newsIsrael at War

In call with Gallant, Austin expresses ‘outrage’ over Gaza aid workers’ deaths

The U.S. Secretary of Defense said the tragic incident "reinforced the expressed concern over a potential Israeli military operation in Rafah," and called for a swift investigation with full accountability.

Lloyd Austin, the U.S. secretary of defense, speaks with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant prior to meeting with the Israeli War Cabinet in Tel Aviv on Oct. 13, 2023. Credit: Chad McNeeley/U.S. Department of Defense.
Lloyd Austin, the U.S. secretary of defense, speaks with Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant prior to meeting with the Israeli War Cabinet in Tel Aviv on Oct. 13, 2023. Credit: Chad McNeeley/U.S. Department of Defense.

During a conversation with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant overnight Wednesday, his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin criticized Israel’s “repeated coordination failures” with foreign aid groups in Gaza.

Austin expressed his “outrage” over the accidental Israel Defense Forces strike overnight Monday that killed seven World Central Kitchen aid workers, including an American citizen, and stressed the need “to immediately take concrete steps to protect aid workers and Palestinian civilians in Gaza,” according to a Pentagon readout of the call.

The U.S. Secretary of Defense demanded a “swift and transparent investigation” into the incident, the conclusions of which would be shared publicly, and that Israel “hold those responsible to share their conclusions publicly, and to “hold those responsible to account.”

The accidental strike “reinforced the expressed concern over a potential Israeli military operation in Rafah, specifically focusing on the need to ensure the evacuation of Palestinian civilians and the flow of humanitarian aid,” he added.

The head of the IDF on Tuesday night issued an official apology for the accidental killing of the WCK aid workers.

“I want to be very clear—the strike was not carried out with the intention of harming WCK aid workers. It was a mistake that followed a misidentification, at night during a war in very complex conditions. It shouldn’t have happened,” said IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi in an English video message posted to social media.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog also apologized for the incident in a phone call on Tuesday with World Central Kitchen founder, celebrity chef José Andrés.

The initial probe into the incident will be released to the public in the coming days, while a more in-depth investigation is ongoing. The wider investigation is being conducted by the IDF’s Fact Finding and Assessment Mechanism, an independent body of professionals and experts.

During the call, Gallant “expressed sorrow and condolences to all those affected by the incident and emphasized his commitment to working closely with partner countries and organizations to facilitate the distribution of humanitarian aid,” according to an Israeli statement released Wednesday morning.

Gallant also discussed with Austin a series of measures currently being assessed to expand the influx and distribution of aid in Gaza.

The two also discussed “plans to expand operations to address Hamas’ remaining battalions and military capabilities,” and the “ongoing efforts to ensure the return of 134 hostages held by Hamas in Gaza,” according to the readout.

On Tuesday, Gallant told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the IDF would “soon” move against the last remaining Hamas brigade, in the Gaza Strip’s southernmost city of Rafah.

The minister said that Hamas has ceased to function as a terrorist group in “most parts” of Gaza. “Their commanders are hiding in tunnels, they have lost command and control capabilities, the battalion frameworks in most parts of the Strip have ceased to function. The Hamas brigade in Rafah, however, is still standing, with its four battalions. We will address this soon,” said Gallant.

The prospective incursion has resulted in friction with the U.S. administration. In addition to some 3,000 terrorists, there are also well over a million Gazans sheltering in Rafah, raising concern regarding potential harm to noncombatants should Israel launch a ground invasion of the city.

Overnight Wednesday, Gallant and Austin also spoke of the threat posed by Iran and its proxy activities, “including daily attacks against Israel and ongoing threats to regional stability and freedom of navigation,” according to the Pentagon readout.

Finally, Gallant expressed his “appreciation to Austin and the U.S. administration for their steadfast support and partnership.”

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