Middle east

“Rafah Massacre”: Biden Administration Stuck on the “Red Line”

Israeli Airstrike on Rafah Sparks U.S.-Israel Tensions

The Israeli airstrike on a refugee camp in Rafah last Sunday has brought the understandings between the United States and Israel back to the “red line” issue.

Two American officials told the U.S. site “Axios” that the Joe Biden administration is still assessing whether the Israeli airstrike that killed at least 45 Palestinian refugees in a camp in Rafah last Sunday constitutes a breach of the “red line” set earlier by the U.S. president.

Biden had earlier this month threatened to suspend the delivery of some U.S.-made offensive weapons if Israel entered populated areas of Rafah, a city in southern Gaza considered the last stronghold of Hamas, home to over 1.5 million Palestinians, most displaced by war.

U.S. officials later clarified that a humanitarian crisis resulting from the mass displacement of civilians from Rafah could also constitute a breach of Biden‘s red line.

Tragic Airstrike on Rafah

The airstrike on Rafah last Sunday was the deadliest incident in the city since Israel began its offensive in early May, according to Gaza health officials, with women and children among the victims.

The strike occurred two days after the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to immediately halt military operations in Rafah.

The Israeli army announced Monday the opening of an operational investigation into the airstrike, while Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the civilian deaths as a “tragic mistake.”

U.S. Response

An American official told “Axios” that the White House is working to determine exactly what happened in order to decide if the circumstances justify any potential U.S. action.

A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council told “Axios” that “the Biden administration is actively working with the Israeli military and partners on the ground to assess what happened.”

He added that the devastating images following the Israeli airstrike in Rafah, which killed dozens of innocent Palestinians, are “heartbreaking.”

He continued, saying that “Israel has the right to pursue Hamas… but as we have made clear: Israel must also take all possible precautions to protect civilians.”

Sullivan’s Talks

In the days leading up to the catastrophic airstrike, White House officials felt they had significantly influenced Israel’s operational plans for Rafah in a way that prevented large civilian casualties, according to three American officials.

This came after White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan held several hours of consultations in Israel last week regarding the Rafah operation.

These discussions included a detailed briefing from Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Israeli Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi.

A senior American official said that Sullivan believed many of the U.S. administration’s concerns were addressed in Israel’s updated plans for Rafah and that it was possible to see how the operation could be conducted without crossing Biden‘s “red lines.”

This assessment led the U.S. to ease its opposition to the expansion of Israeli military operations in Rafah, which included Sunday’s airstrike.

An American official said that the Rafah incident is likely to increase political pressure on Biden to change his policy regarding the war in Gaza.

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