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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK

The Guardian view on the Rafah offensive: crossing US red lines should have consequences

George Washington University graduates protest against the war in Gaza after walking out of their commencement ceremony on the National Mall.
George Washington University graduates protest against the war in Gaza after walking out of their commencement ceremony on the National Mall, Washington DC. Photograph: Diane Krauthamer/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

The Israeli strike that killed at least 45 displaced Palestinians, many of them women and children, at a tent camp in Rafah this weekend clearly crossed Joe Biden’s “red line” over the need to protect civilians in the Gaza conflict. France’s Emmanuel Macron did not doubt what should happen next. “These operations must stop,” he posted on X. “There are no safe areas in Rafah for Palestinian civilians. I call for full respect for international law and an immediate ceasefire.”

Those in Israel who believe that they still need to make an appearance of deference towards US sentiments pleaded that the whole episode was a “mishap” rather than a deliberate political insult. Mr Biden is inclined to give Israel’s forces the benefit of the doubt, and give himself wriggle room to say his line hadn’t been crossed. Despite the international outcry over Sunday’s deadly blast, Israel stepped up its military offensive on Tuesday, sending tanks into Rafah and leaving a score more civilians dead when it apparently struck a tented area.

The US president defends Israel’s right to retaliate against Hamas for the murderous rampage it carried out on 7 October. But Israel’s indiscriminate use of tactics and weapons has caused disproportionate harm to a civilian population deprived of humanitarian assistance. Aryeh Neier, the founder of Human Rights Watch, wrote that he has become persuaded that “Israel is engaged in genocide against Palestinians in Gaza”.

A perceived lack of sympathy for the Palestinians has also harmed prospects for Mr Biden’s re-election. But resolving the conflict is a moral rather than an electoral question. The US should back a UN security council resolution to end the fighting, as Mr Macron suggested on Tuesday. Mr Biden’s support for Mr Netanyahu has wavered. In March the US declined to use its veto to block a resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire. Mr Biden moved again in April when the Israel Defense Forces killed seven foreign aid workers.

But the US has actively shielded its ally from a bitter reckoning over the Gazan war. Washington even went as far as to belittle South Africa’s case before the international court of justice, which last week issued provisional orders to “prevent the commission of acts” in Gaza that violate the genocide convention.

Mr Biden’s decision to stand by Israel in this manner risks undermining the rules-based international order that America should be defending. In fact, the US may itself face legal consequences for being complicit in international crimes, should genocide be established in Gaza. The nub of the problem is that Israel thinks its needs are exceptional, and the US all too readily agrees. When the chief prosecutor of the international criminal court said on Friday that he was seeking arrest warrants for senior Hamas and Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity, the US secretary of state shamefully threatened to impose sanctions on the court.

It will probably take more than a threat from The Hague to change a mafioso mindset. An investigation by the Guardian and the Israeli-based magazines +972 and Local Call revealed how Israel has spent the best part of a decade attempting to intimidate the court into dropping its investigations into Israeli war crimes – with its top spy chief personally involved in the campaign. The country’s leaders believe that they can operate above the law. It is incumbent upon allies, particularly the US, to disabuse Israel of this notion.

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