Post-war Gaza will need inter-Arab sponsorship, ‘deradicalization’

Netanyahu: I tried addressing ‘diminution’ of US weapons privately before going public

PM extends spat with Biden, but insists it can be solved ‘instantaneously with goodwill’; doesn’t say which arms withheld, but they’re needed ‘to win in Gaza, avoid war in Lebanon’

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

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video message issued June 19, 2024. (Screenshot/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a video message issued June 19, 2024. (Screenshot/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his decision to call out the Biden administration for allegedly withholding weapons shipments to Israel, claiming in an interview published Friday that he had tried to resolve the issue privately for months with no success.

“We tried, in many, many quiet conversations between our officials and American officials, and between me and the president to try to iron out this diminution of supply,” the premier told the Punchbowl news site. “I felt that airing it was absolutely necessary after months of quiet conversation that did not solve the problem.”

The comments were the latest in the back-and-forth spat with the Biden administration that began on Tuesday when Netanyahu issued a video statement slamming the “inconceivable” “bottlenecks” that the US had placed in transferring shipments of weapons and ammunition and claiming that he had raised the issue during his meeting last week with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken who assured him that Washington would address the issue.

The video shocked the Biden administration, which has insisted that it had no idea what Netanyahu was talking about. There was one shipment of high-payload bombs that was held up last month due to US fears that it would be used in the then-crowded southern Gaza city of Rafah, but all other transfers are continuing at a regular pace, the US has insisted.

On Thursday, the White House went further, calling Netanyahu’s video “deeply disappointing” given that “there’s no other country that’s done more or will continue to do more than the United States to help Israel.” Netanyahu retorted that he was prepared to incur such criticism as long as Israel “receives the ammo it needs from the US in an existential war.”

The premier has yet to specify which weapons the US has been withholding from Israel, but he told Punchbowl, “I’m not talking about F-35s or F-16s that are years down the line.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on June 10, 2024. (Chuck Kennedy/US State Department/AFP)

“I’m talking about what is necessary now to both win the war in Gaza quickly and avoid a war in Lebanon that — in the absence of such a correction — the risks of it breaking out are increasing,” Netanyahu claimed.

An Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the decision to publicly air his grievances was opposed by Netanyahu’s top aides Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, who were in Washington Thursday for meetings with their American counterparts.

The move came a week before Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s trip to Washington where he was aiming to unfreeze the shipment of 2,000-pound bombs, leading some analysts to speculate that Netanyahu’s video was aimed at ensuring the premier would receive the credit if the US agreed to move forward with the transfer.

Asked whether the alleged weapons slowdown can be solved, Netanyahu told Punchbowl, “I think it could be solved instantaneously with goodwill. It could be solved right away.”

He was then pressed on his speech he’s slated to give to a joint session of Congress next month, which a growing number of Democrats say they won’t attend.

Netanyahu insisted that he isn’t partisan and that the vast majority of Americans support Israel. “I intend to speak to the broad spectrum of the American people and to cull [sic] bipartisan support that is still solid in America, and we need it to stay solid.”

US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks after the Senate passed a foreign aid bill, including billions of dollars in military assistance for Israel, at the US Capitol in Washington on April 23, 2024. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/AFP)

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who signed off on Netanyahu’s invitation to address Congress, in March gave a speech calling for early elections in Israel to replace the Israeli premier who he branded an obstacle to peace.

“I think that democratic countries should not interfere with the democratic processes of other countries,” Netanyahu said regarding those remarks by Schumer. “I think that that’s a rule that I’ve tried to live by. But I can’t say that others have abided equally to us. It’s wrong to do that. It shouldn’t be done.”

But Democrats have long accused Netanyahu of violating that rule, pointing to the last time he gave a speech to a joint session of Congress in 2015. That address was organized behind the back of then-US president Barack Obama so that Netanyahu could lobby lawmakers against the Iran nuclear deal that the administration went on to sign.

The premier was then pressed to address criticism from the Biden administration that his refusal to properly plan for the post-war management of Gaza has led to a stagnation in the fighting. Hamas has managed to return to many of the areas cleared by the IDF because Israel hasn’t advanced a viable alternative to the terror group’s continued rule, critics have charged.

Netanyahu didn’t push back against the premise of the question as he has often done in the past. Instead, he offered some general details of how he envisions the administration of Gaza after the war.

“I think we’re going to have to have sustained demilitarization, which can only be done by Israel against any resurgent terrorist effort,” Netanyahu said.

IDF troops operate in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout photo published June 17, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

“But I think there has to be a civilian administration to administer not only the distribution of humanitarian aid but also civil administration. That has to be done… with the cooperation of an inter-Arab sponsorship and assistance by Arab countries,” he said.

This time, he avoided naming the countries he’d like to see help in the effort. In a previous interview, he identified Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates as potential partners, leading to fierce backlash from those capitals. Both have insisted that they will not take part in the post-war stabilization of Gaza absent an Israeli commitment to a pathway to a future Palestinian state — a vision Netanyahu has flatly rejected.

Netanyahu told Punchbowl that another component of Gaza’s post-war stabilization would be “some kind of deradicalization process that would begin in the schools and the mosques to teach these people a different future than the one of annihilating Israel and killing every Jew on the planet.”

He added that the reconstruction of Gaza would largely be advanced by the international community.

War erupted when Hamas-led terrorists rampaged through southern communities on October 7, murdering some 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 251 hostages to Gaza.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry says more than 37,000 people in the Strip have been killed or are presumed dead in the fighting so far. The toll, which cannot be verified and does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, is thought to include some 15,000 terror operatives 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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