Jan 19, 2024 - World

Biden speaks to Netanyahu for first time in nearly a month

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photos: Win McNamee and Sean Gallup/Getty Images

President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photos: Win McNamee and Sean Gallup/Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time in nearly a month on Friday and discussed the ongoing war in Gaza and regional escalation.

Why it matters: The last time the two leaders spoke was on Dec. 23, when a frustrated Biden ended the call by saying the "conversation is over" and hanging up the phone. In the first two months of the war, the two leaders had talked almost every other day.

What they're saying: A senior Israeli official told Axios Biden and Netanyahu spoke for about 40 minutes. "The call was good," the official said.

  • Netanyahu briefed Biden on IDF military operations in Gaza and Lebanon and "reiterated Israel's commitment to achieving the goals of the war, including releasing the hostages," the official added.

White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing with reporters that Biden and Netanyahu discussed the efforts to secure the release the hostages held by Hamas in Gaza, as well as the Israeli military's transition to more targeted operations, which the U.S. hopes will allow more humanitarian aid to enter the enclave.

  • Kirby said Biden welcomed the Israeli government's decision to allow the transfer of flour to Gaza directly from the port of Ashdod in Israel. The Israeli government hasn't publicly announced such a decision.
  • Kirby also said U.S. and Israeli officials are discussing ways to transfer humanitarian aid to Gaza via the sea.

Biden told Netanyahu that Israel has the responsibility to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza while it continues the military pressure on Hamas and its efforts to capture its leaders, Kirby added.

  • More than 24,700 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza.

Biden also discussed his vision for the day after the war, which includes normalization between Israel and the Arab world and a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians that would ensure Israel's security.

  • "We are not trying to force their hand or force them to change their policy...but we can’t talk about post-war Gaza without discussing the Palestinian people's aspirations and governance in Gaza", Kirby said.

The big picture: Biden has grown increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu over the Israeli leader's rejection of most of the administration's recent requests related to the war in Gaza, U.S. officials previously told Axios.

  • During the two leaders' previous call on Dec. 23, Biden got frustrated when Netanyahu rejected his request to release the Palestinian tax revenues Israel has been withholding.

State of play: The Israeli security cabinet on Thursday discussed the same plan for releasing the tax revenues.

  • A cabinet minister told Axios there was an agreement among nearly all the ministers that the plan, which includes transferring the funds for safe holding in Norway should be implemented.
  • The cabinet is expected to vote on this in the coming days, the minister said.
  • Kirby said Biden and Netanyahu discussed the issue on Friday.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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