‘Very senior’ Israeli official accuses US government of seeking to oust Netanyahu

After AIPAC speech alleging allies oppose Israel’s right to defend itself, PM said to be ‘fuming’ at US intel report that cited public distrust in him, predicted he may lose power

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers an address by video to an AIPAC conference, March 12, 2024 (GPO screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers an address by video to an AIPAC conference, March 12, 2024 (GPO screenshot)

A “very senior” Israeli official hit back on Tuesday at a US intelligence report published overnight that warned the viability of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “may be in jeopardy” amid criticism over the management of the war against the Hamas terror group in Gaza.

“Those who elect the prime minister of Israel are the citizens of Israel and no one else,” said the official in a statement issued to the media, interpreting the intelligence report as an effort to unseat Netanyahu.

“Israel is not a protectorate of the US but an independent and democratic country whose citizens are the ones who elect the government. We expect our friends to act to overthrow the terror regime of Hamas and not the elected government in Israel,” the official added.

In its assessment of Israel, the US wrote: “Distrust of Netanyahu’s ability to rule has deepened and broadened across the public from its already high levels before the war, and we expect large protests demanding his resignation and new elections. A different, more moderate government is a possibility.”

Opening its main nightly news broadcast, Channel 12 said that the statement came from “the most senior Israeli political source you can imagine,” indicating this was Netanyahu himself, and added that the US report had left the prime minister “fuming.”

Netanyahu has “decided to embark upon strong, public and dramatic confrontations with the president of the United States,” Channel 12 added.

In the same intelligence report, the US observed that Israel will likely be challenged by Hamas for years to come, despite its insistence in the wake of the deadly October 7 terror assault that it will eradicate the terror group in its entirety and Netanyahu repeated vow of “total victory.”

“Israel probably will face lingering armed resistance from Hamas for years to come, and the military will struggle to neutralize Hamas’s underground infrastructure, which allows insurgents to hide, regain strength and surprise Israeli forces,” the assessment read, noting that the Israeli public “broadly supports” the terror group’s destruction.

Thousands of protesters at Habima Square in Tel Aviv call for elections, February 3, 2024. (Aviv Atlas)

Amid the growing tensions with the White House, Netanyahu told AIPAC delegates gathered in Washington earlier on Tuesday that he “deeply appreciate[s] the support we have received from President Biden and the administration, and I hope it will continue.”

“But let me be clear,” the premier continued, “Israel will win this war, no matter what.”

To win the war, Israel “must destroy the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah,” Netanyahu said. “If not, Hamas will regroup, rearm and reconquer Gaza.”

“That is an intolerable threat to our future, and we will not accept it. We will destroy Hamas, free our hostages and ensure that Gaza doesn’t pose a threat to Israel again,” he added.

Israel will “finish the job in Rafah,” he said, “while enabling the civilian population to get out of harm’s way.

Offering a broadside against the US and other allies that have voiced concern over the high civilian death toll that may result from a full-scale Israeli operation in the densely crowded southern Gaza city, Netanyahu asserted that “you cannot say you support Israel’s right to exist and to defend itself and then oppose Israel when it exercises that right.”

“You cannot say you support Israel’s goal of destroying Hamas, and then oppose Israel when it takes the actions necessary to achieve that goal,” he continued.

“You cannot say that you oppose Hamas’s strategy of using civilians as human shields, and then blame Israel for the civilian casualties that result from this Hamas cynical strategy,” Netanyahu insisted. “For Israel, every civilian death is a tragedy. For Hamas, every civilian death is a strategy.”

Therefore, he said, “It is wrong and immoral to hold Israel to a standard for avoiding civilian casualties that no other country on earth is held to.”

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said on Tuesday morning that at least 31,184 Palestinians have been killed since October 7, and some 72,899 have been injured. The terror group’s figures are unverified, however, and don’t differentiate between civilians and combatants, of whom Israel has said it killed some 13,000 inside Gaza and an additional 1,000 inside Israel in the aftermath of the October 7 massacre.

None of the pressures Israel is facing from its allies around the world “will stop us,” Netanyahu pledged to the AIPAC delegates, adding that there is “no other option but total victory, and that victory is within reach.”

In an oblique message to Biden, Netanyahu concluded his address by stating that “the overwhelming majority of the American people stand with us. I know that the overwhelming majority of Congress stands with us.”

US President Joe Biden is greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) after arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport, on October 18, 2023, in Tel Aviv. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The over 1,600 AIPAC activists estimated in attendance at the conference have also heard, or were set to hear, from Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson, Democratic House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Charles Chuck Schumer and Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell during the conference, which began Sunday.

Despite Netanyahu’s concerns about waning US support for Israel’s war against Hamas, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan poured cold water on recent reports that the White House is considering withholding aid to Israel if it moves forward with its plans for an operation in Rafah.

“We’re not going to engage in hypotheticals about what comes down the line and the reports that purport to describe the president’s thinking are uninformed speculation,” Sullivan said during a press briefing Tuesday.

He reiterated, however, that the US won’t support an IDF operation in Rafah unless Israel puts forward a plan to evacuate the over one million Palestinians currently sheltering in the city, which Jerusalem has not yet done.

Over the weekend, Biden said that IDF entry into Rafah would be a “red line” for his administration, but did not specify the consequences for crossing it and stressed his commitment to continuing to supply Israel with the means to defend itself.

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