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Gaza offensive putting pressure on Israel's allies

July 31, 2014 at 5:33 pm

As civilian casualties mount in the Gaza strip, Britain’s foreign secretary Philip Hammond warned that long-time ally Israel is “undermining” support from the West.

“Israelis have to understand that while they are defending their security in seeking to root out these rocket launchers and deal with the attack tunnels, they are also undermining the support for Israel that exists in the West,” Hammond told BBC radio when asked about a deadly attack on a UN school in Gaza on Wednesday.

This echoed earlier comments Hammond made to Sky News, “As this campaign goes on and the civilian casualties in Gaza mount, Western public opinion is becoming more and more concerned and less and less sympathetic to Israel – that’s simply a fact, and I have to tell that to my Israeli counterparts.”

The remarks come as United States’ leader Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempt to dispel rumours of a rift between Washington and Tel Aviv. US administration came to the aid of US Secretary of State John Kerry following heavy criticism from Israel regarding his attempts to forge a cease-fire on Friday.

Israeli Cabinet ministers characterized the ceasefire proposal, which called for a durable solution to the situation, as a “prize to terror,” and one report described Kerry’s diplomatic efforts as a “strategic terrorist attack.”

At the daily news briefing for foreign correspondents, US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki blasted the criticism of Kerry:

“This is not the way partners and allies treat each other,” she said.

A frustrated Kerry has been attempting to broker a peace deal between the two sides since last year but the talks broke down in April, before a deal could be reached. Rumours of a rift had already arisen prior to the latest Gaza offensive, with Kerry was accused of blaming the breakdown of talks on Israel’s failure to release a final group of Palestinian prisoners and then initiating further settlement expansion.

As Israel presses ahead with its military offensive on Gaza the state is in need of support from its allies, with the voices of its critics growing louder as the civilian death toll in Gaza continues to rise.

The attack on a playground on the first day of the Muslim holiday of Eid al- Fitr killed 8 children, and Wednesdays bombardment on a UN school where refugees were sheltering are further calling into question the conduct of Israel’s military.

France’s President Francois Hollande condemned the shelling of the school in a statement issued by the President’s office: “The president joins the UN secretary general (Ban Ki-moon) in considering the act ‘unjustifiable.'” The statement by France comes after a police ban was issued on pro-Palestinian protests for Gaza in Paris.

In the strongest condemnation from the US so far, Deputy State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf acknowledged, “Obviously nothing justifies the killing of innocent civilians seeking shelter in a UN facility.”

Such atrocities in Gaza have dealt Israel’s relations with Latin America a direct blow. On Wednesday, the foreign ministries of Chile and Peru announced they are calling their ambassadors in Tel Aviv in consultation to protest against Israel’s military operation in Gaza.

The moves come on the heels of Brazil and Ecuador, who announced last week that they were recalling their envoys. On Wednesday El Salvador became the fifth Latin American country to withdraw its ambassador from Israel in protest at Israel’s military offensive in Gaza. On the same day Bolivia renounced a visa exemption agreement with Israel, declaring it a terrorist state.

The Pacific Alliance, a Latin American free-trade bloc that includes Mexico, Colombia, Peru, Chile and Costa Rico, granted Israel observer status in February. Grouped together, these countries have the eighth-largest economy in the world. Israel has been attempting to strengthen its trade ties with markets outside the EU- potentially as a result of the threat of divestments and sanctions from states and businesses within the union.

Harf’s comments come just a day after US national security adviser Susan Rice used a crucial speech to underline the administration’s commitment to Israel. Rice’s comments were made at a hastily convened “solidarity” meeting convened by Jewish groups in Washington shortly after Netanyahu, used a televised press conference to warn Israelis to prepare for a long and protracted conflict.

“Here is one thing you never have to worry about: America’s support for the state of Israel.” She added: “Hamas initiated this conflict. And Hamas has dragged it on.”

Her words were the first official US statement about the conflict since Netanyahu pledged Israel would press ahead with its offensive.

Rice also expressed anger at the United Nations Human Rights Council. The 47-member Human Rights Council last week voted for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes in the Gaza conflict. Israel was left with just one ally; the US was the only country to vote against the establishment of an enquiry.

While many of the EU countries chose to abstain, 29 states voted in favour of the enquiry, including China and Russia.

The United Kingdom chose to abstain. Speaking at a question and answer session in parliament, British Prime Minister David Cameron said, “Yes, it is awful what is happening in Gaza and the loss of life.” He added, “But we do have to remember, whenever we have had a ceasefire in the last few days, it has been a ceasefire that has been obeyed and observed by the Israelis but it has not been observed by Hamas.”

Cameron pledged £3 million in extra aid to Gaza on Wednesday. In 2013 the Israel received around £8bn in the form of 400 arms licenses from the UK. A report by a British arms export controls parliamentary committee shows that the arms Israel received included combat drones, F-16 and Apache fighter jets, which are un-doubtingly being used in the current Gaza offensive.

In April 2009, David Miliband, the then secretary of state, admitted via an official statement, that the equipment used by Israel while attacking Gaza in the 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead almost certainly had components manufactured in the UK.

In the last week, the US has also provided Israel with mortars and ammunition for grenade launchers requested as part of a foreign military arms sale. The weapons came from a $1 billion stockpile of ammunition stored by the US military in Israel for use if needed for an emergency, according to reports just surfacing.

The military offensive seems set to claim more civilian lives as artillery shells rain down on market places, hospitals and schools in Gaza. Israel’s usual arguments of “self defence” and “human shields” are being very publically pulled apart. However, even with this condemnation, Israel’s allies look likely to keep on refreshing the states military stockpile, while donating hollow aid to its victims.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.