No sign Israel has lowered intensity of Gaza offensive, Blinken says

US’s top diplomat says ‘momentum’ is heading towards war in Lebanon

Sean Mathews

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken spoke at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC, on 1 July 2024

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said on Monday there was no sign Israel had downgraded the intensity of its offensive on the Gaza Strip, despite Israeli statements that it was shifting to a lower intensity phase.

“We’ve heard the Israelis talk about a significant downshift in their operations in Gaza. It remains to be seen,” Blinken said at an event hosted by the Brookings Institute think tank in Washington DC.

For weeks, Israeli officials have signalled they are downshifting their offensive on the Gaza Strip, even as its military continues to pummel the enclave, inflicting a staggering number of civilian deaths. On Saturday, at least 40 Palestinians were killed and 224 wounded in 24 hours alone.

According to the Palestinian health ministry, the death toll in Gaza has risen to at least 37,843, with 86,858 injured.

Last month, Israeli chief of staff Herzi Halevi said Israel was set to accomplish its military objectives in the southern Gaza border city of Rafah, and was preparing for a lower intensity of fighting.

“We are clearly approaching the point where we can say we have dismantled the Rafah Brigade,” Halevi said.

Blinken’s assessment that there has been no downshift in Israel’s offensive is likely to be carefully watched by Iran and its ally, Hezbollah, which has been in an escalating cross-border conflict with Israel.

MEE reported on 19 June that US envoy Amos Hochstein communicated to Hezbollah via mediators that Israel anticipates roughly five more weeks of intense fighting in Gaza, after which it will pause its main offensive across the enclave.

The US has said that a “lull” in Gaza fighting will provide an opportunity for Hezbollah and Israel to reach their own truce, regardless of whether or not Hamas and Israel agree to a ceasefire, a premise that the Lebanese group has rejected.

“Israel doesn’t want a war, although they may well be prepared to engage in one if necessary from their perspective to protect their interests, but they don’t want one.  I don’t believe Hezballah actually wants a war….  And I don’t believe that Iran wants a war,” Blinken said.

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“So on the one hand, no one actually wants a war,” he said. “On the other hand, you have forces – momentum that may be leading in that direction”.

MEE revealed on Friday that US defence and intelligence officials are concerned that an Israeli invasion of Lebanon could further ignite Iran’s allies in the region and cement Tehran’s military cooperation with Russia.

Blinken also suggested that the US had advanced in discussions with regional states about a post-war plan for Gaza. He said the US had reached a stage of sharing “concrete ideas, concrete proposals” with regional allies for post-war Gaza, so that it wasn’t “outpaced” should a ceasefire agreement be reached.

Israel’s political leadership has continued to rule out a day-after plan for the enclave, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected a return of the Palestinian Authority (PA) or talks on a two-state solution.

But with the day-after plans stalled, Hamas has reconstituted itself in areas of Gaza where Israel previously thought it had eliminated the group.

On Thursday, the Israeli army confirmed it launched a new operation in Gaza’s Shujaiya neighbourhood. Palestinians there reported heavy bombings, tank advancements and mass displacement.

A ceasefire proposal that Biden unveiled in May appears to have stalled, with each side of the conflict providing a different take on what the proposal means.

While the US insists it guarantees a permanent cessation of hostilities in Gaza, Israel says the agreement will allow it to ensure the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities.

Blinken continued to insist that Hamas’s Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, was solely responsible for rejecting Biden’s proposal.

“One way or another, when this conflict ends, it cannot and must not end with a vacuum in Gaza,” Blinken said.

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