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Israelis ready to fight with their fingernails, Netanyahu says in veiled Biden rebuff


Israelis are ready to fight with their “fingernails”, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday in a thinly veiled rebuff to US President Joe Biden’s warning that arms supplies could be withheld over a planned operation in Gaza.

Israel’s long-threatened move against Rafah, where it says thousands of Hamas fighters and potentially dozens of the hostages they seized in an Oct. 7 attack are ensconced among more than a million war-displaced Palestinians, began this week with the evacuation of some civilians followed by limited incursions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a wreath-laying ceremony marking Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre, in Jerusalem, on 6th May, 2024. PICTURE: Reuters/Amir Cohen/Pool/File photo

The Biden administration has said it cannot support a major Rafah invasion in the absence of what it would deem a credible plan to safeguard non-combatants. Israel has said victory in the seven-month-old conflict is impossible without taking Rafah.

The Netanyahu government had kept silent over reports that Washington was holding back a shipment of aerial bombs – until, on Wednesday, Biden went public with the measure, saying it was part of a US warning to the Israelis not to “go into Rafah”.

“If we must stand alone, we shall stand alone,” Netanyahu said without referring specifically to the US announcement.

“If we must, we shall fight with our fingernails,” he said in a video statement. “But we have much more than our fingernails, and with that strength of spirit, with God’s help, together we shall be victorious.”

But Netanyahu said in an interview on US television he hopes he and Biden can overcome their disagreements over the Gaza war. “We often had our agreements but we’ve had our disagreements. We’ve been able to overcome them,” Netanyahu said on the Dr Phil Primetime¬†show.

“I hope we can overcome them now, but we will do what we have to do to protect our country,” he said.

The conservative prime minister’s comments in the video statement were echoed by the other two voting members of his war cabinet – Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and centrist former Defence Minister Benny Gantz – although none said explicitly that a deeper sweep of Rafah would be ordered.

“I turn to Israel’s enemies as well as to our best of friends and say – the State of Israel cannot be subdued,” Gallant said in a speech. “We will stand strong, we will achieve our goals – we will hit Hamas, we will hit [Lebanon’s] Hezbollah, and we will achieve security.”

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Gantz voiced appreciation for what the Israeli military has described as unprecedented US support and supplies in the war.

“Israel has a duty, in terms of national security and morality, to keep fighting in order to return our hostages and end the Hamas threat against southern Israel,” he said on X. “And the United States has a moral and strategic duty to extend to Israel the tools that are necessary for this mission.”

In parallel to the public dispute, the United States has been trying to shepherd along Egyptian- and Qatari-mediated talks between Israel and Hamas that would free some hostages.

Those have stumbled on Hamas’ demand for an end to the Gaza war. Israel is willing to enter a ceasefire only. Negotiators on Thursday left the latest meetings in Cairo without a deal, and Israel said it would proceed with its planned Rafah operation.

The chief Israeli military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, said in a briefing that the armed forces had sufficient munitions for Rafah “and other operations that are planned”.

– Additional reporting by JAMES MACKENZIE and MAYTAAL ANGEL


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