Israel, U.S. defence chiefs to meet on March 26 as tensions rise over Gaza by StuffsEarth

Estimated read time 10 min read

Israel Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant (right) with Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin, in Tel Aviv, Israel. File
| Photo Credit: AP

“U.S. Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet with Israel’s Minister of Defence on March 26 and discuss ways to defeat Hamas other than conducting a ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah,” the Pentagon said, at a time of rising tensions between the two countries.

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, Pentagon press secretary, told reporters on March 25 that Mr. Austin’s planned morning meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant is still on, even though Israel abruptly cancelled the visit of a high-level delegation to Washington this week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancelled the visit in protest over Monday’s UN Security Council decision calling for an immediate cease-fire. The U.S. abstained, deciding not to use its veto power, and the resolution passed 14-0.

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“There are ways to go about addressing the threat of Hamas, while also taking into account civilian safety. A lot of those are from lessons, our own lessons, conducting operations in urban environments,” Mr. Ryder said. “I would expect the conversations to cover those kinds of things.” Israel says it cannot defeat Hamas without going into Rafah, where it says the group has four battalions composed of thousands of fighters.

Israel’s offensive has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and driven a third of Gaza’s population to the brink of starvation. It was launched in response to Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel, which killed some 1,200 people.

Hamas-led militants also took around 250 people hostage. They are still holding around 100 hostages and the remains of around 30 others, after most of the rest were freed during a cease-fire last year in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

The United Nations Security Council resolution calls for a cease-fire during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Mr. Netanyahu accused the U.S. of “retreating” from a “principled position” by allowing the vote to pass without conditioning the cease-fire on the release of hostages.

The dispute signals an erosion in the U.S.-Israel relationship that has been under a microscope for months as the military assault on Hamas continues, escalating the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. was disappointed in the decision to cancel the delegation’s visit this week. He said the talks with Mr. Gallant would likely include some of what the U.S. had planned to discuss with the Israeli delegation on the possible Rafah invasion.

The White House was aiming to talk to the Israelis about possible alternatives to a ground invasion of Rafah. Mr. Gallant met, on March 25, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security advisor Jake Sullivan. Mr. Kirby said those meetings, however, had not been intended as a replacement for the delegation meetings.

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