Benjamin Netanyahu slams Joe Biden for withholding large bombs from Israel

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched a broadside against US President Joe Biden’s decision to stop a shipment of large bombs to Israel ahead of its offensive in densely-populated Rafah, describing it as “inconceivable”, in a video released on Tuesday.

Speaking in English and paraphrasing Winston Churchill, his favourite historical leader, Netanyahu said he had had a “candid conversation” with US secretary of state Antony Blinken about the issue.

“It’s inconceivable that in the past few months the administration has been withholding weapons and ammunitions to Israel. Israel — America’s closest ally, fighting for its life, fighting against Iran and our other common enemies,” he said in a video posted to X. “Give us the tools and we’ll finish the job a lot faster.”

The decision in April to withhold 2,000lb Joint Direct Attack Munitions was a historic break in the decades-old US policy of funding and supplying weapons to its closest ally in the region. It was seen as a sharp rebuke over the Israeli military’s conduct in Gaza, where at least 37,000 Palestinians have been killed, most of them women and children, according to local health officials.

Earlier this month, Biden announced what he said was a three-stage Israeli plan to help end the war in Gaza but days later he said “there is every reason” for people to conclude that Netanyahu was prolonging the war for his own political ends.

The state department has said it was “reasonable to assess” that Israel had at times used American weapons in a manner that is inconsistent with international law.

Netanyahu has faced considerable domestic criticism that he is jeopardising Israel’s relationship with the US over his embrace of far-right coalition allies as well as over the Israel Defense Forces’ operations in Gaza.

But he has also made defying the White House a central platform, portraying himself to his right-wing base as the only Israeli leader who can stand up to US presidents.

The US rarely uses bombs of such destructive power as those used by Israel in Gaza, and human rights groups have documented multiple instances of them being dropped by the Israeli military on dense urban settings in the north of the territory, killing dozens.

“Civilians have been killed in Gaza as a consequence of those bombs and other ways in which they go after population centres,” Biden told CNN in May, when he made public the decision to withhold the shipments.

The IDF subsequently said it was using smaller bombs as it took control of Rafah, the area at the southern edge of the Gaza Strip where hundreds of thousands of civilians had taken refuge.

But an air strike in May that used a 17-kg munition in a crowded part of Rafah resulted in at least 45 people being killed after the explosion caused a fire to break out in adjoining tents, local health officials said.

The IDF said it was investigating the incident, and had been targeting Hamas fighters in the area.

Speaking shortly after Netanyahu’s video was posted, Blinken said he had assured the prime minister during his trip to Israel last week that Washington was working to provide the country with the weapons it needs but declined to provide details.

He added that while the US was committed to helping Israel face various threats beyond Gaza, Washington remained concerned about the use of the large bombs in densely populated areas.

“[We] are continuing to review one shipment that President Biden has talked about with regard to 2,000 pound bombs because of our concerns about their use . . . but everything else is moving as it normally would move . . . with the perspective of making sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against this multiplicity of challenges,” Blinken said.

Netanyahu’s criticism of Biden will bolster Republicans who have attacked him for not doing enough to help Israel. The president is also facing intense pressure over the issue from the left of his party, which wants him to get Israel to rein-in its use of force in Gaza.

The tensions between Netanyahu and Biden will be highlighted at a scheduled joint address to Congress next month. Some progressive lawmakers such as California Democratic congressman Ro Khanna and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders have said they will boycott the event.

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