FP4A: If the Rafah Operation Goes Forward, President Biden Should End His Support for Netanyahu’s Gaza Campaign

February 15, 2024

FP4A: If the Rafah operation goes forward, President Biden should end his support for Netanyahu’s Gaza campaign

Foreign Policy for America (FP4A) watches with growing alarm the continuing tragedy in Gaza and the Netanyahu Government’s stated plan to launch a ground assault on the city of Rafah.

Rafah, which sits on the southern border of Gaza, is the last place of refuge for 1.3 million Palestinians, the vast majority of whom have already been displaced from their homes further north. The head of the UN children’s agency UNICEF has warned that a Rafah offensive will lead to a skyrocketing of hunger and disease. The Norwegian Refugee Council has said the likely result is a “bloodbath.” White House spokesperson John Kirby has similarly stressed that a “military operation at this time would be a disaster” for the families sheltering there.

FP4A strongly supports Israel’s right and obligation to defend itself and its citizens, to secure the freedom of the hostages taken by Hamas during the horrific attacks on October 7th, and to hold Hamas accountable for those attacks. FP4A joined with the international community in condemning Hamas terrorism and called on the Biden Administration to provide all appropriate means of support to Israel.

However, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s military response has manifestly failed to provide adequate protection for civilians, resulting in a shocking pace of civilian casualties. More than 28,000 Palestinians have lost their lives, mostly women and children. 85% of Palestinians have been displaced from their homes. In both public and private discussions, the United States has repeatedly urged Israel to ensure that its military operations are conducted in full accordance with international law, including the protection of Palestinian civilians who have nothing to do with the fighting. The Netanyahu Government has failed to heed these appeals.

The Netanyahu Government has also impeded the free flow of humanitarian assistance provided by the United States and other governments. According to the head of the World Food Program, Ambassador Cindy McCain, “Famine is imminent.”  U.S. law prohibits the transfer of U.S. weapons to any country that restricts the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance.

President Biden reinforced U.S. commitments to international law through his National Security Memorandum 18 on Conventional Arms Transfer Policy, which requires that “no arms transfer will be authorized where the United States assesses that it is more likely than not that the arms… will be used by the recipient to commit” certain acts “including attacks intentionally directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such; or other serious violations of international humanitarian or human rights law, including serious acts of gender-based violence or serious acts of violence against children.”

In early February, President Biden expanded this commitment through National Security Memorandum 20 which requires the Secretary of State to “obtain credible and reliable written assurances from a representative of the recipient country as the Secretary of State deems appropriate that the recipient country will use any such defense articles in accordance with international humanitarian law and, as applicable, other international law.”

We commend the Biden Administration for working tirelessly toward a ceasefire that results in the release of all hostages. We are grateful for the Administration’s resolute commitment to achieving a Palestinian state side by side with a secure Israel so that Israelis and Palestinians can enjoy equal measures of security, dignity, and freedom. We also appreciate its rejection of actions that have impeded the delivery of United States humanitarian assistance and its insistence on the importance of international law and protections for civilians.

But the time may be coming soon when warnings have run their course and the U.S. can no longer provide military assistance in support of Netanyahu’s Gaza campaign.

This crisis has reinforced the special relationship between Americans and our friends and family members living in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. It magnifies our country’s urgent national interest in achieving a just and durable peace in the Middle East, consistent with our commitments to human rights. It reminds us of the historic role the U.S. has played as Israel’s indispensable ally and our country’s deep commitment to the protection and safety of the Israeli people.

Whatever happens next, the Biden Administration should continue to support air defense and other systems to protect the territory of Israel from rocket or missile attacks. However, if the Rafah operation goes forward, President Biden should end his support for Netanyahu’s Gaza campaign.