Biden ally Sen. Chris Coons says he'd support putting conditions on aid if Israel pursues operation in Rafah

Nathan Posner/Anadolu via Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) -- Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat and close ally of President Joe Biden, said on CNN Thursday morning that if Israel pursues a large-scale military operation in Rafah without making provisions for citizens, it would be time for the U.S. to condition aid to Israel.

"I think we are at the point where President Biden has said and I have said and others have said if Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, were to order the [Israel Defense Forces] into Rafah at scale -- they were to drop thousand-pound bombs and send in a battalion to go after Hamas -- and make no provision for civilians or for humanitarian aid, that I would vote to condition aid to Israel," Coons said on CNN News Central.

This is a change in position for Coons.

"I've never said that before, I've never been here before. I've been a strong supporter of Israel the whole time I've served in Congress. We just appropriated another $3.3 billion in support in the last appropriations bill we did. The challenge is to make it clear that we support the Israeli people, that we want to and will continue to have a strong and close relationship with Israel -- but the tactics by which the current prime minister is making these decisions don't reflect the best values of Israel or the United States," Coons said.

Netanyahu has said going into Rafah is crucial for victory over Hamas, a U.S.-designated terrorist group, and to prevent future terror attacks. Biden has told Netanyahu that he believes it would be a mistake to invade Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinians have fled to seek shelter during the Israel-Hamas war, according to the United Nations.

The IDF has said it plans to push civilians toward "humanitarian islands" in the center of the Gaza Strip in advance of an offensive in Rafah.

Coons said he would continue to support targeted raids and special forces' raids against Hamas.

"But the IDF can bring humanitarian relief in through the north of Gaza. They just demonstrated this two, three weeks ago by escorting in convoys of trucks through a new opening in the very northern security perimeter of Gaza," Coons said. "It is the far north of Gaza where the IDF has the most control, where there is the most famine and the most urgency. I think we can move forward if we see real seriousness about addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza as well as the security crisis that Israel continues to face."

This comes amid a growing sentiment among Senate Democrats that the U.S. ought to modify the support it gives to Israel.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., told "This Week" Co-Anchor Martha Raddatz on March 31 that he thinks the United States should stop sending offensive weapons to Israel until humanitarian assistance is allowed into Gaza.

"So, my view, Martha, is until the Netanyahu government allows more assistance into Gaza, to help people who are literally starving to death, we should not be sending more bombs," he said.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., in a statement following the death of seven aid workers for World Central Kitchen in Gaza, called for a suspension of military operations.

"Israel must immediately suspend military operations inside Gaza and allow for a dramatic surge in humanitarian aid," Murphy said.

The national security supplemental passed by the Senate in February contains $14.1 billion in unconditioned aid to Israel. That bill, which also includes $60.06 billion to aid Ukraine, is currently awaiting action in House.

Speaker Mike Johnson has suggested he will amend or counter the bill with a version of his own.

If the House sends the bill back to the Senate, Democrats will face new considerations about whether to reapprove a package with unconditioned aid for Israel.

Thursday, April 4, 2024 at 4:31PM by Allison Pecorin, ABC News Permalink