An isolated Israel continues the war

An isolated Israel continues the war

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Seven months on, Israel’s brutal war on Gaza shows no sign of ending. Instead, the Israeli government is intent on intensifying its military offensive in Rafah, the last refuge for a million Palestinians fleeing elsewhere from Gaza, which was laid waste by relentless bombardment. Israeli tanks have now advanced deeper, closing in on the outskirts of Rafah and raising the specter of a full-scale military invasion of the densely populated city. Its ‘evacuation order’ has already forced 300,000 people to flee the southern Gaza city. They have nowhere safe to go, according to UN officials, who also warn that a “full-blown famine” in the north is now moving to the south of Gaza.
International condemnation of Israel’s latest actions has been swift and strong. Denunciations have come from across the world along with warnings of the dangerous ramifications of a ground incursion into Rafah. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has warned of catastrophic consequences and said an attack would be a “strategic mistake, a political calamity and humanitarian nightmare.” European countries have said another humanitarian disaster would be created by the forcible displacement of people with the EU chief calling it “unacceptable”. US secretary of state Antony Blinken has said that an all-out offensive on Rafah would provoke “anarchy.”
In fact, the Biden administration has been warning Israel against an attack on Rafah out of concern it would lead to heavy civilian casualties. The American President himself conveyed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his country would lose Washington’s support if he went ahead with the assault. To reinforce this message the US for the first time, paused delivery of thousands of bombs to Israel. This was both a sign of growing US frustration as well as a tentative break from Washington’s hitherto blind support of Israel. For months, US officials had been voicing their opposition to an invasion of Rafah, but in vain. For Biden the risk in election year of a humanitarian catastrophe in Rafah would be high especially as opinion in his own party, especially among young Democrats, has become more critical of Israel as the war has raged on. The disagreement between Washington and Tel Aviv marks a new phase in their longstanding strategic relationship with some US officials quoted as saying that relations were at a “hinge point” in which the “suspended arms package could be just the first manifestation, depending on how Israel now acts in Rafah.”

The Biden administration, for all its apparent efforts to dissuade Tel Aviv from intensifying its military offensive, has not applied decisive pressure to compel it to change course.

Maleeha Lodhi

This as well as the loss of support for Israel’s actions from much of the international community has left Netanyahu increasingly isolated. But the more isolated he has become the more he has acted with impunity. Responding to this international isolation he declared, “If we have to stand alone, we will stand alone.” Another diplomatic setback for the Israeli government was the vote by the UN General Assembly last week for the Palestinian state to be admitted as a full member by the United Nations. The resolution was adopted by an overwhelming majority. It urged the Security Council to “consider the matter favorably.” This followed the US veto of a move in the Council for Palestine’s full membership. The GA vote was therefore also an act of censure of the US as well as Israel. Of course, full-member status can only be granted if the SC approves it but for now the GA resolution has given new diplomatic privileges to Palestine.
The shift in global opinion in support of Palestinians is also reflected in student protests across the Western world starting with US campuses. In dozens of college campuses across America, students came out in solidarity with the people of Gaza and demanded a permanent ceasefire. These protests were met with a heavy hand by university authorities and police involving hundreds of arrests. But that has not deterred students from protesting against Israel’s war on Gaza. In several universities, members of the faculty joined the student protests. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations also spread to many European countries where students occupied college premises and facilities to demand an end to Israel’s war on Gaza and calling on their governments to sever ties with Israeli institutions.
The growing international outrage at Israel’s actions and increasing diplomatic pressure on Tel Aviv has not however stopped it from continuing its ruthless military operations. With humanitarian assistance blocked from reaching desperate Palestinians, Israel has wilfully ignored calls by the global community to allow life-saving supplies and food aid into Gaza. The Biden administration, for all its apparent efforts to dissuade Tel Aviv from intensifying its military offensive, has not applied decisive pressure to compel it to change course. Netanyahu knows this and calculates Washington will not risk a breakdown in relations. In fact, the Biden administration is reported to have notified Congress of its plan to send a billion dollar arms package to Israel. Netanyahu has therefore refused to back down in the face of vehement censure by the rest of the international community. The question now is who and what can stop Israel from its genocidal war and an even bigger humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

- Maleeha Lodhi is a former Pakistani ambassador to the US, UK & UN. She posts at X/@LodhiMaleeha

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