Apr 9, 2024 - World

Netanyahu's defense minister contradicts him, tells U.S. Rafah invasion date not set

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Gallant. Photo: Amos Ben-Gershom/handout via Getty Images

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Monday that Israel has not yet set a date for an operation in Rafah, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's public claim Monday that "there is a date," according to a source with direct knowledge.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is pushing Netanyahu not to proceed with an operation in Rafah, where more than one million displaced Palestinians are sheltering. Netanyahu has presented the plans as a done deal, but both U.S. officials and now Gallant are now contradicting him.

Catch up quick: Netanyahu had said several times in recent months that he approved plans for an operation in Rafah, but the military hasn't been given any order to move forward with it, Israeli officials say. 

  • The U.S. is concerned that such an operation would cause massive civilian casualties and an even deeper humanitarian crisis.
  • Last week, Israel and the U.S. conducted a secure video conference call to discuss the potential operation.
  • The virtual meeting exposed wide gaps between the parties on this issue and especially on the amount of time it would take to evacuate the civilian population, Axios reported.

Behind the scenes: Gallant told Austin that Israel would have to take several crucial steps before an operation commences, including an orderly evacuation of the civilian population and an increase in humanitarian aid, per the source.

  • Gallant's office declined to comment.

What they're saying: Secretary of State Tony Blinken said in a press conference with his British counterpart David Cameron on Tuesday that Israel hasn't notified the Biden administration about a date for an operation in Rafah.

  • To the contrary, he said the U.S. was engaged in discussions with Israel about "alternative and more effective" ways to operate in Rafah without endangering innocent civilians.
  • "If he has a date he hasn't shared it with us," national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday.
  • "The Israelis understand our concerns and our concerns continue. We haven't seen an executable humanitarian plan regarding Rafah," he said.

Netanyahu said Monday: "This victory requires entry into Rafah and the elimination of the terrorist battalions there. It will happen. There is a date."

What's next: Blinken said an Israeli delegation is expected to travel to Washington next week for talks on Rafah.

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