Israel's growing diplomatic isolation a 'concern' -- Sullivan

US officials say they’re in close contact with Israel over ongoing Rafah operation

Sullivan: IDF offensive so far is ‘more targeted and limited’; Blinken says administration still has concerns over ‘possible use of heavy bombs’ and is in talks with Jerusalem

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters at the port of Ashdod in southern Israel, May 1, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/ Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks to reporters at the port of Ashdod in southern Israel, May 1, 2024. (Evelyn Hockstein/ Pool Photo via AP)

WASHINGTON — US officials said Wednesday that the White House is in regular contact with Israel over its ongoing operation in Rafah, but stopped short of calling for it to be halted.

The comments came a day after a senior administration official said Israel has been tailoring its plans for Rafah in a manner that has been initially satisfactory to the US.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, who visited Israel last week, said during a press conference on Wednesday that Israel’s military operations in Rafah have not reached the level that the Biden administration warned against.

Sullivan called the IDF’s operations thus far “more targeted and limited,” and said it has so far “not involved major military operations into the heart of dense urban areas.”

He stressed that the US is following the offensive closely and “will continue to take briefings from Israel about how they are refining their approach.”

Sullivan doubled down in denying a Washington Post report claiming the US was withholding intelligence on Hamas leaders from Israel to coax Jerusalem not to invade Rafah. He insisted that the US has constantly shared this intel and will continue to do so, as it has the same goal as Israel of removing Hamas’s leaders.

White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan speaks during the daily briefing at the White House in Washington, May 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that the Biden administration remains concerned about Israel’s possible use of heavy bombs against civilians in Rafah and is in contact with Jerusalem about it.

US President Joe Biden’s administration said this month that it had reviewed the delivery of weapons that Israel might use for a major invasion of Rafah, and as a result paused a shipment of bombs to Israel.

“We have an ongoing conversation with Israel about this and about our concerns about the use of these particular weapons in that particular way in that particular place. And those concerns remain,” Blinken told a House of Representatives hearing.

Israel is still due to get billions of dollars of aid in the form of US weaponry.

“The other assistance that we’ve been providing for Israel’s defense continues and will continue because, again, the president is determined that Israel have what it needs to defend itself,” Blinken told the House Appropriations subcommittee hearing.

Speaking at a press conference, Sullivan said reports that none of the aid from the new temporary Gaza pier had reached civilians is false, and that two-thirds of the shipments are either en route to civilians or have already reached them.

The top Biden aide acknowledged that the situation on the ground is dynamic and that the US is continuously in talks with stakeholders to ensure that the aid is secured and delivered to those in need.

However, he did say that Israel could do a better job connecting its military strategy to a broader diplomatic one: “We believe the only way to defeat Hamas and [ensure] Israel’s long-term security is to connect the military effort to a holistic integrated strategy,” he said. “That’s something that we think Israel could be clearer about publicly as well as privately. We’ll continue to work on that.”

Sullivan was also asked about Israel’s increasing diplomatic isolation.

“We certainly have seen a growing chorus of voices, including voices that had previously been in support of Israel, drift in another direction. That is of concern to us because we do not believe that contributes to Israel’s long-term security or vitality,” he said.

“That’s something we discussed with the Israeli government… A strategic approach to defeating Hamas, protecting civilians, surging humanitarian assistance and then pursuing that vision of regional integration will put Israel in the best stead to engage countries around the world and revitalize a lot of the partnerships and friendships that have been a source of great strength for Israel over time,” he added.

Trucks loaded with humanitarian aid from the United Arab Emirates and the United States Agency for International Development cross the Trident Pier before entering the beach in Gaza, May 17, 2024. (Staff Sgt. Malcolm Cohens-Ashley/US Army Central via AP)

Speaking to the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Blinken placed some of the blame for the holdup in aid transfers on Egypt. The Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt has remained closed since May 7, when Israeli forces seized the main border crossing, closing a vital route for aid into the besieged enclave as it began operations against Hamas in the southernmost city in Gaza.

The military says Hamas has used the crossing for terror purposes. It is widely believed arms and other banned items are smuggled into the Strip from Egypt.

Fighting near the crossing has made providing assistance challenging, but aid could still be getting through, Blinken said, an apparent reference to the Kerem Shalom crossing near Rafah, which is still operating.

“We need to find a way to make sure that the assistance that would go through Rafah can get through safely, but we do strongly urge our Egyptian partners to do everything that they can on their end of things to make sure that assistance is flowing,” Blinken said.

Egyptian security sources say Egypt opposes Israel’s presence at the Rafah crossing and wants it to withdraw.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said on Monday that the Israeli military presence and operations put truck drivers in danger, which has led to the cessation of aid crossing the border.

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Wednesday that the hold-up was Egypt’s fault.

“Right now, Egypt is withholding 2,000 trucks of humanitarian assistance from going into Gaza because they have a political issue about the Rafah crossing,” Dermer said.

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