Netanyahu Rejects Biden’s Rebuke and Vows to Press on With Rafah Operation


A day after President Biden asserted that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was “hurting Israel more than helping Israel,” Mr. Netanyahu dismissed that contention as “wrong,” escalating the leaders’ increasingly public dispute.

Mr. Netanyahu, in an interview with Politico, challenged Mr. Biden’s assessment of Israel’s military strategy in the Gaza Strip, and said that his policies represented what the “overwhelming majority” of Israelis wanted.

“I don’t know exactly what the president meant, but if he meant by that that I’m pursuing private policies against the majority, the wish of the majority of Israelis, and that this is hurting the interests of Israel, then he’s wrong on both counts,” Mr. Netanyahu said.

He added, “They’re policies supported by the overwhelming majority of the Israelis. They support the action that we’re taking to destroy the remaining terrorist battalions of Hamas.”

Mr. Netanyahu was responding to comments Mr. Biden made on Saturday in an interview with MSNBC. Mr. Biden rebuked Mr. Netanyahu over the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, even as he reaffirmed American support for Israel.

“He has a right to defend Israel, a right to continue to pursue Hamas, but he must, he must, he must pay more attention to the innocent lives being lost as a consequence of the actions taken,” Mr. Biden said.

“In my view, he’s hurting Israel more than helping Israel,” Mr. Biden said, appearing to refer to Mr. Netanyahu’s military strategy. “It’s contrary to what Israel stands for, and I think it’s a big mistake. So I want to see a cease-fire.”

Asked by the interviewer, Jonathan Capehart, if he had a “red line” that Mr. Netanyahu should not cross, like a ground invasion of Rafah in southern Gaza, Mr. Biden offered a muddled response but said that “the defense of Israel is still critical.”

“He cannot have 30,000 more Palestinians dead as a consequence” of his pursuit of Hamas, the president said, referring to Mr. Netanyahu.

“There’s other ways to deal, to get to, to deal with the trauma caused by Hamas,” he added.

Mr. Biden did not offer details. The Gazan health ministry has said that more than 31,000 people have been killed in the enclave since Israel began the war in response to the Oct. 7 attacks launched by Hamas.

But the president’s comments once again highlighted the delicate position the United States has found itself in: arming Israel while at the same time providing humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Mr. Biden has been more forceful in recent days about the plight of civilians in Gaza, urging Mr. Netanyahu not to go ahead with his stated plans to launch a major ground offensive in Rafah without a plan to protect those sheltering there. More than a million Gazans have sought refuge in the city, many of whom were displaced by Israeli military orders to move into so-called safe zones.

In the interview with Politico, Mr. Netanyahu reiterated that Israel still intended to invade Rafah: “We’ll go there. We’re not going to leave. You know, I have a red line. You know what the red line is, that Oct. 7 doesn’t happen again. Never happens again.”

When asked about Mr. Biden’s remarks, Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, declined to say what they suggested about the relationship between the U.S. and Israel.

“I am trying to separate between rhetoric and essence: The goals of the war and the state of Israel are simple — they are to release all of the hostages and to dismantle Hamas’s military and leadership force,” Mr. Katz told Kan, Israel’s public radio network on Sunday. “The United States supports these goals as Biden had stressed yesterday.”

He added that Israel had said there would be a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah before any ground invasion, and he reiterated that his country’s military did not “deliberately harm civilians.”

The push toward Rafah has drawn warnings from the United States and other allies about the potential humanitarian cost. The United Nations has said that a ground invasion of Rafah could have “huge implications for all of Gaza, including the hundreds of thousands at grave risk of starvation and famine in the north.”

Under Mr. Biden’s direction, U.S. military cargo planes have in recent days dropped food, water and other aid into Gaza a handful of times. The latest airdrop came on Monday, when the U.S. military said it dropped more than 27,000 “meal equivalents” and nearly 26,000 bottles of water into northern Gaza.

In addition, the Biden administration has announced plans to build a floating pier off the coast of Gaza to deliver more supplies to the enclave.

But American officials have acknowledged that dropping aid by air and building a pier will not be as effective as delivering supplies by land, an option that Israel has largely blocked.

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting.

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