Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden spent 45 minutes in a phone conversation Sunday night, their first since January 19. Both men agreed on the “shared goal” to defeat Hamas, but Biden doubled down on American concerns over Israel’s planned military operation in the southern Gaza border city of Rafah.
“The President reaffirmed our shared goal to see Hamas defeated and to ensure the long-term security of Israel and its people,” the White House said in its readout of the call.
“The President and the Prime Minister discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of all remaining hostages held by Hamas. The President emphasized the need to capitalize on progress made in the negotiations to secure the release of all hostages as soon as possible.
“He also called for urgent and specific steps to increase the throughput (sic) and consistency of humanitarian assistance to innocent Palestinian civilians. And he reaffirmed his view that a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there.
“The two leaders agreed to remain in close contact,” the White House said.
Netanyahu reported told Biden that just as the IDF has acted throughout the war in accordance with international law and the highest moral standards, “we will know how to do the same” in a military operation in Rafah, which the prime minister emphasized is necessary. He promised the IDF will do everything possible to minimize harm to civilians in the city.
Israeli sources told Ynet that Biden asked Netanyahu to make sure that the established quota of 200 humanitarian aid trucks per day is reached, and urged him to send a delegation to the hostage talks in Cairo.
The phone conversation was immediately followed by a meeting of the War Cabinet on the issue of negotiations over a hostage deal. William Burns, the head of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is expected to arrive in Cairo on Tuesday for talks brokered by Egypt.
‘Security Control Will Always Be Ours’
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu said in his opening remarks to the weekly cabinet meeting, held this week at the IDF Yahalom Unit’s military base, that victory in Gaza will take months — but not years.
“We want, in effect, to bring about the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said. “This requires our security control and our comprehensive security responsibility over all territory west of the Jordan River, including the Gaza Strip.
“There is no alternative to this in the foreseeable future,” he emphasized. “We are also saying this to the international community, and to the President of the US, and to all leaders. There is no alternative to this.
“This is to say, security control will always be ours, and if this requires a presence inside, then there will be a presence inside. If it requires that we be able to go in anywhere, as the IDF is capable of going anywhere, at any time, this will be said here and this will also be the case in the future,” Netanyahu said.
“This requires maximum internal unity; I hope that we will succeed in preserving this. The goal is no less than the victory we have been discussing. It is within reach.”