Concern over Israel-US tension


What’s happened: President Biden has warned that the US  would halt shipments of weapons to Israel if it goes ahead with an invasion of Rafah.

  • In an interview with CNN, President Biden said, “We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks that came out of the Middle East recently.”
  • Biden then expressed concerns about an Israeli operation in Rafah (which he said hadn’t started yet). “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah – they haven’t gone into Rafah yet – if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been historically used to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem.”
  • Also yesterday, aid for Gaza was loaded onto the US-flagged Sagamore, docked at the port of Larnaca in Cyprus. It is expected to be the first cargo to be delivered using the new pier built in Gaza. A Cypriot government spokesperson said that, “We are completing the loading of aid onto a US vessel now in Larnaca, and once the platform is in place, this part of the process (shipment) can commence.”
  • Meanwhile, Hamas fired mortar shells in two separate attacks at the area of the floating pier. Moreover, following the re-opening of the Kerem Shalom crossing for humanitarian aid, missiles were launched from the area of Rafah toward the Crossing injuring a soldier.
  • On the ground in Gaza, the IDF said it was attacking Hamas targets in the central Gaza Strip. IDF troops operated in the area of Zeitoun in central Gaza in order to continue the dismantling of terrorist infrastructure and elimination of operatives in the area. That operation began with a series of intelligence-based aerial strikes on approximately 25 terror targets, including military structures, terror tunnels, observation posts, sniper posts, and additional terror infrastructure.
  • A joint IDF-Shin Bet statement added that Israel killed the commander of Hamas’ naval force in Gaza City, Ahmed Ali.
  • In the north, the IDF reported a suspicious aircraft that crashed in Israel’s north and two anti-tank missiles fired from Lebanon hit Kibbutz Malkia. An IDF soldier was killed in operational activity in northern Israel.
  • The IDF struck over 20 Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah announced that five people were killed – three members of the Al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad’s military wing, and two Hezbollah members. This morning, two Hezbollah operatives were killed and another critically injured in an Israeli air strike east of Tyre.

Context: President Biden’s comments on weapons ties in to Secretary of Defence Austin’s confirmation yesterday that the US was reviewing some near-term security assistance to Israel.

  • While Biden’s comments reflect tension with Jerusalem, it remains unclear whether his deep opposition is to any Israeli action in Rafah or rather to a comprehensive Israeli operation in Rafah – similar to that in northern Gaza and Khan Yunis which required massive relocation of civilians – which has not taken place.
  • Senior administration officials have said that the US stopped a shipment of equipment needed for precision bombs for two weeks in order to “send a message to Israel.”
  • Israel has made efforts to ensure that any major incursion into Rafah would be preceded by efforts to relocate the population to expanded humanitarian zones in Al Mawasi as well as in Khan Yunis (which the IDF withdrew from in April).
  • In April, the Biden Administration pushed through a $14 billion (£11.22 billion) supplemental spending bill to Israel, (as part of a larger $95 billion package that also included $60 billion for Ukraine, support for Taiwan and billions in humanitarian assistance).
  • Senior Republicans have pushed back against Biden’s Israel policy. In a letter Senate Majority Leader McConnell and House Speaker Johnson wrote that “Israel faces an existential and multi-front threat as recently demonstrated by the direct attack by Iran and Iranian-backed terrorists, and daylight between the United States and Israel at this dangerous time risks emboldening Israel’s enemies and undermining the trust that other allies and partners have in the United States.” They added “These recent press reports and pauses in critical weapons shipments call into question your pledge that your commitment to Israel’s security will remain ironclad.”
  • Responding to Biden’s comments, Israeli politicians from the right generally blamed the President while those in the opposition put the responsibility for the deterioration of Israel-US relations on PM Netanyahu. Nadav Eyal, an Israeli analyst described the situation as “the worst conflict between an American administration and an Israeli government since the first Lebanon War” adding that “even then public and tactical statements of this kind weren’t made by the president.”
  • Israel is also concerned that these public statements have prompted Hamas not to give up on any of its excessive demands in the talks to free the hostages.

Looking ahead: CIA Director Bill Burns will return to Cairo after meeting with Mossad chief David Barnea and PM Netanyahu.

  • Conflicting reports have emerged over whether there has been progress in negotiations in Cairo. An Israeli official is quoted as saying that “Hamas’s proposal is very far from the proposal that Israel agreed to in late April. Unless Hamas returns to the original proposal, it will be impossible to come to an agreed framework.”
  • A Hamas source quoted by Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, the London-based pan-Arab news outlet owned by a Qatari company said: “We are close to reaching an agreement thanks to the mediators.” The source said that the differences of opinion have been greatly reduced, and the negotiations are now focused on Netanyahu’s request to have the ceasefire commence in the second stage of the deal, and not in the first stage