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Biden says U.S. won’t supply weapons for Israel to attack Rafah, in warning to ally

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Biden says U.S. won’t supply weapons for ******* to ******* Rafah, in warning to ally

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks as part of his Investing in America agenda, during a visit to Gateway Technical College in Sturtevant, Wisconsin, U.S., May 8, 2024. 

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he would not supply offensive weapons that ******* could use to launch an 

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 — the last major ****** stronghold in Gaza — over concern for the well-being of the more than 1 million civilians sheltering there.

Biden, in an interview with CNN, said the U.S. was still committed to *******’s defense and would supply Iron Dome rocket interceptors and other defensive arms, but that if ******* goes into Rafah, “we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells used.”

The U.S. has historically provided enormous amounts of military aid to *******. That has only accelerated in the aftermath of ******’ Oct. 7 ******* that ******* some 1,200 in ******* and led to about 250 being taken captive by militants. Biden’s comments and his decision last week to pause a shipment of heavy ****** to ******* are the most striking manifestations of the growing daylight between his administration and ******* Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Biden has said that ******* needs to do far more to protect the lives of civilians in Gaza.

The shipment was supposed to consist of 1,800 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) ****** and 1,700 500-pound (225-kilogram) ******, according to a senior U.S. administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive matter. The focus of U.S. concern was the larger explosives and how they could be used in a dense urban area.

“Civilians have been ******* in Gaza as a consequence of those ****** and other ways in which they go after population centers,” Biden told CNN. “I made it clear that if they go into Rafah — they haven’t gone in Rafah yet — if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities, that deal with that problem.”

Children sit back on a truck as Palestinians with their packed belongings, continue to depart from the eastern neighborhoods of the city due to ongoing ******** attacks in Rafah, Gaza on May 8, 2024. 

Ali Jadallah | Anadolu | Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier Wednesday confirmed the weapons delay, telling the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on defense that the U.S. paused “one shipment of high payload munitions.”

“We’re going to continue to do what’s necessary to ensure that ******* has the means to defend itself,” Austin said. “But that said, we are currently reviewing some near-term security assistance shipments in the context of unfolding events in Rafah.”

It also comes as the Biden administration is 

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 this week on whether the 
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 have violated international and U.S. laws designed to spare civilians from the worst horrors of war. A decision against ******* would further add to 
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 to curb the flow of weapons and money to *******’s military.

Biden signed off on the pause in an order conveyed last week to the Pentagon, according to U.S. officials who were not authorized to comment on the matter. The White House National Security Council sought to keep the decision out of the public eye for several days until it had a better understanding of the scope of *******’s intensified military operations in Rafah and until Biden could deliver a long-planned speech on Tuesday to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day.

******** army tanks take position in southern ******* near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 7, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between ******* and the ************ ****** movement. 

Menahem Kahana | Afp | Getty Images

Biden’s administration in April began reviewing future transfers of military assistance as Netanyahu’s government appeared to move closer toward an invasion of Rafah, despite months of opposition from the White House. The official said the decision to pause the shipment was made last week and no final decision had been made yet on whether to proceed with the shipment at a later date.

U.S. officials had declined for days to comment on the halted transfer, word of which came as Biden on Tuesday described U.S. support for ******* as 

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*******’s ambassador to the ******* Nations, Gilad Erdan, in an interview with ******** Channel 12 TV news, said the decision to pause the shipment was “a very disappointing decision, even frustrating.” He suggested the move stemmed from political pressure on Biden from Congress, the U.S. campus protests and the upcoming election.

The decision also drew a sharp rebuke from House Speaker Mike Johnson and Senate *********** Leader Mitch McConnell, who said they only learned about the military aid holdup from press reports, despite assurances from the Biden administration that no such pauses were in the works. The Republicans called on Biden in a 

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 to swiftly end the blockage, saying it “risks emboldening *******’s enemies,” and to brief lawmakers on the nature of the policy reviews.

Children stand behind barbed-wire along a slope near a camp housing displaced Palestinians in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 30, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict in the ************ territory between ******* and the militant group ******. 

– | Afp | Getty Images

Biden has faced pressure from some on the left — and condemnation from the critics on the right who say Biden has moderated his support for an essential ******** ally.

“If we stop weapons necessary to ******** the enemies of the state of ******* at a time of great peril, we will pay a price,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., his voice rising in anger during an exchange with Austin. “This is obscene. It is absurd. Give ******* what they need to ****** the war they can’t afford to lose.”

Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, a Biden ally, said in a statement the pause on big ****** must be a “first step.”

“Our leverage is clear,” Sanders said. “Over the years, the ******* States has provided tens of billions of dollars in military aid to *******. We can no longer be complicit in Netanyahu’s horrific war against the ************ people.”

Austin, meanwhile, told lawmakers that “it’s about having the right kinds of weapons for the task at hand.”

“A small diameter *****, which is a precision *******, that’s very useful in a dense, built-up environment,” he said, “but maybe not so much a 2,000-pound ***** that could create a lot of collateral damage.” He said the U.S. wants to see ******* do “more precise” operations.

******** troops on Tuesday seized control of 

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 in what the White House described as a 
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 that stopped short of the full-on ******** invasion of the city that Biden has repeatedly warned against on humanitarian grounds, most recently in a Monday call with Netanyahu.

******* has ordered the evacuation of 100,000 Palestinians from the city. ******** forces have also carried out what it describes as “targeted strikes” on the eastern part of Rafah and captured the Rafah crossing, a critical conduit for the flow of humanitarian aid along the Gaza-Egypt border.

Houses damaged in an ******** strike are seen, amid the ongoing conflict between ******* and the ************ Islamist group ******, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip May 7, 2024. 

Hatem Khaled | Reuters

Privately, concern has mounted inside the White House about what’s unfolding in Rafah, but publicly administration officials have stressed that they did not think the operations had defied Biden’s warnings against a widescale operation in the city.

The State Department is separately considering whether to approve the continued transfer of ****** Direct ******* Munition kits, which place precision guidance systems onto ******, to *******, but the review didn’t pertain to imminent shipments.

Itamar Yaar, former deputy head of *******’s National Security Council said the U.S. move is largely symbolic, but a sign of trouble and could become more of a problem if it is sustained.

“It’s not some kind of ********* embargo on ********* munitions support, but I think its some kind of diplomatic message to Mr. Netanyahu that he needs to take into consideration ********* interests more than he has over the last few months,” he said. “At least for now it will not impact ******** capability but it’s some kind of a signal, a ‘be careful.'”

The U.S. dropped the 2,000-pound ***** sparingly in its long war against the Islamic State militant group. *******, by contrast, has used the ***** frequently in the seven-month Gaza war. Experts say the use of the *******, in part, has helped drive the enormous ************ casualty count that the ******-run health ministry puts at more than 34,000 *****, though it doesn’t distinguish between militants and civilians.

Smoke rises after an ******** strike as ******** forces launch a ground and air operation in the eastern part of Rafah, amid the ongoing conflict between ******* and ******, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip May 7, 2024. 

Hatem Khaled | Reuters

The U.S.-******* relationship has been close through both Democratic and *********** administrations. But there have been other moments of deep tension since *******’s founding in which U.S. leaders have threatened to hold up aid in attempt to sway ******** leadership.

President Dwight Eisenhower pressured ******* with the threat of sanctions into withdrawing from the Sinai in 1957 in the midst of the Suez Crisis. Ronald Reagan delayed the delivery of F16 fighter jets to ******* at a time of escalating ********* in the Middle East. President George H.W. Bush held up $10 billion in loan guarantees to force the cessation of ******** settlement activity in the occupied territories.

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