White House defends Israeli arms embargo, says Rafah operation would ‘strengthen Hamas’

Biden administration pushes back on sharp criticism of decision to halt arms transfers to Israel, denies president has ‘abandoned Israel.’

By David Rosenberg, World Israel News

The Biden White House on Thursday defended the president’s announcement that the U.S. will not supply weapons to the IDF if Israel conducts its long-awaited ground operation in Rafah.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed to the Senate Wednesday that the Biden administration has suspended weapons transfers to Israel, in a bid to pressure Jerusalem to drop its planned invasion of Rafah.

Hours later, President Biden defended the arms freeze, and vowed to impose a sweeping embargo should Israeli forces move into the interior of Rafah.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah—they haven’t gone in Rafah yet—if they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah, to deal with the cities—that deal with that problem,” Biden said.

A day later, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby denied claims the administration had turned its back on Israel.

“The argument that somehow we’re walking away from Israel flies in the face of the facts,” Kirby told reporters.

“This is a president who put American fighter pilots in the sky to help shoot down more than 300 missiles and drones fired by Iran in mid-April.”

“So the argument that somehow we’re walking away from Israel, we’re not willing to help them defeat Hamas just doesn’t doesn’t comport with the facts.”

“Everybody keeps talking about pausing weapons shipments. Weapons shipments are still going to Israel. They’re still getting that the vast, vast majority of everything that they need to defend themselves.”

Kirby also claimed that the arms freeze was imposed for Israel’s own benefit, arguing that an IDF operation in Rafah would actually “strengthen Hamas” at the bargaining table.

“Any kind of major Rafah ground operation would actually strengthen Hamas’s hands at the negotiating table, not Israel’s. That’s our view.”

“If I’m Mr. Sinwar, and I’m sitting down in my tunnel… and I’m seeing innocent people falling victim to major significant combat operations in Rafah, then I have less of an incentive to want to come to the negotiating table.”

Kirby downplayed Hamas’ capabilities, saying the terror group was under “enormous pressure” from Israel and had lost much of its leadership.

Israel “has put an enormous amount of pressure on Hamas and that there are better ways to go after what is left of Hamas in Rafah than a major ground operation.”

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“Early on in the conflict, Hamas didn’t feel and hadn’t suffered the kinds of pressure and the kinds of casualties that they have suffered now.”