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Israel’s Rafah Offensive: Is Biden’s ‘Red Line’ About to Snap?

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The White House announced on Tuesday that Israel’s actions in Rafah have not yet crossed President Joe Biden’s “red line.” This statement came as Israeli forces advanced further into Rafah, days after an airstrike triggered a massive fire that killed dozens of Palestinians.

Despite Israeli tanks rolling into central Rafah for the first time, sparking global outrage over civilian deaths in a tent camp for displaced persons, the Biden administration insisted that these actions did not amount to a “major ground operation.” Such an operation would breach Biden’s warning and potentially lead to a halt in U.S. weapon supplies to Israel.

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U.S. Response and International Outcry

John Kirby, the National Security Council spokesperson, assured that the U.S. is vigilantly monitoring Israel’s activities in Rafah. “We’re not turning a blind eye,” he said. Kirby defined a major ground operation as involving “thousands and thousands of troops moving in a maneuvered, concentrated, coordinated way against a variety of targets on the ground.”

The airstrike that caused the devastating fire was described by a U.S. official as a “horrific incident” but attributed to an airstrike that went “horribly wrong” rather than a deliberate large-scale offensive.

In a previous interview with CNN, Biden had made it clear that an Israeli incursion into Rafah would have serious consequences. “If they go into Rafah, I’m not supplying the weapons that have been used historically to deal with Rafah,” he said. Kirby reiterated that Israeli tanks were operating along the Philadelphi Corridor, not within Rafah itself.

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Rising Voices of Concern and Criticism

The fire from the airstrike in Rafah’s Tal al-Sultan neighborhood killed at least 45 people, including children, according to local health officials. Hala Rharrit, a former U.S. diplomat who resigned in protest over U.S. policy on Gaza, criticized the administration for trying to “wiggle their way out” of the red line commitment. She questioned the distinction between ground incursions and aerial bombardments in causing civilian casualties.

The attack has increased international pressure, with the U.N.’s top court ordering Israel to halt its offensive in Rafah. A U.N. Security Council vote on a ceasefire resolution, led by Algeria, is expected soon, demanding an immediate end to Israel’s operations.

Israeli Defense Forces’ Explanation

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari acknowledged the investigation into the Rafah strike, admitting the fire’s unexpected nature and suggesting it might have been caused by weapons stored in the area or a struck fuel tank. The incident has intensified calls for the U.S. to reconsider its stance.

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Kirby, addressing the media, rejected the notion that the U.S. was indifferent to Palestinian casualties. “We don’t want to see a single more innocent life taken,” he said. The Gaza Health Ministry reports over 36,000 deaths since the start of Israel’s offensive, which was launched in response to Hamas’ October 7 attacks that killed about 1,200 people and resulted in 250 hostages being taken.

Looking Ahead and Historical Echoes

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi indicated that the conflict is expected to continue as Israel aims to dismantle Hamas’s capabilities. Biden’s red line recalls former President Obama’s 2012 warning about chemical weapons use in Syria—a boundary that critics argue was not enforced, likening it to “disappearing ink.”

In summary, while the Biden administration asserts that Israel has not yet breached its red line in Rafah, the situation remains filled with tension and international scrutiny, reflecting broader geopolitical and humanitarian concerns.

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