Israel risks paying the price when confronting the US over the Gaza war
President Joe Biden (left) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: AP

“If we don’t see changes on their part, it’s going to have to be changes on our part,” says National Security Council spokesman John Kirby.

Israel must present a plan in the “coming hours and days” to better protect aid workers and civilians trapped in Gaza, or the United States could alter its policy of unlimited support, the White House said today, in the clearest signal of growing frustration in Washington over Israel’s military activities after six months of war.

“I’m not going to advance any possible political decisions: What we want to see are some real changes on the Israeli side,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at the White House. “And, you know, if we don’t see changes on their part, it’s going to have to be changes on our part.”

Kirby’s comments come days after Israel’s deadly attack on vehicles transporting humanitarian workers from the José Andrés World Central Kitchen, an action that has prompted a call between US President Joe Biden and the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

During that 30-minute conversation, Biden demanded that Netanyahu announce and implement a series of measures to address harm to civilians, humanitarian suffering and the safety of humanitarian workers, according to a White House statement.

“What we want to see, and hope to see in the coming hours and days, is a drastic increase in humanitarian aid, the opening of new border crossings and a reduction in violence against civilians and, of course, against humanitarian workers,” Kirby added. “We want to see that, even as the Israelis carry out their investigation [into the attack], they are willing and able to take practical and immediate steps to protect humanitarian workers on the ground and demonstrate that… they have taken steps to mitigate the harm to civilians.

 

Kirby declined to “advance” what policy measures Washington might take if Israel presents a plan that does not meet the White House’s expectations.

According to the UN, more than 180 aid workers have died since the war began on October 7, while Palestinian figures put the total number of fatalities in Gaza at over 30,000.

Although the Biden administration’s frustrations over Israel’s handling of the war have been boiling over, today’s announcement was the first time it has publicly threatened to change course, a move that could potentially mean greater oversight of the weapons it delivers through military aid and foreign military sales.

While the administration waits to see what Israel decides to do, it is moving ahead with its plans to build a floating dock, also called joint logistics over-the-shore (JLOTS), off the coast of Gaza.

“JLOTS is still underway; we hope to reach full operational capability by the end of the month, early May,” Pentagon press secretary Pat Ryder told reporters today.

“The attack certainly doesn’t make that job any easier,” he added later. “But that has not deterred us from continuing to work with groups and [non-governmental organizations] NGOs to find solutions, that is what we have been tasked with.”

How Congress could block arms supplies to Israel

Some key players on Capitol Hill are indicating that they no longer expect a change in Israel’s tactics.

Asked during an interview on CNN whether the United States should impose conditions on military aid to Israel, Democratic Senator Chris Coons said: “I think we’re at that point.”

Coons, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, added that he could support conditioning military aid if Israel “continues large-scale military operations in Rafah without making any provision for civilians.”

In 2016, the two countries signed a 10-year agreement under which the United States agreed to provide $38 billion in military aid – including $33 billion in Foreign Military Financing, which has to be spent by Israel on American-made equipment. , and another $5 billion in missile defense technologies. However, the agreements must still be approved by Congress, leaving lawmakers two main avenues to block arms sales to Jerusalem.

Before the State Department formally notifies Congress of a proposed sale, it presents the agreement to the president and ranking members of the Senate and House Foreign Affairs committees, known in Congress as the “four corners. Any of those lawmakers have the ability to covertly block the deal, as several members did in major sales to Turkey over several years following Ankara’s purchase of a Russian air defense system, as Defense News reported in 2020.

Lawmakers could also block the deal by passing a joint resolution of disapproval in both the House and Senate, but Congress has never successfully used that mechanism to prevent a sale from going ahead, according to the U.S. Research Service. Congress. The House of Representatives is unlikely to pass such a measure due to the Republican Party’s support for Israel.

During an interview with CNN, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren stated that the United States “cannot approve the sale of weapons to a country that violates our own laws in this regard, and that includes access to humanitarian aid.” But, although she noted that “Congress has responsibility in this matter and I am willing to assume it,” she stopped short of committing to sponsoring proposed legislation to block the deal.

Ashley Roque and Valerie Insinna