Middle East

Has Biden’s red line on Rafah been crossed?

US President Joe Biden told CNN earlier this month that he’d halt some shipments of American weapons to Israel – which he acknowledged have been used to kill civilians in Gaza – if it invades Rafah.

“I made it clear that… if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities – that deal with that problem,” Biden said.
“I’ve made it clear to Bibi and the war cabinet: They’re not going to get our support, if in fact they go on these population centers,” Biden added, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In giving Netanyahu this ultimatum in May, Biden set a red line on Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Deadly strike: Israel’s strike on a displacement camp in Rafah on Sunday killed at least 45 people and wounded 200 others. It is among the deadliest strikes by the Israeli military on Gaza’s southernmost city since Israel began its operation there on May 7.

What the US is saying: Biden is yet to comment publicly on Sunday’s strike. A US National Security Council spokesperson said the strike was “heartbreaking,” and that the US was “actively engaging” with Israel to determine what happened. But the spokesperson also said that “Israel has a right to go after Hamas.”

The US has supported Israel’s efforts to go after Hamas while warning against an invasion of Rafah, which would lead to widespread civilian casualties. In recent weeks, Biden’s top national security aide Jake Sullivan engaged Israeli officials, including Netanyahu, emphasizing the US position. Sullivan said he had detected “refinements” to Israel’s Rafah plan, which he said was now more “targeted and limited” in scale.

Israel digs in: Last week, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Israel would expand its ground operation in Rafah. After meeting Sullivan, he said: “I emphasized to him Israel’s duty to expand the ground operation in Rafah, to dismantle Hamas and return the abductees.”

Global outcry: The strike on the Rafah camp, which killed and wounded many women and children, has sparked a mounting global outcry. The UN is holding an emergency session on the strike on Tuesday — adding to the unprecedented pressure on Israel over its Gaza offensive, and on its staunch ally the United States.

Mounting pressure: It also came just days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to “immediately halt” its military operation in Rafah, and any action in the city “which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”

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