Top Israeli official Ron Dermer began yelling during a meeting with U.S. officials about Gaza, officials say

WASHINGTON — A virtual meeting on Monday between top U.S. and Israeli officials to discuss Israel’s plans for a ground invasion of Rafah in Gaza grew contentious after the Americans pushed back on Israel’s proposal to evacuate Palestinian civilians sheltering there, said two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official familiar with the meeting.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, began yelling and waving his arms around as he defended the plan, the officials said. American officials in the meeting, including national security adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, kept calm and did not respond in kind, the officials said.

Israel presented a plan to move 1.4 million civilians over several weeks from Rafah to tents that would be set up north of the city, the officials said. But the Israeli proposal did not include plans for addressing sanitation needs or an assessment of how much food or water would be required or where it would come from, the officials said. They said the Israeli officials had only thought through sourcing for a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of tents that would be needed.

When U.S. officials said they did not see the idea as realistic, the Israeli officials erupted, the one former and two current U.S. officials said.Two administration officials noted that it’s long been routine for Dermer to become animated during meetings with U.S. officials and described the meeting as no more contentious than other recent conversations between the two governments. One official said the meeting was productive and designed to kickstart a process for U.S. and Israel to hold a series of discussions about ways Israel might proceed in its war against Hamas, not for the presentation of detailed plans.

The two current officials and one former official said the Israelis did not present much specificity about an actual ground invasion of Rafah. Those plans are expected to be discussed in more detail during another meeting between the U.S. and Israeli officials that’s set to take place next week.

After initial publication of this article, an Israeli official who attended the meeting said that the NBC News description of it was “a misrepresentation of what occurred in the room. The meeting was constructive and respectful, even during disagreements. There was no yelling at any point.”

Young Palestinians stand on a rooftoop overlooking the destruction in Rafah in the southern Gaza, on April 2, 2024, following overnight Israeli bombardment.
Young Palestinians stand on a rooftop Tuesday overlooking the destruction in Rafah following overnight Israeli bombardment.Mohammed Abed / AFP – Getty Images

A spokesperson for the National Security Council declined to comment. After the meeting Monday, John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said that “the whole reason to have that meeting was to talk about our concerns over a major ground operation in Rafah and to present viable alternatives for [the Israelis] to be more precise and more targeted.”

In addition to Sullivan and Blinken, the U.S. had more than seven other top officials from the White House, State Department and Pentagon in the virtual meeting. The Israeli contingent included Dermer and Israeli national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.

The meeting was convened after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called off an in-person meeting that he and President Joe Biden had agreed to have their teams hold in Washington, an attempt by Netanyahu to show displeasure with a U.S. decision to abstain from voting on, rather than veto, a resolution on the war in Gaza at the United Nations Security Council.