Israel, not the US, will decide when to end its war against Hamas in Gaza, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday, in the wake of reports that Washington has been exerting pressure on Israel to wrap up operations by the end of the year.
Speaking to CNN’s Jake Tapper about the war, which has entered its third month, Blinken said that the US has been conducting discussions with Israel about its “duration” as well as “how it’s prosecuting this campaign against Hamas.”
“These are decisions for Israel to make,” he added.
Israel’s war with Hamas began with the terror group’s shock onslaught on October 7 in which thousands of terrorists burst into southern Israel from the land, air and sea, killing more than 1,200 people, most of them civilians slaughtered in their homes, communities and at a music festival, and seizing some 240 hostages.
In response, Israel launched an aerial campaign and subsequent ground operation through which the country has vowed to topple Hamas and end the terror group’s 16-year rule in the Strip.
Addressing the civilian death toll in the Gaza Strip, Blinken said that while he believes that Israel has the right “intent” when it comes to minimizing civilian casualties, “the results are not always manifesting themselves, and we see that both in terms of civilian protection and humanitarian assistance.”
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that since the start of the war, more than 17,500 people have been killed, mostly civilians. However, these figures cannot be independently verified and are believed to include some 7,000 Hamas terrorists, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.
During his CNN interview, Blinken sharply condemned the sexual violence carried out by Hamas on October 7, as well as those who have yet to speak out against it or who were slow to do so.
“I don’t know why countries, leaders, international organizations were so slow to focus on this, to bring it to people’s attention. I’m glad it is finally happening,” he said. “The atrocities that we saw on October 7 are almost beyond human description or beyond our capacity to digest. And we’ve talked about them before, but the sexual violence that we saw on October 7 is beyond anything that I’ve seen either.”
Graphic accounts from survivors of the attack and those who prepared bodies for burial detail acts of gang rape and mutilation carried out against women and girls, and an ongoing police investigation has been exploring evidence of post-mortem mutilation.
Blinken also defended the emergency sale to Israel of nearly 14,000 rounds of tank ammunition and called for quick congressional approval of more than $100 billion in aid for Israel, Ukraine, and other national security priorities.
A rare decision by the Biden administration to bypass Congress saw the State Department approve the emergency sale on Saturday.
Explaining that the needs of Israel’s military operations in Gaza justify the rare decision to bypass Congress, Blinken told CNN and ABC that “Israel is in combat right now with Hamas…and we want to make sure that Israel has what it needs to defend itself against Hamas.”
The sale is worth $106.5 million and includes 13,981 120 mm High Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose with Tracer tank cartridges, as well as US support, engineering, and logistics. The material will come from Army inventory.
The decision to proceed with the sale came as the Biden administration’s larger aid package was caught up in a debate over US immigration policy and border security.
The tank ammunition and related support constitute only a small portion of military sales to Israel, Blinken said, and added that the rest remains subject to congressional review: “It’s very important that Congress’s voice be heard in this,” he said.
Bypassing Congress with emergency determinations for arms sales is an unusual step that has in the past met resistance from lawmakers, who normally have a period of time to weigh proposed weapons transfers and, in some cases, block them.
While unusual, bypassing Congress is not an unprecedented decision, and it has been done when administrations see an urgent need for weapons to be delivered without waiting for lawmakers’ approval.