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After Palestinian civilians were killed by an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, the White House clarified that the incident did not cross the red line drawn by President Joe Biden regarding the provision of certain American weapons to Israel. The exact location of this red line has been somewhat unclear since Biden first mentioned it in March. Biden’s aides initially dismissed talk of red lines as a media obsession but have since acknowledged that there are actions Israel could take that would prompt a new approach from the United States.

Despite being wary of setting parameters on Israel’s response to the conflict prompted by Hamas’ attack on Israel, Biden and his team have indicated that there are actions that Israel could take that would trigger a shift in US policy. Biden has stated in interviews and private discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that there are actions that would prompt him to rethink the level of American support for Israel. However, Biden has been vague about how he will quantify such a decision, leading to frustrations and confusion about his stance among Democrats and international allies who view Israel’s actions as crossing a red line.

The rift between Biden and Netanyahu widened as the situation escalated, with American officials expressing concern about Israel’s plans for a major operation in Rafah. Biden began considering limiting the weapons the US provides Israel, a move he had been reluctant to take previously. By May, Biden had paused shipments of heavy bombs out of fear of their use in densely populated areas like Rafah. Some Democrats called for conditioning US aid to Israel, and Biden stated that he would withhold certain types of weapons if Israel conducted a major military operation in Rafah.

Despite Biden’s statements, White House aides emphasized that a major military operation by Israel would be obvious and that they would make judgments based on a totality of factors. Following an Israeli military strike in Rafah that resulted in numerous civilian deaths and injuries, the White House acknowledged the tragedy but stated that the episode did not meet Biden’s bar for stopping certain weapons shipments. The lack of clarity on what constitutes a major ground invasion has led to ongoing debate and concerns about the situation.

The strike on the displacement camp in Rafah raised further questions about the precise nature of Israeli attacks and their impact on civilians. While the White House stated that a major ground invasion would involve large numbers of troops and coordinated maneuvers on multiple targets, it is unclear whether the recent attacks meet this criteria. The senior administration official believes that Israel may conduct attacks that are precise enough to satisfy Biden’s requirements but still pose risks to civilians. Overall, the situation remains complex, with ongoing discussions about the appropriate response to Israel’s actions in the conflict.

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