WASHINGTON/ LONDON/ BEIRUT: Facing a soaring death toll from Israel’s renewed offensive in southern Gaza, the Biden administration is trying to pressure its ally to minimize civilian deaths while stopping well short of the kind of measures that might force it to listen, such as threatening to restrict military aid.
Top US officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have urged Israel publicly to conduct a more surgical offensive in the south to avoid the heavy civilian casualties inflicted by its attacks in the north.
About 900 people in Gaza were killed in Israeli airstrikes between Friday when a truce ended and Monday, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, about the same number killed in strikes in Gaza over the four days following the Hamas cross-border raid on Israel on Oct. 7, though fewer than the 1,199 who died in the four days following the start of Israel’s ground offensive on northern Gaza Oct 28.
Washington is for now ruling out withholding delivery of weapons or harshly criticizing Israel as a means of changing its tactics because the US believes the existing strategy of privately negotiating is effective, according to two U.S. officials.
“We think what we’re doing is moving them” a senior US official said, citing how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shifted from refusing to allow aid into Gaza to allowing nearly 200 trucks of assistance a day, saying those improvements were the result of intense diplomacy, not threats.
The US official spoke after three days of resumed aerial bombardments of southern Gaza left residents pulling the bodies of children and adults from the rubble but the U.S. official said reducing military support to Israel would carry major risks.
The United States has called its support unwavering. The Israeli government appears unmoved by international demands to change its strategy.
“I must admit I sense that the prime minister feels zero pressure, and that we will do whatever it takes to achieve our military goals,” Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser Ophir Falk told Reuters last week when asked about the international pressure on Israel.
The United States gives Israel $3.8 billion in military aid annually, ranging from fighter jets to powerful bombs that could destroy Hamas tunnels, and the Biden administration has asked Congress to approve an additional $14 billion.
Such support gives Washington “significant leverage” over how the war against Hamas is conducted, said Seth Binder, director of advocacy at The Project on Middle East Democracy.
“Withholding certain types of equipment or delaying refilling stockpiles of various arms would force the Israeli government to adjust strategies and tactics because they would not be guaranteed to have more in the pipeline,” said Binder. “To date, the administration has demonstrated an unwillingness to use that leverage.” (Int’l Monitoring Desk)