Biden and Netanyahu at Odds Over Rafah ‘Red Line,’ Israel’s Proposed Military Operation

The evolving dynamics between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel have reached a critical juncture, with tensions escalating over the potential for a ground invasion into Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city. This development poses a significant threat to the longstanding alliance between the two nations.

On a recent occasion, President Biden disclosed that he had yet to engage in a crucial discussion with Netanyahu, a conversation he had alluded to in an off-the-cuff remark caught by a live microphone following his State of the Union address. Despite this, Biden remains open to the possibility of such a dialogue.

When questioned about the potential conversation with Netanyahu, Biden’s response was non-committal, leaving observers in suspense about the future of their discussions.

In a revealing interview with MSNBC, Biden expressed that an Israeli incursion into Rafah, currently a refuge for over a million Palestinians, would cross a “red line.” However, he quickly tempered his statement, highlighting the complexity of the situation.

The backdrop of these discussions is a poignant scene in Rafah, where Palestinians sift through the remnants of homes destroyed in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, underscoring the dire humanitarian situation.

Biden has consistently affirmed his unwavering support for Israel, even as he navigates the delicate balance of addressing the conflict’s humanitarian implications. Netanyahu, for his part, remains resolute, driven by the determination to prevent a recurrence of past conflicts.

Amidst these developments, Washington officials have been working to clarify Biden’s stance, emphasizing that any support for an Israeli operation in Rafah would be contingent upon a plan to mitigate civilian suffering. However, details on what such a plan would entail remain scarce.

This shift towards a more involved stance in Israeli military operations marks a significant departure from previous U.S. policy, which sought to maintain a degree of separation to avoid direct association with the conflict’s consequences.

The growing rift between Biden and Netanyahu is further evidenced by their lack of direct communication in recent weeks, despite frequent visits to Israel by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. This distance is mirrored in their increasingly public expressions of divergent views, underscoring the challenges in bridging the gap between their positions.

Experts suggest that the widening divide is fueled by domestic politics within both countries and may persist unless common ground is found on immediate issues like humanitarian aid, as well as on broader goals such as the establishment of a Palestinian state.

As the situation in Rafah looms large, the prospects for resolving the humanitarian crisis and advancing towards a two-state solution appear increasingly remote, with opposition to such an outcome growing among the Israeli public in the wake of the conflict with Hamas.