Israeli Defense Minister Meets Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin

Israel's Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon on Tuesday. Mr. Austin stated that they would discuss alternative strategies for targeting Hamas elements in the Gaza Strip.

Israel and the United States have a “moral imperative” and a “shared strategic interest” in protecting Palestinian civilians amid the ongoing conflict in Gaza, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said on March 26.

Mr. Austin made the comments during a meeting at the Pentagon with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, where they explored a range of issues from military operations in Rafah and the worsening humanitarian situation across Gaza to threats to regional security.

Calling Hamas’s Oct. 7 incursion into Israel the “worst day in Israel’s history,” Mr. Austin said, “No country should endure such terror, and no country would tolerate such danger.”

Mr. Austin stressed that Israel has a right to defend itself against Hamas, noting the United States shares its goal of defeating the terrorist group.

The senior Biden administration official also declared that Washington “will not rest” until all the hostages currently being held by Hamas are returned home.

However, Mr. Austin also pointed to the increasingly high number of civilian casualties in Gaza due to Israel’s military campaign against Hamas.

“Our goal is to make Israel and the region safer and more secure. And as I have consistently said, protecting Palestinian civilians from harm is both a moral necessity and a strategic imperative,” Mr. Austin said.

“In Gaza today, the number of civilian casualties is far too high, and the amount of humanitarian aid is far too low,” he continued.

Gaza Suffering ‘Humanitarian catastrophe’

“Gaza is suffering a humanitarian catastrophe, and the situation is getting even worse. And we need immediate increases in assistance to avert famine. Our work to open a temporary humanitarian corridor by sea will help, but the key is still expanding aid deliveries by land,” he said.

Mr. Austin also doubled down on urging Israel to refrain from launching a major offensive in Rafah, where 1.5 million Palestinian civilians are currently sheltering, noting the safety of those civilians is a top priority for the United States.

The Biden administration has been urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refrain from launching the offensive in Rafah until a plan for the mass evacuation of civilians is created, fearing it could result in a humanitarian disaster and mass casualties.

Israeli officials, claiming the city is the last major stronghold of Hamas, have repeatedly signaled their intention to launch a major ground offensive in Rafah. They insist that Hamas cannot be fully removed from Gaza without doing so.

The latest meeting between Mr. Austin and Mr. Gallant comes after nearly six months of “close cooperation” between the two leaders and was a “testament to the United States’ unwavering support for Israel’s long-term security,” the Pentagon said in a press release.

Netanyahu Cancels Delegation

The meeting came as Israel faces growing condemnation over its actions in Gaza. On March 25, Mr. Netanyahu canceled sending an Israeli delegation to Washington, following a U.S. decision to abstain—against his wishes— from a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for a temporary two-week ceasefire in Gaza to allow for the exchange of hostages.

The abstention by the United States allowed the resolution to pass.

In a statement, Mr. Netanyahu called Washington’s failure to block the resolution a “clear retreat” from its previous consistent position since the beginning of the war and claimed it “gives Hamas hope that international pressure will allow them to get a ceasefire without releasing our hostages.”

The White House, however, said it could not support the resolution because the final test did not contain “essential” key language condemning Hamas.

“Though because it does fairly reflect our view that a ceasefire and the release of hostages come together, we abstained,” White House adviser John Kirby told reporters after the vote.

Despite relations between Mr. Netanyahu and President Biden seemingly coming under pressure, the United States continues to provide arms and ammunition to Israel without conditions.

Reuters contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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