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US Defense Secretary emphasizes the urgency of alleviating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza to Israeli counterpart

The meeting in Washington came a day after Netanyahu canceled the visit of two of his advisors to the U.S. capital to discuss alternatives to the announced offensive on Rafah

Guerra entre Israel y Gaza
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (right) meets with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, this Tuesday at the Pentagon.Kevin Lamarque (REUTERS)
María Antonia Sánchez-Vallejo

Israel-U.S. relations may have reached a turning point, but not a breaking point because their bond is “unshakeable.” That is how U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin described the relationship between the two countries after meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, this Tuesday. The meeting occurred a day after Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister and the head of Gallant’s Likud party, lashed out at the White House for allowing the approval of a resolution for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the first in six months of war; in a clear sign of anger, he canceled the scheduled Washington visit of two of his advisors to study alternatives to the offensive on Rafah.

On his second day of meetings in the U.S., Gallant, whose agenda included issues of military collaboration and especially the reinforcement of his army’s air capacity, was also scheduled to meet with CIA Director William J. Burns, a veteran diplomat with good knowledge of the region who participated in negotiations between Israel and Hamas, co-sponsored by the U.S., Egypt and Qatar, in Doha last week.

Friction between the two allies over White House pressure on the Netanyahu government has brought the bilateral relationship to its lowest point in a long time. Washington’s insistence that Israel decrease the intensity of its offensive in Gaza to minimize civilian suffering was constant in the meeting between Gallant and Austin. “In Gaza today, the number of civilian casualties is far too high, and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low,” Austin told reporters before meeting with his counterpart at the Pentagon. “Gaza is suffering a humanitarian catastrophe, and the situation is getting even worse,” the Defense Secretary said, using a more forceful tone than the one the Biden administration used during the early months of the war.

An “unshakeable” bond

However, Austin also emphasized that Israel has the right to defend itself and that the United States will always stand by its side because their bilateral bond is “unshakeable.” He added that “the United States is Israel’s closest friend and that won’t change.” Washington provides billions of dollars annually in aid and supplies weaponry to its privileged partner in the Middle East; Egypt receives the second most aid in the Middle East.

The urgent alleviation of the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip, which is facing starvation due to the land blockade of aid convoys, was a new blow to the Israeli government on Tuesday, the day after Netanyahu canceled the Washington visit of two of his senior advisors to discuss alternatives to the announced ground offensive in Rafah in protest against the U.S. abstention in the Security Council that allowed the approval of the war’s first ceasefire resolution. That was another item on the agenda during the meeting between the two defense ministers. President Joe Biden has warned Netanyahu that an incursion against Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, would only lead to more chaos.

For his part, Gallant emphasized the threats to Israel and said the meeting would address ways to destroy Hamas and secure the release of Israeli hostages, as well as plans to return the displaced residents to their homes in Gaza’s border areas and towns bordering Lebanon.

In a measured communication exercise to temper obvious Israeli anger from the day before, both ministers were cautious in assessing their meeting’s objectives. Austin did not mention threats to limit or condition future military aid to Israel on improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza, a growing demand among members of Congress like Senator Bernie Sanders, who has urged a halt to all military aid to Israel. Gallant said only that the meeting would address the important cooperation between the two countries to secure Israel’s military advantage and capabilities, including the hypothetical reinforcement of its aviation.

The Israeli defense minister’s meeting with his U.S. counterpart came a day after Prime Minister Netanyahu lashed out at the United States for abstaining from the U.N. Security Council vote, calling it a “clear retreat” from previous U.S. positions and saying the move “hurts both the war effort and the effort to release the hostages.” The same day, Gallant met in Washington with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan. According to White House spokesman John Kirby, Monday’s meetings were not a substitute for those planned for Netanyahu’s two advisors’ trip, which was ultimately canceled.

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