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Speaker Mike Johnson said he anticipates Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will accept an invitation to speak to a joint meeting of Congress this year.

Israel faces huge moment with US over Rafah

As the crisis in Rafah grows more serious by the day, President Joe Biden continues to struggle with how to respond amid growing pressure from lawmakers in his own party. And the situation isn’t made any easier by the continued instability inside Israel, where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government lurches from crisis to crisis.

Netanyahu underwent surgery on Sunday for a hernia, the Israeli government said. Deputy Prime Minister Yariv Levin — also the justice minister — was forced to temporarily assume power. Netanyahu is expected to make a full recovery.

The emergency surgery took place amid growing protests in Tel Aviv over Netanyahu’s government and exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men from a nationwide military draft. Media reports described it as the largest protest since the war began. The Israeli government has called up hundreds of thousands of reservists and civilian draftees in the wake of the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas, but Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men have long been exempt.

Israel also faces a critical moment in the brutal military campaign against Hamas. More than 1.5 million Palestinians have fled to the southern Gaza city of Rafah as the Israeli military seeks to crush Hamas and other militant organizations behind the Oct. 7 attack.

But with Palestinian civilian deaths already topping 30,000, Biden and top administration officials — as well as other world leaders — are pressing Netanyahu to hold off on the Rafah offensive.

The Biden administration refused to block a U.N. resolution last week calling for a Gaza ceasefire. Netanyahu then canceled an Israeli delegation from traveling to Washington to discuss the Rafah crisis. However, U.S. and Israeli officials are expected to hold a virtual meeting on Monday, Axios reported.

The view from Democrats: Biden’s allies are continuing to slam Netanyahu as U.S. public opinion of Israel’s military operation sours. Appearing on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Netanyahu “sold his soul to the right-wingers in Israel in order to maintain power for himself.”

“Biden is for a two-state solution. Democrats are for a two-state solution. It is the only way for us to move forward,” Clyburn added. “And so this drop in support has nothing to do with the people of Israel and everything to do with Netanyahu.”

Netanyahu claimed during a pre-surgery press conference on Sunday that Israeli Defense Forces are prepared to remove more than one million Palestinian civilians from Rafah prior to any military operation.

“It’s the right thing to do operationally and internationally,” Netanyahu told reporters. “It takes time, but it will be done.”

Despite the frostiness between Biden and Netanyahu personally — as well as protests in both countries over Gaza — the U.S. government continues to supply Israel with massive amounts of military equipment. This comes as Israel presses forward in Gaza while simultaneously stepping up airstrikes in Syria and southern Lebanon aimed at Iran-backed Hezbollah units.

Some Democrats, like Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, have directly urged Biden to use the United States’ leverage — in the form of weapons transfers — to pressure Israel to change course in Gaza.

But the Washington Post reported Friday that the White House “quietly authorized the transfer of billions of dollars in bombs and fighter jets to Israel despite Washington’s concerns about an anticipated military offensive in southern Gaza that could threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians.”

Congress also approved $3.8 billion in new military aid for Israel as part of the minibus spending package that was passed prior to the Easter recess. Of that total, $3.3 billion is under the Foreign Military Financing program and must be disbursed within 30 days. The remaining $500 million is for the Iron Dome program, as well as ballistic missile defense research.

Implications for Ukraine aid: With the United States continuing to supply Israel with military equipment, does this change the political dynamics for a Ukraine package?

The massive $95 billion foreign aid package passed by the Senate included funding for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan. Israel still needs lots of economic support, but on the military side, it just received billions more from the U.S. government. Tying Israel and Ukraine funding together was one of the keys to passing the Ukraine aid. If there’s less of an emergency situation for Israel, this isn’t going to help the pro-Ukraine argument.

— John Bresnahan and Andrew Desiderio

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