Updated Feb 11, 2024 - World

Biden tells Bibi: No Rafah operation without plan to protect Palestinian civilians

President Biden sits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alster/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden sits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alster/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday and cautioned him against a military operation in Rafah without planning for the evacuation of Palestinian civilians in the area.

Why it matters: There's growing frustration in the White House with Netanyahu and the Israeli government's rejection of several U.S. requests. Biden earlier this week called the Israeli military operation in Gaza "over the top."

State of play: Sunday's call took place amid growing concerns, including within the Biden administration, about a possible expansion of the Israeli military's operation to the southern Gaza city, where more than 1.2 million Palestinians — many displaced from elsewhere in Gaza — are concentrated.

  • Biden administration officials say they've made clear the U.S. opposes such an operation without a clear Israeli plan for how to safely evacuate Palestinians who are sheltering there.
  • A senior U.S. official said in a briefing with reporters that Israeli government officials made it clear to the Biden administration that allowing the IDF to operate in Rafah is conditional, and requires an evacuation of the civilian population and that they will not take action without that happening.
  • "We clarified our concerns about whether this is even possible in the current reality in Rafah," the U.S. official said.
  • In a readout report of the call, the White House said Biden also "emphasized the need to capitalize on progress made" during hostage negotiations to have the hostages released as soon as possible.
  • Netanyahu on Friday ordered the Israel Defense Forces to submit a plan to the Cabinet for evacuating the civilian population in Rafah.
  • An Israeli official said the call between Biden and Netanyahu focused on the possible IDF operation in Rafah, the efforts to release hostages held by Hamas and the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The official said the call lasted 45 minutes.

What to watch: Sunday's call also came just days ahead of an expected meeting between CIA director Bill Burns, the Qatari Prime minister and Egyptian and Israeli spy chiefs in Cairo to discuss the efforts to get a new hostage deal that could lead to a long pause in the fighting in Gaza.

Go deeper: Israel rejects Hamas' hostage deal demands, but says still ready to negotiate

Editor's note: This story has been updated with information about the call from the White House and a reporter briefing.

Go deeper