Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with President Biden on Sunday for the first time since the US leader called Israel’s war on Hamas “over the top” — and as Israel preps for its controversial ground invasion of Rafah.
The 45-minute phone call came after Netanyahu told “Fox News Sunday” that he had not spoken to his supposedly close ally since Thursday, when Biden openly criticized the prime minister’s war campaign against the Palestinian terror group Hamas — with Bibi defiantly adding that America would be doing far worse under similar circumstances.
“I don’t know exactly what he meant by that,” Netanyahu claimed of Biden saying last week, “I am of the view that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top.
“Look, we were attacked in the worst attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust,” Netanyahu said. “That Oct. 7 massacre was equivalent to 20 9/11s in one day and the equivalent of 50,000 Americans slaughtered, burned, maimed, raped, beheaded, and 10,000 Americans taken hostage, including mothers and children.
“So, what would America’s response be? I would say it would be at least as strong as Israel’s and many Americans tell me, ‘We would have flattened them. We would have turned them into dust,’ ” Netanyahu added.
The two leaders finally spoke again Sunday afternoon to discuss Israel’s war effort and the need to free the hostages held by Hamas, with Biden specifically urging the Jewish nation to mitigate the civilian casualties in Gaza as it continues to try to destroy the terror network, according to the White House.
The president cautioned Israel not to proceed into the southern Gazan city of Rafah “without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there.”
About 1.4 million refugees are now located in Rafah after fleeing the war that has consumed nearly all of the Gaza Strip, with the civilians now positioned between the border and the encroaching battle between the Israel Defense Forces and Hamas.
With Sunday’s phone call ending with Biden and Netanyahu agreeing to “remain in close contact,” it appears that the two leaders may have mended the recent rift that formed after Biden’s criticism of the war Thursday.
Netanyahu justified the IDF’s advancement across Gaza to Fox as a necessary action to eliminate Hamas and avoid another Oct. 7, where more than 1,200 people were brutally killed in Israel by the terrorists, thus launching the war.
While Biden initially showed strong support for Israel in Gaza, the president has been more critical after reports highlighting the civilian casualties of the war.
The death toll in the Palestinian enclave has surpassed 28,000, according to the Hamas-run health ministry, which does not differentiate between civilians and terrorists. Near the end of January, the US estimated that about only 9,000 Hamas terrorists have been killed.
Along with the death toll, Biden and Netanyahu have butted heads over the future of Gaza once the war ends, with reports claiming that the president abruptly hung up the phone during one heated call that marked a pause in talks for weeks.
Although Biden keeps much of his criticism of Netanyahu behind closed doors, his top aides have urged him to be more public about his problems with the Israeli leader, sources familiar with his private talks told the Washington Post.
“I don’t think anybody can look at what the Israelis have done in Gaza and not say it’s over the top,” a senior official said of Biden’s allegedly long-held criticism.
“This gets to the frustration with the Israelis. Have they done the work on what comes next in Gaza? No. They haven’t grappled with the really hard questions.”
An outside White House adviser said of the pending Israeli invasion of Rafah, where refugees from other parts of war-torn Gaza have fled to, “They’re already living in tents and not getting enough food and water, and you’re saying go somewhere else?
“Where? How are they supposed to get there?”
Biden’s patience is also allegedly being tested as he watches his political points dip among young Democrats over his staunch support of Israel, all while Netanyahu undermines the work of US officials trying to push for peace in the Gaza war, the sources added.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had met with Netanyahu last week to discuss Hamas’ response to a draft peace deal. The Israeli prime minister ended up flatly rejecting the plan, calling it “delusional” — despite Blinken’s comments that it could still be salvaged.
While the US, Qatar and Egypt work to mediate a truce to help free the more than 130 Israeli hostages remaining in Gaza, Netanyahu reiterated Sunday that the only way to free the captives and end the war would be through military might.
“Victory is within reach,” Netanyahu said. “We have already destroyed three-quarters of Hamas’ organized terrorist battalions. Three-quarters, 18 out of 24 – we’re not going to leave the other six.”
He also rejected the idea of a two-state Palestinian-Israel solution, which has been promoted by Biden and European leaders.
“I do not think a two-state solution is possible, and, even if possible, it is not advisable,” Netanyahu said. “For more than 50 years, hundreds of self-proclaimed ‘peacemakers,’ led by the United States, have attempted to coerce Israel and the Palestinians into a two-state solution.
“The efforts repeatedly fail regardless of who’s in charge,” he added.