update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Blinken: Biden administration treats Israel like ‘any other country’

The secretary told "NBC News" that IDF troops in Gaza face an "incredibly complex military environment."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Feb. 7, 2024. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, Feb. 7, 2024. Photo by Chuck Kennedy/U.S. State Department.

The Biden administration treats its Israeli ally similar to any other country, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday, days after the White House halted an arms shipment to the Israel Defense Forces.

“We treat Israel, one of our closest allies and partners, just as we would treat any other country, including in assessing something like international humanitarian law and its compliance with that law,” Washington’s top diplomat said in an interview with NBC News.

Blinken was commenting on an administration report issued to Congress on Friday that was deeply critical of the IDF’s conduct in the Gaza Strip but stopped just short of concluding that it violated international law.

While the report does not conclude that Israel violated requirements for arms sales, it says that Jerusalem provided only “limited information” about the use of U.S.-made munitions in “incidents that raise concerns about Israel’s international humanitarian law compliance.”

Blinken told NBC News that the report makes clear that IDF troops in Gaza are facing an “incredibly complex military environment.”

“You have an enemy that intentionally embeds itself with civilians hiding under and within schools, mosques, apartment buildings, firing at the Israeli forces from those places,” he explained.

He added, “Based on the totality of the harm that’s been done to children, to women, to men who are caught in this crossfire Hamas is making, it’s reasonable to conclude that there are instances where Israel has acted in ways that are not consistent with international humanitarian law.”

The diplomat did not elaborate further on why the Biden administration deems Jerusalem responsible for the harm caused by Hamas’s tactic of using Palestinian noncombatants as human shields.

Blinken did note that the IDF has carried out “hundreds” of inquiries, including criminal probes, into claims of improper behavior by its forces.

“Israel, unlike many other countries, has both the means and the will to try to police itself. So we need to let those play out,” he said.

The Biden administration has withheld approval of a sale to the IDF of two types of precision-guided bombs, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin confirmed during a Senate committee hearing on Wednesday.

Biden told CNN on Wednesday evening that Washington would stop providing weapons to the Jewish state if the IDF goes into Rafah, the last Hamas terrorist stronghold located in the southernmost Gaza Strip.

A day before Biden issued his threat to Israel, his administration signed off on a sanctions waiver to bypass congressional prohibitions on arms sales to Hamas ally Qatar as well as to Lebanon, Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Libya and Saudi Arabia.

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