analysisIsrael at War

‘Potentially’ more to ‘grossly insufficient,’ Biden admin appears to move Gaza aid goalposts

First, there was a goal of 100 trucks a day. After 105 trucks went through the Rafah crossing on Nov. 4, Blinken said in Bagdad that number was "grossly insufficient."

Trucks with humanitarian aid arrive in southern Gaza via the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, Nov. 2, 2023. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Trucks with humanitarian aid arrive in southern Gaza via the Rafah border crossing from Egypt, Nov. 2, 2023. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker is the U.S. bureau news editor of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate).

Israel has said consistently—and the White House and the U.S. State Department have stated at times—that Hamas steals humanitarian supplies intended for civilians living in the Gaza Strip and uses them to attack Israel.

Last month, the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) admitted as much in a since-deleted social-media post. Still, Washington has pushed Jerusalem to allow “humanitarian aid” into the Gaza Strip.

At first, the White House and Foggy Bottom said that the goal was to get 100 aid trucks into Gaza daily—the amount that Martin Griffiths, U.N. under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs and emergency relief coordinator, had said was required to meet Gaza’s essential needs.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) used the same figure of 100 trucks a day, citing estimates by the United Nations in a Nov. 3 letter to Blinken and U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan.

Nearly two weeks ago, John Kirby, strategic communications coordinator at the National Security Council of the White House, said in a press briefing that many factors affect getting aid to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.

“It would be very tempting and satisfying for us to just sort of pin the tail on the donkey here,” Kirby said on Oct. 24. “If it was easy, my goodness, there’d be hundreds of trucks flowing in every day.”

A week later, Kirby said on Oct. 30 that the aim of a “first phase” was 100 aid trucks entering Gaza daily. “That’s a first goal. We know that even that, which is a dramatic improvement over where we are right now, is still not going to be enough,” he said. (In a video that the White House posted, Kirby claimed that Israel had set the goal of 100 trucks a day.)

The following day, he reported that 66 trucks had entered Gaza in the past 24 hours “with lifesaving humanitarian assistance, including food, water and medicine.” That was “the highest single-day delivery so far, but, again, it’s a trickle compared to what needs to get in,” said Kirby.

Rafah border crossing trucks
Trucks with humanitarian aid arrive in southern Gaza via the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on Nov. 2, 2023. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Oct. 31.

“We’ve gotten up to over 50 trucks a day. Before the conflict in Gaza, before Hamas’s aggression against Israel and its response, the U.N. and other organizations providing relief were sending in 500 to 800 trucks a day,” he said. “Right now, we’re up to almost 60. Trying to get to 100 this week. That is the bare minimum of what is needed.”

Matthew Miller, the U.S. State Department spokesman, said on Nov. 1 that there are “complicated logistical reasons,” which make it hard to get aid trucks into Gaza.

“But we have been working to unstick those, so you can get the number of trucks increased,” said Miller. “The secretary set a goal—said yesterday that we want to get to 100 trucks going in as soon as possible. You could potentially see more trucks going in than that, and we’re going to work to continue to do that.”

The State Department’s goal of 100 a day with “potentially” more going in lasted two days before Blinken quickly called even that number woefully inadequate. The secretary chose his words differently in Tel Aviv than in Amman and Baghdad.

“We’ve gone from zero to now over 100 trucks going into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing every day,” Blinken said on Nov. 3 in Tel Aviv. “But this is still not enough.”

Later in the same press conference, Blinken returned to the matter of the trucks.

“Just over the last two weeks, we’ve gone from nothing getting in through the Rafah gate to now, I think just today, well over 100 trucks. And as I said, that’s significant progress in the space of a couple of weeks, but it’s also insufficient,” he said. “There’s a recognition not only by us of that fact but also by the Israeli government, as well as our Egyptian partners, as well as the United Nations.”

Also on Nov. 3, a senior Biden administration official, who spoke to reporters on background, stated that “it started with about 10 trucks, and we are now at the point of about 100 trucks a day, and we look to see that significantly ramp up over the coming days.”

Not only did the State Department spokesman’s “potentially” more than 100 trucks on Nov. 1 turn into “significantly” increasing that number above 100 two days later, but Blinken, speaking at the St. Regis Hotel in Amman, Jordan, on Nov. 4, said that 105 trucks a day were “not nearly enough.”

“Each day, more than 100 trucks are moving to Rafah, up from zero just a little over a week ago. But that is not nearly enough,” said Blinken. “Whereas just a little over a week ago nothing was getting in, we had zero trucks moving in, today I think we had 105 trucks move into Gaza with essential needs for people. But as I also say, and as we all agree, that is not nearly enough.”

In Baghdad, “not nearly enough” became “grossly insufficient.”

“We have about 100 trucks a day going in,” Blinken said on Nov. 5 at a press conference in Iraq. “That’s good, but it’s grossly insufficient.”

‘Buckle under pressure for a ceasefire’

David May, research manager and senior research analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS that part of Israel’s strategy is “to deprive Hamas of fuel and food and prevent the terrorist group’s fighters from waiting out the storm in underground tunnels.”

“Hamas will siphon off a portion of the aid Israel delivers to Gaza, enriching the terrorist group. However, the greater the humanitarian crisis in Gaza becomes, the more pressure will mount on Israel to halt its campaign against Hamas,” said May.

To give itself the space and time it requires, Jerusalem needs to balance its military needs with the international pressure that it knows is mounting.

“The administration has already started to buckle under pressure for a ceasefire,” said May. “Demanding that more aid enter Gaza, which will be diverted to Hamas underground, will prolong the fighting on the ground.”

António Guterres, secretary-general of the United Nations, stated on Oct. 27 that some 500 trucks were crossing into Gaza daily prior to “the hostilities.”

“In recent days, an average of only 12 trucks per day have entered, despite needs being far greater than at any time before,” Guterres added.

On Nov. 3, Griffiths, the U.N. official, said that 329 aid trucks had entered Gaza from Egypt since Oct. 21, with 100 making the trip on Thursday alone. “However, he said an average of 500 truckloads were needed prior to the conflict,” per the United Nations.

“Israel refuses any temporary ceasefire that does not involve the release of the kidnapped Israelis,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Friday. “Israel is not allowing fuel into Gaza and objects to funds being transferred into the Strip.”

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