Updated Apr 18, 2024 - Politics & Policy

U.S. and Israel hold high-level talks on Rafah amid Iran tensions

refugee camp in Rafah

A Palestinian refugee camp in Rafah. Photo: Jehad Alshrafi/Anadolu via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel held a high-level virtual meeting on Thursday about a possible Israeli operation in Rafah, the White House confirmed.

Why it matters: The Biden administration is still concerned that an Israeli invasion of Rafah would lead to massive civilian casualties, the U.S. officials said.

The intrigue: The officials flatly denied reports that Biden administration gave a green-light for an operation in Rafah if Israel declines to strike Iran in retaliation for last weekend's unprecedented attack.

Zoom in: This was the second such meeting in recent weeks. An in-person meeting scheduled to take place in Washington this week was postponed because of the Iranian attack.

  • The U.S. side in the virtual meeting was led by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan
  • The Israeli side was led by minister for strategic affairs Ron Dermer and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.

The latest: A White House readout of the meeting said the two sides discussed Iran's attack and new sanctions announced by President Biden on Thursday, before moving on to "the shared objective to see Hamas defeated in Rafah."

  • "U.S. participants expressed concerns with various courses of action in Rafah, and Israeli participants agreed to take these concerns into account and to have further follow up discussion between experts," the readout said.
  • "Participants will meet again soon."

Behind the scenes: Over the last few weeks, several lower-level working groups have met virtually to discuss the Israel Defense Forces' operational plans for Rafah and humanitarian proposals, U.S. officials said.

  • A U.S. official said the plans presented by the IDF in the working groups included a gradual, slow operation in specific neighborhoods of Rafah that will be evacuated in advance — rather than an all-out invasion of the entire city.

State of play: The U.S. official said there has been a significant improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since President Biden issued his stark warning to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago.

  • "The Israelis haven't reached all the goals set by the president yet, but there is big improvement," the official said.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with new details from the meeting.

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