Netanyahu defies ally Joe Biden and says Israel will ‘fight with fingernails’ if US stops arms supplies

Israeli prime minister vows again to go ahead with ground offensive in Rafah, where over 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering

Namita Singh
Friday 10 May 2024 05:58 BST
Related: Joe Biden says he will stop supplying Israel with artillery and bombs if they invade Rafah

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said his country is willing to “stand alone” and “fight with our fingernails” in the war on Gaza, a thinly-veiled rebuttal to ally Joe Biden’s warning that the US could stop supplying him with arms.

The US president has urged Mr Netanyahu not to go ahead with a planned ground invasion of Rafah, where over 1.3 million Palestinians have sought refuge from Israel’s bombardment of the Gaza Strip. The UN and aid charities say such an assault would have dire consequences for the refugees there.

The Israeli government had not responded to reports that Washington was holding back a shipment of bombs until Mr Biden went public on Wednesday saying the measure was a US warning to the Israelis not to "go into Rafah".

Mr Netanyahu responded in a statement on Thursday, saying: “If we must stand alone, we shall stand alone.

"If we must, we shall fight with our fingernails. But we have much more than our fingernails, and with that strength of spirit, with God’s help, together we shall be victorious."

Israel has said that victory in its seven-month-old war on Gaza would not be complete without invading Rafah, where it claims thousands of Hamas fighters and potentially dozens of the hostages they seized on 7 October are located. Hamas and other allied groups are still holding some 100 of the 250 captives they took during that attack on southern Israel, as well as the remains of about 30.

The Gaza war has killed nearly 35,000 Palestinians, including 15,000 children, left most of the Strip reduced to rubble, displaced over 80 per cent of the population and pushed it to the brink of starvation. The refugees in Rafah arrived in the southern city after Israel designated it a safe area for the Palestinians facing destruction of their homes and communities in Gaza City in the north.

Israel’s top military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, appeared to downplay the practical impact of any holdup in US arms supplies. “The army has munitions for the missions it plans and for the missions in Rafah too,” he said, adding: “We have what we need.”

In a separate interview on US television, Mr Netanyahu suggested he maintained good relations with Mr Biden but that Israel “will do what we have to”.

"We often had our agreements but we have had our disagreements. We have been able to overcome them," he said on the Dr Phil Primetime show.

"I hope we can overcome them now, but we will do what we have to do to protect our country.”

Responding to Mr Biden’s decision to withhold the arms shipment, Mr Netanyahu’s national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir put up a post on X with a heart emoji between the words "Hamas" and "Biden."

He and other ultra-nationalist members of Mr Netanyahu‘s coalition want a largescale Rafah operation and have threatened to bring down the government if that doesn’t happen.

Additional reporting by agencies

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