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Defense Secretary Backs Israel’s Right to Self-defense Amid Calls for Cease-fire

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has emphasized that the United States will not dictate the timeline or terms of Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas. 

Shift In Tone

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This statement marks a shift in tone from earlier criticisms as Austin met with Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv. He reaffirmed unwavering US support for Israel’s right to self-defense while acknowledging the importance of safeguarding Palestinian civilians.

Austin’s Stance

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Lloyd Austin clarified that Israel’s military operation against Hamas is an autonomous decision, and the US will not impose specific deadlines or conditions. He underscored the US commitment to Israel’s right to protect itself while highlighting the moral obligation and strategic significance of safeguarding Palestinian civilians.

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Softer Tone from Austin

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In contrast to his previous remarks, Austin adopted a more conciliatory tone. Earlier, he had expressed concerns about the potential radicalization of Gazan residents due to civilian casualties, warning that it could turn a tactical victory into a strategic defeat. As of Monday, Hamas-run health authorities in Gaza reported a death toll exceeding 19,400 Palestinians.

Calls for Cease-fire

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Mounting casualties have led to increased international calls for a cease-fire. Notably, American allies that have supported Israel’s campaign against Hamas have joined the plea. Pressure has grown on Israel to consider de-escalating its military operations, particularly in northern Gaza, and contemplating a conclusion to the conflict.

UN Security Council Resolution

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The United Nations Security Council is expected to vote on a new resolution advocating for an immediate cease-fire. This presents a fresh challenge to both Israel and the United States, which previously vetoed a similar proposal on December 8th.

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Transitioning to a New Phase

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While standing beside Austin, Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant rejected the notion of adhering to a fixed timeline. However, he indicated that Israel was close to distinguishing different areas in Gaza, potentially allowing a phased return of the local population.

Israel’s Objective

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Israel has articulated its objective of eradicating Hamas following the October 7th attack that resulted in approximately 1,200 casualties and the capture of around 240 hostages. A seven-day pause in hostilities last month led to the release of numerous hostages. On Monday, US Central Intelligence Agency Director William Burns engaged in talks with Qatari and Israeli officials in Poland, as reported by the New York Times.

Determination to Dismantle Hamas

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Gallant asserted Israel’s determination to prevail and dismantle Hamas, emphasizing that this mission was crucial for Israel’s existence.

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Shift in Biden’s Stance

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Defense Secretary Austin’s supportive stance represents a shift from President Joe Biden’s recent warnings. Biden had cautioned in a Washington fundraiser that Israel’s campaign against Hamas, marked by what he called “indiscriminate” airstrikes in Gaza, could risk losing international support.

Biden’s Call for a Palestinian State

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President Biden also urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reconsider his resistance to a future Palestinian state, citing the potential for broader normalization with Arab countries. US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan discussed with Israeli officials their plans to transition away from the high-intensity phase of the campaign, even as Austin advocated for the eventual creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Enduring Costs

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Austin emphasized that both Israelis and Palestinians have paid a high price, making a return to the situation before October 6th undesirable.

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