Biden’s Rafah ‘Red Line’ Is a Green Light for ‘Death and Destruction’


Aaron Maté – TRANSCEND Media Service

Photo by Ashraf Amra/Anadolu via Getty Images

Pretending to oppose a Rafah assault, the White House facilitates a new Israeli massacre at a Gaza tent camp.

27 May 2024 – After months of unrelenting Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza, President Biden and his top aides insisted that they had had enough.

When it comes to an Israeli assault on Rafah, where more than one million displaced people had fled, that would be a “red line,” Biden said in March. “I’m not supplying the weapons … to deal with that problem,” he promised earlier this month. The White House, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared in April, “cannot support a major military operation in Rafah.” For the US, “it’s imperative that people are able to get out of the way of any conflict,” and “we have yet to see a plan.”

Israel’s latest massacre in a Rafah tent camp for displaced civilians, in which dozens of people including children were burned and maimed while sheltering near United Nations warehouses, shows that the White House’s “red line” in Rafah was in fact a green light for continued Israeli atrocities. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, the attack occurred in the Tal as Sultan area of Rafah, where the Israeli military had declared a so-called “safe zone” and encouraged Palestinians to flee to for protection.

Asked two weeks ago “what exactly is [Biden’s] red line,” and whether that would entail “withholding weapons”, Blinken answered tersely: “Look, we don’t talk about red lines when it comes to Israel.” In other words, when Blinken’s boss, Biden, did talk about a “red line” in March, he was simply lying – just as when he falsely and repeatedly claimed to have seen photos of Israeli Oct. 7th victims that do not in fact exist.

After laying down an invisible “red line,” the White House also ensured that its one concrete use of US leverage was a meaningless gesture. When Biden paused a weapons shipment to Israel for the first time earlier this month, the administration claimed it was a “shot across the bow” intended to underscore US opposition to a Rafah assault. Yet one US official acknowledged that the move would have no impact. “Despite the pause,” the official explained, according to the Washington Post, “the Israeli military has enough weapons supplied by the U.S. and other partners to conduct the Rafah operation if it chooses to cast aside U.S. objections.” To underscore that its objections were meaningless, the White House quickly followed the token pause with a new authorization of $1 billion in arms sales to Israel, primarily in tank ammunition.

To ensure that US weapons shipments could continue uninterrupted, Blinken’s State Department then released a Congressionally mandated report that adopted the same double game. The report found that it was “reasonable to assess” that US weapons “have been used by Israeli security forces since October 7 in instances inconsistent” with international law in Gaza, yet nonetheless concluded that there was insufficient information to do anything about it.

The report also found that Israeli “action or inaction … contributed significantly” to “insufficient” levels of food and aid inside Gaza, yet ultimately concluded that the US does not “currently assess that the Israeli government is prohibiting or otherwise restricting the transport or delivery of U.S. humanitarian assistance.” The report’s conclusions contradict virtually every aid organization operating in Gaza, as well as the US government’s own experts. Rather than demand that Israel end its aid blockade of Gaza, the US has spent over $320 million building a “humanitarian pier” that has only managed to supply a trickle of supplies.

In defending the State Department report’s incoherence, Blinken cited what he called “an incredibly complex military environment.” When it comes to Hamas, he added: “You have an enemy that intentionally embeds itself with civilians. It’s very, very difficult in the heat of war to make a definitive assessment about any individual incident.” By definition, Hamas is “embedded” throughout Gaza because its 2 million inhabitants are trapped inside the same strip of land under a US-backed Israeli siege. The Gaza military environment is therefore the opposite of “complex”: it is a defenseless, occupied territory where, according to Israel and the White House, every civilian is fair game.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan made this explicit just days ago. When it comes to judging Israel’s operations in Rafah, Sullivan told reporters, “there’s no mathematical formula.” Instead, he explained, “what we’re going to be looking at is whether there is a lot of death and destruction from this operation or if it is more precise and proportional.”

In other words, rather than unequivocally oppose more Israeli “death and destruction” in Rafah and vowing consequences, the US would only acknowledge new atrocities after facilitating them.

In an additional endorsement of Israel’s Rafah assault, Sullivan claimed that he had been briefed “on refinements that Israel has made to its plans to achieve its military objectives while taking account of civilian harm.” The day prior, an unnamed senior administration official had claimed that: “It’s fair to say that the Israelis have updated their plans. They’ve incorporated many of the concerns that we have expressed.” No detail was provided on what these “updated” “refinements” entailed.

A few days before the Rafah tent camp massacre, the State Department also claimed that Blinken, in a call with Israeli Minister Benny Gantz, “reiterated the President’s position on a major Rafah operation.” Notably, the statement did not bother to specify what “the President’s position” was. By that point, the White House had made perfectly clear that it would claim to oppose a “major Rafah operation,” all while allowing massacres that it would pretend are not “major.”

Blinken’s statement came as the International Court of Justice ordered Israel to comply with the Genocide Convention and “immediately halt its offensive” in Rafah. It also demanded that Israel immediately allow the “unhindered provision … of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

Yet the White House “was conspicuously silent” on the ICJ ruling, the Washington Post noted, “a stark contrast to an almost identical ruling by the ICJ in March 2022,” which ordered Russia to “immediately suspend” military operations in Ukraine. Back then, the State Department lauded the court’s “vital role in the peaceful settlement of disputes under the U.N. Charter.”

Rather than comment on the ICJ decision, the Post added, the National Security Council directed spokespeople to respond to questions with a single sentence: “We’ve been clear and consistent on our position on Rafah.”

Yet with its invisible “red line” and procession of mealy mouthed, incoherent statements, the White House has been the opposite of clear. When it comes to Israel’s mass murder campaign in Gaza, Biden and his aides have only been consistent in deceptively fueling death and destruction.


Aaron Maté is a journalist with The Grayzone, where he hosts “Pushback.” He is also a contributor to Real Clear Investigations and the temporary co-host of “Useful Idiots.” In 2019, Maté won the Izzy Award for outstanding achievement in independent media for Russiagate coverage in The Nation.


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