In call with Blinken, father of killed aid worker urges tougher US stance on Israel in Gaza

LONDON: A former director of the US State Department’s Office of Security and Human Rights has claimed the mood in the department is worse than during the Iraq war, on account of President Joe Biden’s policy on Gaza.

Charles Blaha told The Independent he had “never seen this much dissent,” adding: “I was in the State Department for 32 years, including during the Iraq War, and I have never seen this much unhappiness. It was even worse than Iraq. So yes, people are concerned.”

Pressure is growing on Israel to cease its military operation in Gaza, now in its sixth month, while the Biden administration has been criticized for its continued support for the Middle East country.

That pressure has only grown after the killing of seven aid workers, including a US citizen, earlier this month. Around 33,000 Palestinians are thought to have died in the conflict since Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 last year.

The White House recently approved a new delivery of bombs to Israel and is considering an $18 billion deal to sell fighter jets and other equipment to the Israeli military.

Josh Paul, who resigned as the director of the State Department’s bureau of political-military affairs over “an unprecedented unwillingness to consider the humanitarian consequences of our policy decisions” in Gaza, told The Independent that discontent in the department was growing and he was aware of at least seven internal memos critical of the White House’s stance.

“I’ve certainly heard from a lot of people in the department in recent weeks, at an increasing clip, who are just deeply upset, I can say horrified, by the way the department is working and moving forward on arms transfers in the context of what we’re seeing in Gaza,” he said.

“My impression is that there are a number of people who are trying to push things in a better direction. There are also probably a larger number of people who are just saying ‘I’m not going to touch this stuff.’

“The absence of a willingness to hold that debate when it comes to Israel is not proof of our commitment to Israel’s security. Rather, it is proof of our commitment to a policy that, the record shows, is a dead end — and proof of our willingness to abandon our values and turn a blind eye to the suffering of millions in Gaza when it is politically expedient.”

Annelle Sheline, who also resigned from the department because she “no longer wanted to be affiliated with this administration” over its arming of Israel, told The National: “There were certainly many people inside the State Department who are so distraught by what’s happening.”

Former State Department legal adviser Brian Finucane told The Independent: “Based on my conversations since October with people at the department, there is a real disconnect between the analysis and policy recommendations of State Department personnel relating to Gaza and Israel-Palestine generally, and decisions ultimately being made by the White House.”

Finucane, who specialized in advising on issues related to the laws of war, war crimes and arms transfers, added: “The president is the ultimate decider and on Gaza he’s been largely immune to the facts of this disastrous conflict, at least with respect to actual US policy as opposed to rhetoric.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken responded to internal discontent with a letter to staff in November, saying: “I know that for many of you the suffering caused by this crisis is taking a profound personal toll.”

In the letter, subsequently reported by Reuters, Blinken added: “The anguish that comes with seeing the daily images of babies, children, elderly people, women, and other civilians suffering in this crisis is wrenching. I feel it myself.”

In a call between Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, the president reportedly warned that the US’ future policy on Gaza would be determined by Israel announcing and enforcing “a series of specific, concrete, and measurable steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers.”

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