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ISRAELI UNITY

Gantz joins Netanyahu’s public push for Rafah operation despite U.S. concerns

Biden reportedly views Netanyahu as obstacle to stopping Israel from entering Rafah, yet Gantz says IDF unquestionably must operate in the southern Gaza city

Alex Wong/Getty Images

Israeli Minister of Defense Benny Gantz

While President Joe Biden has reportedly been calling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an “asshole” behind the scenes for refusing to change Israel’s military tactics, Israeli war cabinet member Benny Gantz publicly threw his support behind expanding IDF maneuvers in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Monday, despite the president’s public concerns over such an operation. 

Gantz made the remarks hours after the IDF returned hostages Fernando Marman, 61, and Norberto Har, 70, in a pinpoint operation in Rafah. He called the rescue “proof that we are keeping our promise that terrorism will not have sanctuary cities anywhere.”

“There is no question about the need to act in any place in which there is terror. Broad action in Rafah, as we said in the past, is not in question,” Gantz added.

At the same time, Gantz said that Israel will hold “conversations with our friends in the world,” specifically mentioning Egypt, which strongly opposes Israeli operations in Rafah and has deployed tanks on its border with Gaza. Meanwhile, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry denied reports that Cairo plans to freeze its peace agreement with Israel over the matter.

Though Gantz did not specifically mention the American view, part of his message seemed calibrated specifically towards the White House: “We will take all the steps we can to ensure our freedom to act: evacuating the population as well as securing borders and also preparing the territory for a ground entrance.”

“We will not return [from Gaza] until we reach our goals,” he stated.

Gantz joined the war cabinet as part of an emergency coalition meant to bolster the war effort, and is broadly viewed as one of the more moderate voices in the main forum leading the war.

Biden views Netanyahu as the main obstacle to a cease-fire and to changing IDF tactics, according to NBC News. The president reportedly called Netanyahu an “asshole” and made “contemptuous references to [him] as ‘this guy.'” However, NBC News said that Biden thinks public criticism of Netanyahu would be ineffective.

A White House readout from a Sunday night phone call between the two leaders said that the president “reaffirmed his view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there.”

Earlier Sunday, Netanyahu told ABC News’ “This Week” that “those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying lose the war. Keep Hamas there. And Hamas has promised to do the October 7th massacre over and over and over again.” 

However, he emphasized that he agrees with Biden and that Israel will ensure “safe passage for the civilian population so they can leave” Rafah. 

The Prime Minister’s Office previously announced on Friday that Netanyahu had instructed the IDF “to bring a double plan to the [security] cabinet to evacuate the population and knock out [Hamas] battalions.”

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