Israel is seeking to install former British prime minister Tony Blair as a humanitarian coordinator for the Gaza Strip, according to a report Sunday, out of a desire to improve the humanitarian situation inside the Palestinian enclave and reduce international pressure as it continues to wage its war on Hamas.
The Ynet news outlet, citing unnamed senior officials, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hopes to leverage Blair’s experience as former envoy to the region for the Middle East Quartet to temper international concerns over the civilian cost of Israel’s campaign in Gaza.
The report indicated Blair has been contacted on the matter and talks have been ongoing in recent weeks. The former British leader’s office told Ynet in response that “he has not been given or offered a position,” but did not directly deny any contact.
Ynet said the exact definition, scope and authority of the proposed role had not yet been clearly defined, adding that there would be an emphasis on “providing medical treatment and medicines, and on the possibility of evacuating the wounded and sick from the Strip.”
According to the report, efforts at easing the humanitarian situation in Gaza are being coordinated by Israel’s health and defense ministries, with the former assisting in a number of projects in recent weeks, including efforts by international actors to set up field hospitals in Egypt and the arrival of a hospital ship from France.
The Defense Ministry and the IDF also understand that in order to obtain time for the war against Hamas, the military’s actions in Gaza need to be seen as legitimate, and that legitimacy is conditional on the humanitarian situation.
Israel has been engaged in a war with the terror group since October 7, when some 3,000 Hamas terrorists stormed the border with Israel, ravaging Israeli communities, killing at least 1,200 people and taking some 240 hostages. Israel has vowed to end Hamas’s rule over the Strip and its ability to endanger Israeli security.
As the war continues, the Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip has reported some 11,000 casualties of war. This number cannot be independently verified and is believed to include members of the terror group, as well as civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets that fell within the Strip.
Israel has focused its ground campaign and the majority of its airstrikes on northern Gaza, the seat of Hamas power, while urging civilians to evacuate southward, repeatedly opening humanitarian corridors to allow civilians to depart. The majority have done so, but tens of thousands are thought to remain.
It has also increasingly allowed trucks of humanitarian aid to enter the Strip’s south from Egypt through the Rafah crossing. Still, with water, food and medicine scarce, international organizations have warned the territory could face a humanitarian catastrophe, increasing pressure on Israel by Western leaders to do more for the civilian population.
Last week, Israel announced it would be formalizing the humanitarian pauses it has been observing in northern Gaza in order to allow for evacuations to the south, away from the bulk of the fighting. On Sunday, COGAT, the Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, said that 14,320 tons of humanitarian aid had entered the Strip since the beginning of the war.
“There is no limit to the amount of food, water and medical equipment that can enter Gaza,” COGAT said. “We invite the international community to coordinate and we will facilitate.”
Blair’s office said in a statement to Ynet that “Mr. Blair maintains an office in Israel and he continues to work on matters tied to Israel and the Palestinians. Understandably, he has conversations with people in the region and other places in order to see what can be done, but he was not given or offered the role.”
Blair served as British premier from 1997 to 2007 and as envoy for the Quartet from 2007 to 2015. The Middle East Quartet consists of the United Nations, the European Union, the United States and Russia, and was established to help mediate Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. It has been largely inactive in recent years, as Western relations with Russia have soured.
On October 11, Blair, who is a longtime member of Labour Friends of Israel, released a statement condemning Hamas’s brutal onslaught in southern Israel, and calling for change.
Statement from Tony Blair on Hamas' attack on Israel. pic.twitter.com/kPpSgEKJgb
— Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (@InstituteGC) October 11, 2023
“As the full nature of the barbarity and disgusting savagery of Hamas’ attack on Israel becomes clear, which the perpetrators know full well will result not only in grief and tragedy for Israelis but also for the people of Gaza, it becomes clear also that decades of conventional western diplomacy around the Israeli/Palestinian issue will need to be fundamentally re-thought,” he wrote.