Photo Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a cabinet meeting, December 31, 2023.

In the aftermath of President Joe Biden cautioning Israel that a significant offensive on Rafah would constitute a violation of a “red line” regarding US crucial military support, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last Thursday reportedly lashed out during a security cabinet meeting, and declared, according to three sources including one of Netanyahu’s aides, “We are not a vassal state of the United States!”

The incident, reported on Wednesday by Barak Ravid for Axios, highlighted Netanyahu’s confrontational mindset amid tensions between Israel and the White House over Israel’s military operation against Hamas in Gaza. These strains began around two weeks ago when Biden halted the shipment of 3,500 heavy US bombs that were already on a ship set to be delivered to Israel.


According to two sources familiar with the discussion, in his extended remarks during the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu drew a parallel between his disagreement with Biden over Rafah and Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, proclaiming independence in 1948 despite opposition from then-US Secretary of State George Marshall.

According to an aide present at the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu informed the cabinet that he was prepared to withstand pressure from the United States and would take similar actions again if needed to safeguard Israel’s security interests. The aide recalled that Netanyahu told his cabinet, “When it comes to threats to our security, we will take whatever measures are necessary.”

Netanyahu’s “vassal state” remark was also reminiscent of Prime Minister Menachem Begin’s response to the same Joe Biden’s threat in 1982, at a closed-door meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to cut off military aid for Israel over its campaign in Lebanon. According to the Wall Street Journal, PM Begin responded:

“Don’t threaten us with cutting off aid to give up our principles. I’m not a Jew with trembling knees. I am a proud Jew with 3,700 years of civilized history. Nobody came to our aid when we were dying in the gas chambers and ovens. Nobody came to our aid when we were striving to create our country. We paid for it. We fought for it. We died for it. We will stand by our principles. We will defend them. And, when necessary, we will die for them again, with or without your aid.”

As of now, while the heavy US bombs are still on hold, a move that sabotages not only the war in Gaza, forcing it to last longer but also Israel’s future attacks on Hezbollah underground tunnels in southern Lebanon, other vital shipments from the US continue.

Ravid believes that National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan’s visit to Israel this Sunday will aim to mend the rifts over Rafah. And after Sullivan leaves, a senior Israeli delegation will go to Washington for further discussions of the Rafah situation.


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