Virtual Meeting Between US and Israel on Rafah Operation Fails to Yield Breakthrough

Virtual Meeting Between US and Israel on Rafah Operation Fails to Yield Breakthrough

Top officials from the US and Israel convened in a virtual meeting to explore options beyond a large-scale invasion of Rafah, with the Biden administration aiming to discourage a major military intervention in the troubled Gaza city.

Senior officials from the United States and Israel recently had a virtual meeting to talk about options other than launching a full-scale invasion of Rafah. The aim is to convince the Israeli government to avoid a major military operation in this troubled city in Gaza.

Following the meeting, a US official informed CNN that the Biden administration is not anticipating any significant progress. The White House views this meeting as part of ongoing talks that will persist in the upcoming weeks regarding a potential Israeli intervention in Rafah.

Both countries officials described the meeting as "constructive" in a joint statement and mentioned the possibility of another in-person meeting next week. The meeting on Monday went on for over two-and-a-half hours. Participants from the US side included national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, principal deputy national security adviser Jon Finer, White House Middle East adviser Brett McGurk, and other officials from the White House, State Department, and Department of Defense. US Ambassador Jack Lew also took part in the meeting.

The Israeli delegation, consisting of national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and minister of strategic affairs Ron Dermer, led the meeting. The Biden administration officials urged the Israeli delegation to consider alternatives to a large-scale ground invasion in Rafah. According to US officials familiar with the discussion, over a million starving Palestinians are currently seeking refuge in Rafah with no escape route. Additionally, the US officials were updated on the current situation in Rafah by their Israeli counterparts.

"It's not the most important thing," one official mentioned about the meeting that took place after discussions between the two countries at a lower level and a meeting between Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last week.

After the visit, the Pentagon stated that Austin emphasized to Israel the importance of having a reliable plan in place to ensure the safety and provide humanitarian assistance to civilians taking shelter in Rafah.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre emphasized the importance of having a conversation before moving forward with a military operation. She stated that understanding the plan for advancement is crucial. When Jake Sullivan spoke at the podium earlier, he mentioned the existence of alternative approaches and strategies for addressing the situation with Hamas.

Although the meeting did not result in any promises of a breakthrough or compromise, the fact that it took place was viewed positively. It indicated that communication lines between Israel and the United States remain open, despite differences in how the leaders of the two countries have discussed Israel's conflict in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled a meeting last week due to the United States' decision not to veto a UN Security Council resolution on Gaza ceasefire and the release of hostages held by Hamas, highlighting tensions between Israel and its ally.

During his visit last week, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant discussed potential alternatives for Rafah with Pentagon officials.

Netanyahu remains determined despite the Biden administration's opposition to invading Rafah. He emphasized to Congress that Israel feels compelled to take action in Rafah to ensure its survival. Netanyahu also suggested that displaced Palestinians in Rafah should simply relocate.

This meeting occurred at a time when both Israelis and Americans are becoming more dissatisfied with their governments' approaches to the Gaza conflict.

Over the weekend, thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to demand Netanyahu’s removal. These were the largest protests in the country since the October 7 attacks by Hamas. At recent events hosted by Biden, such as a high-powered fundraiser in New York with former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, pro-Palestinian protesters have caused disruptions.

During his speech in New York, Biden was interrupted by protesters. He acknowledged the suffering of both Israeli and Palestinian civilians, stating that there are too many innocent victims. However, he also emphasized that Israel faces a threat to its very existence and must be considered in the broader context.

Biden emphasized the need to halt actions causing harm to civilians, especially children.

Biden's advisers have been considering different approaches to how the US should respond to a potential Rafah invasion. They have cautioned Israel about the risks of facing international condemnation and a humanitarian crisis if the invasion proceeds.

Vice President Kamala Harris hinted at potential consequences for Israel last week if it decides to move forward with certain actions.

According to the region's health ministry, over 32,000 individuals have lost their lives in Gaza since October 7.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak and Donald Judd contributed to this report.

Editor's P/S:

The meeting between senior US and Israeli officials regarding the potential invasion of Rafah reflects the complex nature of the Gaza conflict and the ongoing challenges in finding a resolution. While the US administration urges Israel to consider alternatives to a large-scale invasion, Israel's concerns over its security and the plight of Palestinians seeking refuge in Rafah must also be addressed. The meeting highlights the need for continued dialogue and the importance of finding a comprehensive solution that ensures the safety and well-being of both Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite the meeting's constructive tone, the lack of concrete progress or compromise underscores the difficulties in reaching a consensus. The upcoming weeks will be crucial in determining the fate of Rafah and the broader Gaza conflict. The Biden administration's concerns over international condemnation and a humanitarian crisis must be balanced against Israel's perceived threat to its existence. As both Israelis and Americans express dissatisfaction with their governments' approaches, international pressure and diplomatic efforts will likely play a significant role in shaping the outcome of this ongoing crisis.