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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference

NEWS: What Netanyahu thinks about Gaza and Biden’s response to the war

JERUSALEM In roughly one month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will come to Washington to address a joint meeting of Congress. Israel is locked in a bloody war against Hamas in Gaza, on the brink of a possible conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon and still reeling from both Iran’s aerial assault and the Oct. 7 terror attack. There are still more than 100 hostages held by Hamas militants. 

The upcoming July 24 address in the House chamber will be one of the most contentious in recent American history. Some Democrats call Netanyahu a war criminal. Republicans revere him. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called for Netanyahu to step aside.

It’s against this backdrop that we went to Jerusalem to interview Netanyahu on Thursday. We discussed a wide range of issues with the longtime Israeli premier, including Netanyahu’s sharp disagreements with President Joe Biden, his views on Congress, pro-Palestinian protests in the United States and the wave of civilian deaths in Gaza during the nearly nine-month war.

Netanyahu’s remarks and his visit to Washington need to be viewed through the lens of the tense political moment in Israel. Netanyahu is facing unprecedented domestic turmoil. His upcoming U.S. trip and his tough talk toward Biden could help him win support here, although there’s been a fierce backlash from the White House.

Read the full transcript here. 

The Biden administration. Netanyahu caused a lot of consternation in Washington this week when he posted a video on X saying that it was “inconceivable” that the Biden administration had held up weapons shipments to Israel. Top administration officials, including NSC spokesperson John Kirby, strongly deny the accusation. 

The White House canceled a high-level meeting with their Israeli counterparts on Iran to show their displeasure. Biden has said he’s only held back the delivery of heavy bombs even as his administration has approved billions of dollars worth of weapons sales to Israel during the Gaza war.

Pro-Israel Democrats also were upset, saying that Netanyahu should keep his disagreements with the president private. They accused Netanyahu of turning Israel into a partisan issue by his open support for Republicans.

But Netanyahu didn’t entirely back down. Netanyahu said he’s grateful for the support from the White House but the only way for Israel to avoid a full-scale war with Hezbollah is if the U.S. re-starts all weapons shipments: 

“I deeply appreciate the support given by President Biden and the United States administration for our war effort from the beginning. President Biden came here, he sent two carrier groups and he gave us valuable assistance and ammunition and weapons from the beginning of the war. I appreciate that and I remain appreciative. 

“We began to see that we had some significant problems emerging a few months ago. And in fact, we tried, in many, many quiet conversations between our officials and American officials, in between me and the president to try to iron out … And we haven’t been able to solve it. Now this is crucial. It’s crucial for our common war aims, to defeat Hamas and to prevent an escalation in Lebanon to a full-fledged war to have this supply. 

“I raised this issue with Secretary Blinken. And I said that we are being told by our Defense Department officials that barely a trickle is coming in. He said, ‘Well, everything is in process. We’re doing everything to untangle it and to clear up the bottlenecks.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s what I expect to happen. Let’s make sure that it does happen.’ It must happen.  … 

“I felt that airing it was absolutely necessary after months of quiet conversations that did not solve the problem.”

White House aides pointed to Kirby’s comments in response to Netanyahu.

The outstanding question here is whether Netanyahu — and Israel more broadly — is ready for a war with Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia ramping up its hostilities in southern Lebanon, including attacks on Israel. Or whether Netanyahu is seeking to involve Biden by blaming him for any war in Lebanon.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, warned Israel about a broad-scale war Thursday.

We asked Netanyahu if he felt like the Biden administration wanted to solve the weapon problem. His response: “I think it could be solved instantaneously with goodwill — it could be solved right away.” That wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement to us.

How long will Israel fight in Gaza? One of the main questions we get from lawmakers in both parties is just how long will Israel’s war in Gaza last. Tens of thousands of Palestinians have died, while Hamas is still holding more than 100 hostages, including Americans. Netanyahu said if he had the weapons he wants from the United States, Israel would be able to stop the fighting much sooner:

“Hezbollah and Iran are perfectly aware of the fact that there have been stoppages. They interpret this as some kind of a breach between Israel and the United States. And the only way to end this is to come out and speak openly and let this be corrected as soon as possible.

“It’s not in order to continue the war indefinitely. It’s to one: win the war on Gaza speedily. And second, prevent a war on the Lebanese front.” 

U.S. officials, including Biden, question whether Netanyahu has prolonged the war to benefit himself politically.

Civilian casualties in Gaza. Since the beginning of Israel’s incursion into Gaza, more than 37,000 Palestinians have died, according to Palestinian authorities. Aid workers, women and children have all been killed by the IDF. Netanyahu said Israel has “gone out of its way” to avoid civilian casualties and suggested the criticism “resembles the blood libel that was leveled at the Jewish people throughout the Middle Ages and modern times.”

Netanyahu maintains that just a few dozen civilians were killed in Rafah, attempting to undercut the U.S. assertion that any military incursion would be dangerous for hundreds of thousands of Gazans who’ve fled there. Netanyahu also said that the civilian-to-combatant death ratio is roughly one to one.

This isn’t a remark that will please Democrats on Capitol Hill. 

— Jake Sherman

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