Biden halts weapon shipments amid Rafah invasion threat


On Wednesday, May 8th, President Joe Biden made a pivotal announcement, signaling a notable shift in policy. He revealed his plan to temporarily halt specific shipments of American weapons to Israel, openly recognizing their involvement in incidents causing civilian casualties in Gaza. During an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett on “Erin Burnett OutFront,” Biden specifically cited the use of 2,000-pound bombs, which he had recently decided to suspend deliveries of. He underscored the grave humanitarian implications resulting from the deployment of such munitions and other strategies aimed at densely populated regions in Gaza.

Biden stated, “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.”

President Biden’s announcement, indicating a willingness to tie the supply of American weaponry to Israel’s actions, marks a significant juncture in the ongoing seven-month conflict between Israel and Hamas. His acknowledgment of the use of American bombs resulting in civilian casualties in Gaza underscores the United States’ role in the conflict. The president faces immense pressure, including from within his own party, to curtail arms shipments amidst the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Until now, President Biden had resisted those calls and strongly backed Israel’s efforts to confront Hamas. However, the looming prospect of an invasion of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where over a million Palestinian civilians have sought refuge, appears to have prompted a shift in the president’s stance.

“We’re not walking away from Israel’s security. We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in those areas,” stated Biden. He emphasized that while the United States will persist in furnishing defensive weaponry to Israel, such as support for its Iron Dome air defense system, other arms shipments would cease should a significant ground invasion of Rafah materialize.

“We’re going to continue to make sure Israel is secure in terms of Iron Dome and their ability to respond to attacks that came out of the Middle East recently,” he said. “But it’s, it’s just wrong. We’re not going to – we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells.”

The Pentagon has confirmed that the United States has halted a shipment of “high-payload munitions” in response to Israel’s potential operations in Rafah, citing concerns about the lack of a comprehensive plan for safeguarding civilians in the area. However, the Pentagon clarified that a final decision on this shipment is pending. Additionally, the administration has announced a review of the possible sale or transfer of alternative munitions.

A Diplomatic Rift Over Gaza

Biden’s recent announcement, connecting American weapons shipments to Israel’s conduct, has the potential to strain his relationship with Netanyahu, with whom he engaged in a phone conversation on Monday. This dialogue coincided with Israel’s directive to evacuate tens of thousands of civilians from Rafah and initiate strikes near the city’s border areas.

Biden clarified that Israel’s actions in Rafah had yet to cross a crucial threshold by entering heavily populated zones, despite causing tensions in the region. He emphasized that the current activity primarily occurred along the border, creating diplomatic challenges, particularly with Egypt, with whom he has diligently cultivated a relationship.

He expressed that he had communicated to Netanyahu and other Israeli officials the limited extent of American backing for operations in densely populated areas. “I’ve clearly conveyed to Bibi and the war cabinet: Our support won’t be forthcoming if they choose to target these civilian centers,” he emphasized.

Later, Biden described warning Netanyahu about the risks of becoming bogged down in Gaza, drawing parallels to the American experience in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“I said to Bibi, ‘Don’t make the same mistake we made in America. We wanted to get bin Laden. We’ll help you get Sinwar,’” he said, referring to the Hamas leader in Gaza. “It made sense to get bin Laden; it made no sense to try and unify Afghanistan. It made no sense in my view to engage in thinking that in Iraq they had a nuclear weapon.”

The ongoing Middle East conflict has demanded much of President Biden’s attention in recent months, even amidst his efforts to highlight his domestic achievements to the American electorate. However, his staunch backing of Israel has sparked protests and discontent, notably visible on college campuses and during his public appearances, where demonstrators have branded him as “Genocide Joe.”

When questioned about these demonstrations, Biden acknowledged on Wednesday, “Absolutely, I hear the message.” Yet, he cautioned against protests that escalate into hate speech or anti-Semitism. He emphasized the fundamental right to free speech and peaceful protest, affirming individuals’ entitlement to express their views. However, he underscored that hate speech, threats against Jewish students, or actions impeding access to education are not legitimate expressions and are unlawful.


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