Dissident US Officials Claim that Biden’s Pressure on Israel is Insufficient

According to current and former US officials who have spoken to the BBC, some believe that President Biden’s response to last week’s deadly attack on aid workers in Israel falls short and will not effectively address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Reports indicate a rise in internal dissent within the government, prompting calls for stronger measures regarding arms transfers.

Israel has announced its decision to establish additional aid routes in response to President Biden’s warning to reevaluate policies. The strikes carried out by Israel resulted in the unfortunate deaths of seven individuals, including a US citizen, who were working for the food charity World Central Kitchen (WCK).

However, Annelle Sheline, an official working in human rights who recently resigned from the state department in protest, described the tougher line as “too little, too late.”

According to her, the White House had the opportunity to take action months ago and potentially avert a famine in northern Gaza.

The relationship between the US and Israel is facing significant challenges, with President Biden’s recent phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu being a pivotal moment in the ongoing conflict.

Shortly after Mr. Biden’s announcement, Israel swiftly responded by announcing the opening of the Erez crossing in northern Gaza and the port of Ashdod in southern Israel to facilitate aid. Additionally, Israel committed to enhancing security coordination with organisations involved in delivering assistance to Palestinians.

During a recent interview, Mr. Biden expressed his opinion that the Israeli prime minister’s approach to Gaza was misguided.

Days after the Israeli strike on WCK workers and before Israel announced the opening of the Erez crossing, he expressed the opinion that his ally should consider calling for a ceasefire with Hamas. He also emphasised the importance of allowing total access to all food and medicine for Gaza.

In light of recent actions by Mr. Netanyahu, it is evident that the concerns expressed by seven current and former US government officials highlight the growing internal opposition to certain policies. According to officials, numerous government workers are expressing their frustrations in unofficial forums, including several groups on messaging apps that have hundreds of administration staff as members.

A representative from the US state department expressed support for the expression of diverse opinions on policy matters, emphasising the importance of using the designated channels to communicate them. The spokesperson emphasised that the US has consistently communicated to Israel, both publicly and privately, the importance of adhering to international humanitarian law.

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Israel’s efforts falling short, according to an official

Four individuals currently working in different government departments have recently shared their insights with the BBC, requesting to remain anonymous. Two individuals hold positions in sectors closely tied to international relations, particularly concerning Israel and Gaza.

An individual with extensive national security experience noted that the internal opposition has reached a level of depth, breadth, and despair that surpasses any previous point in the war. Although President Biden’s recent actions were appreciated, critics argue that they fell short of adequately addressing the pressing need for immediate action.

“According to the official, it seems that Israel is simply doing the minimum necessary to navigate through the day and prevent a halt in arms transfers,” the official commented.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken highlighted the clearance of over 400 trucks to enter Gaza the previous day, emphasising the significance of Israel’s “important commitments.” However, according to UN officials who spoke to the BBC, the actual figure was 223, which is less than half of the daily number considered necessary to address the crisis.

According to several officials who spoke with the BBC, there is a desire for the Biden administration to consider linking arms supplies to Israel with the goal of preventing a widespread humanitarian crisis.

There has been growing pressure on the administration to provide clarity on whether a comprehensive review is being conducted by the state department’s Office of the Legal Advisor regarding Israeli actions in Gaza and their compliance with international law. This review could potentially result in a restriction on US weapons shipments.

According to Josh Paul, a former senior official who resigned last year in protest, the state department has not requested an assessment from the office. Paul believes that this is because the department is not interested in receiving the answer it would provide. The state department has chosen not to confirm whether it has referred any cases to the office.

The concerns expressed by officials align with the sentiments of many Democrats in Congress, including Nancy Pelosi, a close ally of Biden and former House Speaker. Pelosi, along with others, signed a letter on Friday urging the US to temporarily halt weapons transfers to Israel following the strikes on the WCK aid convoy on April 1st, which caused widespread international outrage. The Israeli military described the attack as a “serious accident”.

Israel has consistently denied any wrongdoing in Gaza, attributing the civilian deaths from its offensive to Hamas for using civilian areas as their base of operations. The Israeli government claims to have responded to a significant threat to the country following the attacks by Hamas on 7 October. These attacks resulted in a high number of casualties and hostages being taken back to Gaza.

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The three individuals interviewed by the BBC consist of Ms Sheline and Mr Paul, who resigned in protest, and Brian Finucane, a lawyer with ten years of experience at the state department providing advice on laws of war and arms transfers.

Civil servants explore ways to express their disagreement
There has been ongoing disagreement within the US government regarding Gaza policy since the early stages of the war. In February, a letter obtained by the BBC revealed that hundreds of civil servants in the US and European countries expressed concerns about their governments potentially being involved in “grave violations of international law.”

During the time, Robert Ford, a former US ambassador, noted that unlike the situation before the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, where many officials had reservations but remained silent, the gravity of the Gaza war compelled career civil servants to openly express their concerns.

According to another US official who spoke to the BBC on condition of anonymity, there are ongoing exchanges taking place in multiple chat groups on messaging apps Signal and WhatsApp. Amidst these discussions, staff expressed frustration and disbelief regarding what they saw as the Biden administration’s uncritical acceptance of Israeli narratives.

“There seems to be a great deal of scepticism…” The official acknowledged that people are quick to identify inconsistencies and fallacies.

The aid workers from World Central Kitchen who tragically lost their lives on 1 April were involved in transporting food aid to Gaza, where land routes under Israeli control were heavily restricted.

An alternative system of deliveries by sea, along with proposals for a US-built floating pier to facilitate aid in Gaza, were both devised as a solution to the challenge of obtaining Israeli permission for aid to enter through other means, according to a long-serving official in US national security.

Following Israel’s recent announcement on aid routes, Mr. Blinken emphasised that the United States will assess the effectiveness of the measures taken to protect civilians.

Israel has previously accused the United Nations of aid delivery failures, a claim that has been strongly denied by the UN and humanitarian groups. Israel has also alleged that Hamas steals supplies.

A third government official expressed concern over the timing of the increased US pressure, suggesting that it may send a troubling message regarding the value placed on Palestinian lives. According to Humanitarian Outcomes, a group that monitors aid-worker deaths, nearly 200 Palestinian aid workers have lost their lives in Gaza since the beginning of the war.

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Worries arise regarding the transfer of weapons in the United States

The officials’ statements indicate a growing concern and willingness within the Biden administration to scrutinise the ethical and legal justifications for US support to Israel, which has been a longstanding pillar of Washington’s policy across multiple administrations. There were concerns raised about the support being seemingly unconditional, with critics pointing to the $3.8bn (£3bn) annual military assistance package from Washington to Israel and the potential sale of $18bn worth of F-15 fighter jets.

Despite the tragic loss of over 33,000 lives in Gaza, the supply of arms has remained unaffected, as reported by the Hamas-run health ministry, whose data is acknowledged by the US government.

Israel claims to have eliminated over 9,000 individuals affiliated with Hamas and other terrorist organisations in Gaza. However, no concrete evidence has been presented to support this claim. It has consistently refuted any allegations of causing harm to a significant number of civilians, whether intentionally or due to negligence. However, concerns about the alleged indiscriminate targeting have been on the rise, prompting calls in the US to evaluate whether Israel’s military operation violated international humanitarian law, which prohibits the deliberate targeting of civilians.

Last week, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller stated that the US has not yet determined whether Israel has violated international humanitarian law. However, he emphasised that the assessments are still ongoing.

However, according to Mr. Finucane, a former state department lawyer, he believes that the assessments may be greatly exaggerating the truth.

He criticised a recent process implemented by the department in September to monitor any civilian harm caused by partner military forces, calling it lacking in structure and merely a set of guidelines.

According to Mr. Finucane, a senior advisor at the International Crisis Group, US policy has failed to make necessary adjustments despite the clear evidence of its shortcomings, as highlighted in the dissent letter by officials in February.

In response to the criticism, the state department spokesman acknowledged that Mr. Blinken values feedback and opinions, which prompts him to reflect on his own policymaking.

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