Biden's warning about Rafah compounds Netanyahu's problem

President Biden's warning about cutting off arms supplies has strengthened the constraint facing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is increasingly caught between international calls for a ceasefire and right-wing Israeli demands to proceed with an invasion on a large scale in Rafah, southern Gaza.

Netanyahu, who has insisted over American objections on the need to invade Rafah, now finds US-Israeli relations at a moment of crisis that could affect how he conducts the next phase of the war against Hamas.

On Thursday, the Israeli leader, alluding to Biden's remarks, said in a statement: “If we need to be alone, we will be alone. I said that if necessary we will fight tooth and nail. But we have much more than nails and with that same strength of spirit, with God's help, together we will win.”

With Biden threatening for the first time to withdraw more American weapons, including heavy bombs and artillery shells, if Israel carries out a major operation in Rafah, a city filled with about a million Palestinians, analysts say the Israeli military risks losing the backing power of its most important foreign arms supplier.

“The United States provides Israel with a steel dome: it's not just about military support; it is strategic and political; it's at the United Nations, the international tribunal and so on,” said Amos Gilead, a former senior Israeli defense official who has worked closely with American security officials for decades.

“If we lose the United States with President Biden's incredible friendship, he will not be forgiven,” he added.

But Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an Israeli army spokesman, said Thursday that the army had “sufficient ammunition for planned operations, including operations in Rafah.”

While Israel has enough weapons in its stockpile to conduct a large-scale invasion of Gaza city, US restrictions could force the Israeli military to scale back deployment of specific munitions, experts said.

“It is possible that we will have to economize how we use our weapons and hit more targets without precision bombs,” said Jacob Nagel, a former national security adviser.

Avi Dadon, former head of procurement at Israel's Defense Ministry, told Kan, Israel's public broadcaster, that he “might be concerned” if American weapons were withheld. But at least on the surface, key members of Netanyahu's government have said the war effort will not be affected.

“I address Israel's enemies as well as our best friends and say: the State of Israel cannot be subjugated,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said at a memorial ceremony, adding that the country will do “everything necessary” to defend its citizens and “to resist those who seek to destroy us.”

Bezalel Smotrich, the far-right finance minister, said Israel would achieve a “complete victory” despite what he described as a “pushback and arms embargo” from Biden.

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