Biden Warns Netanyahu Over Rafah Attack; Team to Visit DC

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a major ground operation in Rafah would be a mistake and the two agreed to hold talks in Washington about Israel’s war plans in the coming days.

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National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said Biden asked Netanyahu to send a team of military, intelligence and humanitarian officials to Washington to discuss Israel’s planning for Rafah and to lay out an alternative approach that would target Hamas and secure the Egypt-Gaza border without a full-scale invasion. Sullivan said the meeting could take place by week’s end.

“A major ground operation there would be a mistake. It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza and further isolate Israel internationally,” Sullivan told reporters Monday at the White House.

He said Netanyahu had agreed to the request for a meeting. The US expects that Israel will hold off on any ground campaign in Rafah until the discussion takes place, Sullivan said.

“There are ways for Israel to prevail in this conflict, to secure its long-term future, to end the terror threat from Gaza and not smash into Rafah,” he said.

Sullivan said Israel had made gains against Hamas, confirming its No. 3 official, Marwan Issa, had been killed. But he repeatedly said Israel risks allowing Hamas to reestablish itself in areas that have previously been cleared, emphasizing the point by urging a more methodical approach.

The call earlier Monday between Biden and Netanyahu was the president and prime minister’s first since Feb. 15. In the last month, the rift between both men has widened over Israel’s military campaign against Hamas and the increasingly dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Earlier: Famine Is Imminent in Northern Gaza, UN-Backed Report Warns

Biden last Friday praised Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s call for new elections in Israel and Netanyahu’s ouster as a “good speech” that “expressed serious concern” shared by “many Americans.” Netanyahu responded on Sunday by calling Schumer’s comments “inappropriate” interference in Israel’s domestic affairs.

Asked if Schumer’s comments came up in the call, Sullivan said that the prime minister raised “concerns about a variety of things that have come out in the American press,” but declined to elaborate.

Sullivan answered a question about Netanyahu’s contention that outsiders shouldn’t publicly weigh in on Israeli politics by pointing out that the prime minister consistently appears on US news programs, calling it an “interesting irony.”

Earlier: Biden Warns Netanyahu Against Rafah Invasion, Agree to Talks

The Israeli leader also pledged he would press on with his operation against Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by the US and European Union, into the southern city of Rafah where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians have fled, despite growing international pressure for a cease-fire.

Biden was caught on a hot microphone after his State of the Union address telling a senator he needed to have a “come to Jesus meeting” with Netanyahu about the situation in Gaza. US officials have said they would not support a Rafah offensive unless Israel produced a viable plan for evacuating civilians.

“Israel has not presented us, or the world, with a plan for how we’re where they would safely move those civilians, let alone feed and house them and ensure access to basic things like sanitation,” Sullivan said Monday.

(Updates with additional Sullivan comments throughout)

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