Mar 31, 2024 - World

Scoop: U.S. and Israel set to hold a virtual meeting on Rafah Monday

 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference  in Jerusalem on March 17, 2024.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a press conference in Jerusalem earlier this month. Photo: Leo Correa/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel are expected to hold a virtual meeting on Monday to discuss the Biden administration's alternative proposals to an Israeli military invasion of Rafah, four Israeli and U.S. officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The meeting, which was supposed to to take place last week, has become a contentious issue between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Biden.

The big picture: After the U.S. last week didn't veto a U.N. Security Council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of all hostages, Netanyahu announced he was cancelling the meeting in protest.

  • A day later, he sent quiet messages to the White House asking to reschedule. After the the White House made Netanyahu's request public, he denied such a delegation wouldbe going to the White House.
  • The Biden administration said an operation in Rafah, where more than 1 million Palestinians are sheltering, could lead to mass casualties and exacerbate the humanitarian disaster on Gaza.

Between the lines: Netanyahu's closest confidant, Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, told Netanyahu several times in recent days he needs to send the delegation to Washington as soon as possible to avoid further escalation of tensions with Biden.

  • Senior Israeli officials said holding a virtual meeting is a way for Netanyahu to "save face" and have a discussion with the White House about Rafah without sending a delegation to Washington.

State of play: The meeting will take place on a secure video conference call, Israeli and U.S. officials told Axios.

  • White House National Security adviser Jake Sullivan is expected to lead the U.S. side in the meeting, with representatives from the Pentagon, State Department and the U.S. intelligence agencies participating.
  • Dermer and Netanyahu's national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi are going to lead the talks from the Israeli side with senior Israeli defense and intelligence officials participating.
  • A senior Israeli official said a second meeting, in person, is planned to take place as soon as next week.
  • The White House and the Israeli Prime Minister's office declined to comment.

What they're saying: "I have approved the IDF operational plan for Rafah. The IDF is prepared for the evacuation of the civilian population and for the provision of humanitarian assistance," Netanyahu said in a press conference on Sunday.

  • This was the fourth time in the past two months that Netanyahu said he had approved the plans.
  • The prime minister added an invasion of Rafah is the right thing both operationally and internationally.
  • "This will take time but it will be done. We will enter Rafah and we will eliminate the Hamas battalions there for one simple reason: There is no victory without entering Rafah and there is no victory without eliminating the Hamas battalions there," he said.
  • Netanyahu said at the press conference he still hasn't approved the departure of an Israeli delegation to Washington to discuss the issue of Rafah and added that Israel "will find a way to discuss this" with the Biden administration.

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