says.

The Biden administration will still have opportunities to present its alternatives to a major Rafah invasion during meetings with visiting Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, even though those will not be a replacement for the inter-agency gathering it was hoping to hold with some of Netanyahu’s other top aides later this week, Kirby acknowledges.

However, he says the US will continue to pursue other avenues to discuss the matter with Israel, even though a Rafah operation appears to be a “ways off.”

After another US official anonymously briefing reporters said Netanyahu’s decision to cancel the delegation was likely motivated by domestic Israeli politics, Kirby is pressed as to whether Biden is not influenced by his own domestic politics.

The White House spokesman rejects the idea outright, saying Biden’s decisions regarding the Israel-Hamas war are based strictly on national security concerns.

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