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Israel still has time to back down from Rafah invasion plans, US says

Next week’s meeting at the White House between members of the Biden administration and Israeli military and intelligence officials leaves room for Israel to opt against a full-scale ground invasion in Rafah, National Security spokesman John Kirby said Friday, despite recent comments from Netanyahu and his cabinet members suggesting otherwise. 

Kirby acknowledged the White House is aware of Netanyahu’s remarks that Israel will invade Rafah with or without US support. 

“Yes, we saw what the Prime Minister said. And he should speak about his comments to the Israeli people, that’s for him to talk about. But we haven’t seen him conduct a major ground offensive yet,” Kirby said. “So we believe there’s time and space to have these discussions and to share with them what we learned.”

The White House has not yet announced who from the administration will be meeting with the Israeli officials next week, and Kirby maintained the purpose of the meeting is not for the US to tell Israel what to do.

“We want to make sure that they make those decisions fully informed with our lessons learned from urban warfare in this kind of fighting in places like Iraq and Afghanistan,” Kirby said. “Now, do they have to listen to our advice and counsel? No, but we have seen in the past where they have taken some of it on board. We hope they take this.”

‘Tools’ to leverage against Israel

The White House has not yet previewed what the administration plans to do should Israel continue with its ground invasion as planned, though National Security spokesman John Kirby said Biden feels he “does have the tools in his toolbox” to exercise harder leverage against Israel. 

DISPLACED PALESTINIANS shelter at a tent camp in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, last month. (credit: IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS)

“We’re going to continue to approach this with Israel as we have in the past, which is to make sure that they have the tools they need to defend themselves against a still viable threat, while at the same time using the strength of the relationship between the United States and Israel,” Kirby said. 

The White House has not yet seen any of Israel’s plans to evacuate civilians in Rafah, which the administration has maintained is necessary for the US to back an operation there. Kirby reiterated the White House’s stance that a major ground operation would be a mistake and Israel must account for civilian safety and security.