Netanyahu and Biden slated to speak Thursday

Senior Israeli official warns of growing ‘shoot first, ask later’ culture in IDF

Head of World Central Kitchen accuses Israel of ‘systematically’ targeting aid convoy, says WCK was in IDF-controlled area; international criticism continues to pour in

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

People gather around the remains of a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen that was hit by an Israeli strike the previous day, in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 2, 2024. (AFP)
People gather around the remains of a car used by US-based aid group World Central Kitchen that was hit by an Israeli strike the previous day, in Deir al-Balah in the central Gaza Strip on April 2, 2024. (AFP)

A culture has percolated in some corners of the IDF in which soldiers are “shooting first [in Gaza] and asking questions later,” a senior Israeli official said Wednesday, as anger over the killing of seven aid workers in an airstrike earlier this week simmered in capitals around the world, further straining Jerusalem’s diplomatic ties.

The admission came as Israel said an internal probe was continuing into what led soldiers to carry out multiple strikes on a World Central Kitchen convoy driving within what was supposed to be a de-conflicted humanitarian corridor late Monday, killing six foreign-based staffers, as well as a Palestinian staffer.

The senior Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, pointed to both the killing of the WCK staffers, who had been transporting aid sent to Gaza via ship, and a December incident in which troops opened fire on and killed three Israeli hostages who managed to escape captivity and were waving a white flag.

Both that incident and the one on Monday represented violations of the IDF’s rules of engagement, the senior official told The Times of Israel.

“Soldiers are operating under immense pressure in very difficult conditions in which Hamas embeds itself within the civilian population, but the rules of engagement are designed to help deal with such conditions, and they’re too often being ignored,” said the senior Israeli official.

The comments signaled growing unease in both Israel and abroad with the toll of the Israeli military campaign against Hamas, which was launched in response to the October 7 onslaught in which Palestinian terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took 253 hostages. According to unverified claims from Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, over 32,000 Gazans have died since October 7. The figure is believed to include both Hamas terrorists and civilians, some of whom were killed as a consequence of the terror group’s own rocket misfires. The Israel Defense Forces says it has killed at least 13,000 terrorists in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 gunmen killed inside Israel on October 7. More than 250 IDF soldiers have been killed in Gaza.

(From L-R) Hostages Yotam Haim, Samar Talalka and Alon Lulu Shamriz, who were killed mistakenly by IDF troops in Gaza on December 15, 2023. (Courtesy)

The military has apologized for the strike on the WCK vehicles, with IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi saying it happened because of a misidentification, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it a “tragic case” and promised it would be investigated to the end.

Netanyahu was due to speak by phone Thursday with US President Joe Biden, Israeli and US officials said, their first call since the strike on the WCK convoy, which elicited blistering criticism from Washington.

The US official, who was familiar with planning for the call, was not authorized to comment publicly and requested anonymity to discuss plans for the call. The statement came as a top White House official said the administration had no plans to carry out its own investigation of what led to the strike that killed three British citizens, a Polish citizen, an Australian and a Canadian-American dual citizen, as well as a Palestinian driver whose remains were handed over to his family for burial in Gaza.

The other bodies were driven into Egypt through the Rafah crossing Wednesday, according to the Palestinian Crossings Authority, which oversees border crossings.

The victims of the IDF strike on a World Central Kitchen convoy in Gaza (Clockwise from top right):
Saifeddin Issam Ayad Abutaha, Lalzawmi (Zomi) Frankcom, Damian Soból, Jacob Flickinger, James Kirby, James (Jim) Henderson and John Chapman. (World Central Kitchen/X)

Celebrity chef Jose Andres, who founded WCK, charged Wednesday that Israel had targeted the organization’s convoy “systematically, car by car.”

This was not a “bad luck situation where, ‘oops,’ we dropped the bomb in the wrong place,” Andres told Reuters. “Even if we were not in coordination with the (Israel Defense Forces), no democratic country and no military can be targeting civilians and humanitarians.”

He also wrote in a Yedioth Ahronoth op-ed on Wednesday that “Israel is better than the way this war is being waged” and added that “It’s time for the best of Israel to show up.”

He later echoed those comments during an interview with Israeli television on Wednesday evening.

“The airstrikes on our convoy I don’t think were an unfortunate mistake. It was really a direct attack on clearly marked vehicles whose movements were known by everybody at the IDF,” he said.

“I know Israelis. I have many friends that are Israelis and Jewish. I know Israelis, they are better than this war being waged. I know that they are better than blocking food and medicines to civilians,” he told Channel 12 news.

“We were feeding Israelis. We were next to the people of Israel hours after entire communities were massacred [on October 7]. We were there next to the Israeli people. We did more than two million meals. We were in many kibbutzim. We were in the north,” Andres continued.

“If we think about Passover — what are the lessons that we know from Passover? Lessons that every Israeli knows? That in Passover, you will feed the strangers. You will feed the strangers because the strangers fed you. Let’s embrace the meaning of Passover by making sure we will feed every stranger today.”

World Central Kitchen founder Jose Andres is interviewed by Channel 12 on April 3, 2024. (Screen capture/Channel 12)

Asked about his conversation Tuesday with US President Biden, Andres said: “Nobody questions President Biden’s support for Israel, and I believe obviously Israel has and had all the right to defend her people. But defending your people is not killing everybody else around.

“I’ve been in Gaza myself. I met…,” he broke off tearfully, then resumed “… and some of the people that died were my friends… Zomi [Frankcom, one of the seven fatalities] is the nicest angel you will meet, a woman that has been in so many places around the world feeding people. This was a good soul.”

In this undated photo, Zomi Frankcom of Australia, right, one of the seven aid workers from World Central Kitchen killed by an Israeli air strike in Gaza on Monday, poses for a picture with Mikolaj Rykowski, President of the Free Place Foundation. (Free Place Foundation’s Facebook via AP)

“I think the Israeli government has to open more routes — that’s what I told President Biden. Needs to open more land routes and [allow in more food and] medicine today. Netanyahu can make that happen just by picking up the phone and asking for that simple thing to happen.”

Andres was also asked if there could have been terrorists in the cars, and whether someone could have exploited his staff unwittingly.

“Obviously, I cannot speak about what we still don’t know. But what I can tell you is that World Central Kitchen were in a deconflicted zone; we were in an area that was highly controlled by the IDF, that there is no way anybody moves in and out without the IDF doing long searches,” he said. “So I’m highly skeptical that this would be the case.”

“I do believe Israel and the Israeli people are better than that. Let’s bring out our best angels today. Let’s make sure we stop the continuous killing of everything that moves in Gaza.”

A member of the World Central Kitchen prepares a pallet with the humanitarian aid for transport to the port of Larnaca from where it will be shipped to Gaza, at a warehouse near Larnaca, Cyprus, on March 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias, File)

‘Obligations to the innocent people of Gaza’

International criticism of the strike continued to pour in Wednesday. Poland’s deputy foreign minister Andrzej Szejna told Polish state news agency PAP he had summoned Israel’s ambassador Yacov Livne for talks “about the new situation in Polish-Israeli relations and about the moral, political and financial responsibility.”

He said having such a conversation was important for “our relations, but also for the family of the victim of this tragic event.”

Livne said on Wednesday that he had asked local authorities to seek contact with the killed relief worker’s family.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly called for a full investigation into the strike on Wednesday, saying that Israel needed to respect international law and adding that Canada would make sure it does.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the air strike was “insufficient” and “unacceptable.”

“We are waiting for a much more detailed clarification of what the causes have been, bearing in mind that the Israeli government knew about the actions and the itinerary of this NGO on the ground in Gaza,” Sanchez told a Doha news conference at the end of a three-nation tour of the Middle East.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly speaks with the media as she arrives for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers at NATO headquarters in Brussels, April 3, 2024. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Meanwhile, one of Israel’s staunch allies — the UK — faced pressure as a result of the strike with the opposition Labour Party demanding that the Conservative government publish legal advice it has received on whether Israel has broken international humanitarian law during the war in Gaza and ban arms sales to Israel if so.

Two smaller opposition parties, the centrist Liberal Democrats and secessionist Scottish National Party, also called on the government to halt arms sales to Israel.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak did not commit to publishing the legal advice but said the UK followed a strict “set of rules, regulations and procedures” over licensing arms exports.

Also Wednesday, after Biden said he was outraged at the incident a day earlier, the White House said that it didn’t believe the deaths of the aid workers would affect ongoing negotiations for a hostage deal.

“The ceasefire and hostage negotiations are ongoing,” White House national security spokesman John Kirby told reporters in a briefing. “I wouldn’t anticipate any particular impact on those discussions as a result of the strike.”

He did, however, add that “it’s not the first time that this has happened and so yes, we’re frustrated by this.”

Kirby also told reporters that the Biden administration continued to support Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas. But he said Israel must do more to prevent the killing and wounding of innocent civilians and aid workers as it carries out its operations in Gaza.

“As a modern military and a democracy, they have obligations to the innocent people of Gaza and they have not always have met those obligations,” Kirby said. “We are concerned about the methods too.”

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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