#World News

Jeremy Bowen: The Israel-Gaza war is at a crossroads

By Jeremy Bowen

All except the shortest wars have times when killing is an unchanging, grim routine. There are also moments, like the last few days in the Middle East, when events leave belligerents and their allies at a crossroads with big decisions to make.

Choices are confronting leaders in the governments and armed forces in Israel and Tehran, at Hezbollah’s HQ in the southern suburbs of Beirut and further afield in the Gulf, Europe and America.

The killing of foreign aid workers in Gaza might finally exhaust the considerable patience of Israel’s allies, led by the United States.

Israel and Egypt have banned foreign journalists from entering Gaza, except on occasional, highly controlled and brief visits with the Israeli military. Belligerents need to win the media battle in an age of asymmetric warfare where victory or defeat can rely on perceptions as much as the realities of battle. Journalists are also denied access to a war when the parties fighting it have something to hide.

But even without foreign reporters on the scene, evidence is piling up that Israel is not, as it claims, respecting its obligations under the laws of war to respect civilian lives, or allowing the free movement of aid in a famine created by Israel’s own actions. After the World Kitchen team was killed in Gaza, President Biden used his strongest language yet in public statements to condemn Israel’s actions.

The president and his aides have now to decide whether words are enough. So far, they have resisted calls to put conditions on the use of American weapons in Gaza, or even to turn off the supply line.

While the weapons still arrive, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who depends on hardline Jewish ultranationalists to stay in office, might feel he can still afford to defy President Biden. A major test will be the offensive Israel wants to attack Hamas in Rafah, plans the US believes would compound the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. American interests and Joe Biden’s political prospects in an election year have already been damaged by what is seen in many countries as complicity with Israel.

In another change this week, Mr Netanyahu has come back to work after two days off for hernia surgery to huge demonstrations demanding his resignation and early elections for a new parliament. Deep cultural and political fissures between Israelis that were put to one side after 7 October are wide open again and being shouted about in the streets. The prime minister is in political trouble, blamed by his opponents for letting down Israel’s guard so badly that Hamas detected a chance to attack.

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