US warns Israel: Rafah invasion could jeopardize weapons supply

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden warned for the first time Wednesday that the U.S. might withhold weapons from Israel if its forces invade Rafah in southern Gaza. This statement comes as negotiations for a ceasefire in the enclave are set to continue Thursday in Cairo.

“I made it clear that if they go into Rafah, … I’m not supplying the weapons,” Biden told CNN in an interview, noting his administration has repeatedly pressed Israel to protect civilians in Rafah.

Biden acknowledged that U.S. bombs provided to Israel have killed civilians in Gaza during the seven-month offensive aimed at destroying Hamas. His comments, his most direct to date, heighten the pressure on Israel to avoid a full-scale assault on Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have sought refuge.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that the Rafah operation will proceed, asserting the necessity to target Hamas fighters reportedly in the area.

Following the entry of Israeli forces through the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Tuesday, Israel continued tank and aerial strikes on southern Gaza, severing a critical aid route.

Amid growing protests from fellow Democrats and on college campuses, Biden faces increased domestic pressure as he campaigns for re-election. The U.S. remains Israel’s largest weapons supplier, having increased deliveries following Hamas attacks on Oct. 7 that initiated the Gaza offensive.

While certain U.S. weapon deliveries intended for Israel’s defense, like the Iron Dome anti-missile system, will continue, Biden confirmed Wednesday that the U.S. has paused a shipment of 1,800 2,000-pound and 1,700 500-pound bombs over concerns of civilian risk in Gaza. The paused shipments include Boeing-made Joint Direct Attack Munitions and Small Diameter Bombs, part of an earlier approved arms shipment, distinct from the recent $95 billion supplemental aid package passed by Congress in April.

Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Gilad Erdan, expressed disappointment over the delay but expressed doubt that the U.S. would fully halt arms supplies to Israel.