‘We have to do what we have to do’: Israel’s Netanyahu stands firm on Rafah offensive despite U.S. tensions

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to CNBC: We do have a disagreement with Biden on Rafah

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged tensions with historical ally the U.S. over the military offensive in Rafah in the Gaza Strip, but stood firm that the operation is required to protect Israeli security.

“Yes, we do have a disagreement on Gaza. Rather, on Rafah. But we have to do what we have to do,” Netanyahu said Wednesday, in an interview with CNBC’s Sara Eisen. “And, you know, sometimes you have to … you just have to do what is required to ensure your survival and your future. We cannot continue into the future by having Hamas retake Gaza.”

The U.S. and other nations have expressed concerns over Israel deepening its offensive into Rafah, citing fears over the safety of Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire of Israel’s war against Palestinian militant group Hamas. Israel has repeatedly said its conflict is against Hamas and that it does not target non-combatants, but human rights and aid organizations have stressed the impact of the military campaign and of the dearth of resources on the civilian population stranded in the Gaza enclave.

Over 1,200 people have been killed in Israel since October, according to Israel’s prime minister’s office. Meanwhile, more than 35,000 people have been killed in the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian health ministry’s latest official count.

“I hope we can see eye to eye with the United States, we’re talking to them, but ultimately we do what we have to do to protect the life of our nation,” Netanyahu said.

Earlier this week, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed that Washington could not endorse a Rafah military incursion in the absence of a “credible” plan to safeguard civilians.

“Absent a credible plan to get them out of harm’s way and to support them, the President’s been clear for some time that we couldn’t and would not support a major military operation in Rafah,” he said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, according to a readout from the U.S. State Department.

The EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell on Wednesday said on social media that the EU “urges Israel to end immediately its military operation in Rafah, that is leading to more internal displacement, exposure to famine & human suffering. We condemn Hamas’ attack in Kerem Shalom.”

Rafah crossing

Israel remains at odds with neighboring Egypt over the opening of the Rafah crossing to allow fresh humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

“We’re not holding up the opening of Rafah,” Netanyahu said Wednesday.

His comments come after Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Tuesday said on social media that he on Monday discussed with his British and German counterparts “about the need to persuade Egypt to reopen the Rafah crossing,” noting that “the key to preventing a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is now in the hands of our Egyptian friends.”

Egypt has previously faulted the Rafah crossing’s ongoing closure on Israeli military operations taking place nearby.

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to CNBC: I hope we can see eye to eye with the United States

Netanyahu on Wednesday said that Israel targets the destruction of four remaining Hamas battalions. Earlier this month, Israel began its offensive into Rafah, where 1.4 million displaced people have taken shelter, according to the U.N. Israel has been carrying out a retaliatory campaign in the Gaza Strip since October, following a terror attack perpetrated that same month by Hamas.

The hostilities have exacerbated tensions in the Middle East, with Israel exchanging strikes with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and with long-time rival Iran. The conflict has also rippled into global markets, given disruptions to naval trade from attacks carried out by Yemen’s Houthi and ongoing uncertainty over crude supplies from the oil-rich Middle East territories.

It has clouded the outlook for a potential normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which has been highly coveted by the U.S.

Fate of Gaza Strip

The ultimate fate of the Gaza Strip, which fell under complete Hamas governance in 2007, also hangs in the balance. Netanyahu on Wednesday voiced opposition to the two-state solution backed by many international actors, which would create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The Israeli prime minister stressed that such a nascent Palestinian nation would “immediately be taken over by Hamas and Iran” and once more championed an outcome in which Israel retains “responsibility of overall security” over the Gaza enclave.

This would entitle Palestinian civilians to “all the powers to govern themselves, none of the powers to threaten us,” Netanyahu said.

The Biden administration has previously expressed support for a “revitalized” iteration of the Palestinian National Authority, which holds partial control of the West Bank.

“A revitalized PA is essential to delivering results for the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Gaza and establishing the conditions for stability in the broader region,” U.S. Department Spokesperson Matthew Miller said March 29.

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