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U.S. threatens weapons shipments will stop if Israel launches major invasion of Rafah

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The U.S. has threatened to suspend weapons shipments to Israel if it launches a full-scale invasion of Rafah.
The U.S. has threatened to suspend weapons shipments to Israel if it launches a full-scale invasion of Rafah.

U.S. President Joe Biden has announced the U.S. will stop supplying certain weapons to Israel if its army launches a major ground invasion in Rafah.

Biden said that “civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of [U.S.-supplied] bombs”.

It comes after the Israeli military said it had launched a “limited” operation in the southern Gazan city of Rafah this week — where an estimated 1.4 million Palestinian people are sheltering.

The U.S. is Israel’s closest ally.

Background

On 7 October, Hamas launched an attack on Israel. According to data cited by the UN, roughly 1,200 people were killed. Hamas, which Australia lists as a terrorist organisation, captured about 240 hostages. 133 remain captive.

Israel responded by declaring war and bombarding Gaza. According to data cited by the UN, more than 34,800 Palestinians have been killed since 7 October. Israel’s war in Gaza has caused a humanitarian crisis.

Rafah

At the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, the Israeli military’s focus was on the north of the territory. This prompted civilians to flee to southern areas of Gaza, including Rafah.

Israel’s military has since moved southwards. It’s estimated at least 1.4 million people are currently sheltering in Rafah.

The UN has said that tens of thousands of refugees in the area have now been forced to relocate “in search of increasingly limited options for safety”.

The UN and several countries, including the U.S. and Australia, have repeatedly warned Israel against a ground invasion of Rafah.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he “directed [that the Israeli Defence Forces] act in Rafah”.

Israeli soldiers have since raided parts of eastern Rafah and conducted strikes on 100 targets, where the IDF said it “eliminated about 30 terrorists”. The IDF also said it found multiple tunnels in Rafah being used by Hamas.

Weapons

Israel has received more than $US124 billion in military assistance from the U.S. since WWII, according to the Stimson Centre — a foreign affairs research organisation in the U.S.

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama signed a deal to send $38 billion worth of arms to Israel over 10 years.

Separately, President Joe Biden has approved two sets of weapons sales to Israel worth more than $250 million since the war in Gaza began.

This week, it was revealed the U.S. withheld a shipment of weapons to Israel for the first time since October 7.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said a shipment of “payload munitions” was stopped from going to Israel “in the context of unfolding events in Rafah”. Payload is a type of ballistic missile.

However, Austin also said the U.S. remained “ironclad” in its commitment to helping Israel defend itself.

Biden’s comments

In an interview with CNN, President Biden acknowledged that “civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of [U.S. supplied] bombs and other ways in which [Israel’s military] go after population centres.”

He said he may continue to halt the shipment of weapons to Israel “if they go into 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,” Biden said.

Biden said he did not consider Israel’s operation so far as “going into” Rafah. He added this was because “they haven’t gone into the population centres; what they did is right on the border”.

However, he added: “We’re not walking away from Israel’s security. We’re walking away from Israel’s ability to wage war in those areas.”

Israel’s response

Israel’s senior ministers, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, haven’t yet responded to the U.S. decision to suspend a weapons shipment.

A spokesperson for the IDF told a forum in Tel Aviv that Israel and the U.S. resolve disagreements “behind closed doors”.

Meanwhile, Israel’s ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan told a local news channel the U.S. suspension was “very disappointing”.

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