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Netanyahu bristles at US criticism of Gaza offensive but refrains from attacking Biden in talks with Republicans

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed Republican Senators via video call on Wednesday afternoon to discuss his concerns with mounting tensions about his planned invasion into Rafah and public support for Israel’s war in Gaza.

Senator Josh Hawley, who was in the room for the call, told reporters Mr Netanyahu closely monitors public US support for Israel amid the war. Mr Hawley also told The Independent that Israel’s planned invasion into Rafah was discussed in a Q&A with senators.

“He said, frankly, that an operation Rafah is necessary, and they were committed to seeing it through,” the Missouri senator told The Independent.

The city of Rafah, located in southern Gaza, is where some 1.4 million Palestinians are taking shelter after they were displaced by Israeli attacks in the North. White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the Biden administration would not support the offensive “without a credible plan” from the IDF.

The war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza has raged for months since a bloody terrorist attack on Israeli soil last October ended with more than 1,200 dead and more than 200 kidnapped.

Since the 7 October attack on Israel by Hamas — in which militants killed roughly 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 people hostage — the IDF has launched a continued siege on Gaza. Their attacks have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Now, the United Nations, the European Union and several international aid agencies are all warning of an imminent, widespread famine in Gaza.

Notably, Mr Netanyahu did not openly criticise President Joe Biden during the call, Mr Hawley told reporters. This comes after Mr Biden said he would consider conditioning aid to Israel if the Israel Defense Forces moved forward with their invasion of Rafah.

The prime minister did, however, openly criticise Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who gave a speech last week calling for new elections in Israel and an end to the Netanyahu administration.

“[Mr Netanyahu] was very direct and responded to Schumer,” Mr Hawley told reporters after the call. “He said he thought it was wholly inappropriate, and then he went on to say, ‘I think it’s totally outrageous to try and depose the leader of a sovereign nation who is democratically elected.’”

Senator Tommy Tuberville of Alabama told The Independent that Mr Netanyahu spoke to a friendly audience.

“It was pretty much what you thought he would say when he’s talking to people that are on his side,” he said.

Many Republicans have expressed outrage at Mr Schumer’s speech.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, an ardent critic of Mr Netanyahu’s offensive in Gaza, criticised him for speaking to Senate Republicans.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu may serve his own political interests, but he is not serving the interests of the people of Israel,” the Massachusetts Democrat told The Independent. “He thinks that the only way that Israel will get the support that helps Netanyahu is through the Republican Party.”

Mr Netanyahu requested to speak with Senate Democrats as well, but Mr Schumer declined, Punchbowl News reported. The Democrat did not directly address the accusations when asked in a press conference.

“When you make these issues partisan, you’re hurting the cause of Israel,” he told reporters.

Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also said Mr Netanyahu made a mistake speaking to Republicans given the historically bipartisan support for Israel.

“Why do we want to jeopardize that and trying to make this a partisan issue makes no sense to me at all,” Mr Cardin, who is Jewish, told The Independent.

Senator Peter Welch of Vermont, one of only four Democratic senators who support a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, said Mr Netanyahu making Israel a partisan issue was par for the course.

“It’s standard procedure,” he told The Independent. “So, Netanyahu, I think, is doing some damage.”

Mr Welch cited the fact that Mr Netanyahu has previously undercut Democratic presidents, as was the case when he delivered a joint address to Congress to try and kill the Iranian nuclear agreement. During his 2015 address, then-vice president Joe Biden sat right behind Mr Netanyahu.

“We’ve traditionally had bipartisan support for Israel,” said Mr Welch. “And he’s very actively undercutting that, which I think is a mistake for all of us.”