Mar 18, 2024 - World

Netanyahu to send delegation to D.C. to discuss Rafah invasion alternatives

Rafah

The ruins of a mosque in Rafah following an Israeli bombardment. Photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to send a senior delegation to Washington in the next few days to discuss an alternative strategy to an Israeli ground invasion of Rafah, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said in briefing with reporters on Monday.

Why it matters:
This is a signal that both Biden and Netanyahu are trying to avoid a public clash over an Israeli invasion of Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians have taken refuge.

Driving the news: Netanyahu recently reiterated for the third time that he has approved plans for an operation in Rafah to destroy the remaining Hamas battalions there.

  • Netanyahu has stressed, including in interviews with U.S. television networks, that whomever opposes an Israeli operation in Rafah opposes the destruction of Hamas and doesn't want Israel to win the war.
  • Sullivan said Monday that President Biden rejects that argument as "nonsense," saying: "A major ground operation in Rafah will be a mistake. More civilians will die, Israel will be further isolated internationally. The key goals Israel want to achieve could be achieved by other means."
  • Sullivan said Israel hasn't presented the U.S. with a plan as to where the civilians sheltering in Rafah are supposed to go, or who will feed and house them. Additionally, he said an invasion will make it harder to get aid into Gaza via Egypt.

Behind the scenes: The possible operation in Rafah was a key issue in the phone call between Biden and Netanyahu on Monday — their first in over a month.

  • Biden told Netanyahu that while he shares the goal of destroying Hamas, there must be a coherent strategy to do that, Sullivan said. 
  • "Instead of a pause to reevaluate the campaign and see what adjustments are needed, instead of a focus on stabilizing the areas Israel has cleared so that Hamas doesn't resurface, the Israeli government is talking about a major military operation in Rafah," Sullivan said.

What's next: Biden proposed that Netanyahu send a team of senior military, intelligence and policy officials to Washington to hear the U.S. concerns and lay out an alternative approach that will not include a major ground invasion, Sullivan said.

  • Netanyahu agreed, and the delegation will arrive Washington later this week or early next week, Sullivan said.
  • "We want to have a strategic discussion about how to defeat Hamas in a way that will be long-term. There are ways to defeat Hamas without smashing into Rafah," Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, Sullivan confirmed for the first time that Hamas' number three commander, Marwan Issa, was killed in an Israeli operation last week.

  • He said the rest of the group's leaders are in hiding in the tunnels. "Justice will come for them too and we are helping to ensure that", Sullivan said.

What to watch: Israeli officials arrived in Qatar on Monday for negotiations over a hostage deal that could lead to a six-week ceasefire in Gaza.

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