update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

After Israel trip, US senator seems to snub Netanyahu

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) say they told Israeli officials they are concerned about an offensive in Rafah.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jacob "Jack" Lew (left), Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) during a Feb. 19, 2024 meeting in Jerusalem. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Jacob "Jack" Lew (left), Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) during a Feb. 19, 2024 meeting in Jerusalem. Credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO.

Two Democratic senators, Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), recently returned from a visit to Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Oman. Both stated that they encouraged Israel to “pause” its operations to dismantle the Hamas terror organization and to facilitate humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

“I conveyed to Israeli leaders my grave concerns about the human costs and political consequences of a large-scale ground assault on Rafah and urged them to seriously pursue negotiations for a humanitarian ceasefire and hostage exchange that could lay the foundation for regional progress in reducing conflict,” Coons stated

“Leaders on all sides must work to end the fighting in Gaza as quickly as possible and immediately increase access to humanitarian aid among Palestinians,” he added.

The Delaware Democrat also told leaders in Jerusalem and Beirut “to pursue a diplomatic solution that would end border hostilities and allow both Israeli and Lebanese citizens who have been displaced to return safely home.”

“Throughout my visit, I made clear that the United States will not tolerate assaults on U.S. troops. Iranian proxies in Iraq and Syria in recent months launched many attacks that have already taken the lives of three American soldiers,” Coons added. “The United States will not hesitate to respond and protect our troops, as we have done in recent weeks, should those attacks resume.”

The Delaware senator added that he met in Israel with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Yair Lapid, the opposition leader.

In Lebanon, he met with United Nations leaders from the World Food Program, UNICEF, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees the U.N. Relief and Works Agency. He didn’t say if he discussed the investigation into UNRWA employee ties to Hamas.

On social media, Coons appeared to snub Netanyahu. He posted that he was “glad to see” Herzog and “grateful” to meet with Lapid and with the Lebanese prime minister. It was a “a pleasure” to meet with the Lebanese Parliamentary speaker, and he “enjoyed” meeting with the U.N. agency heads in Beirut. He merely stated that he met with Netanyahu, without conveying gratefulness or enjoyment.

Blumenthal’s announcement said only that he visited Israel, Jordan and Lebanon, which he called “three key countries at a time of unparalleled peril and promise.”

Top leaders in all three “fear a wider war resulting from malign Iranian proxies or miscalculation. But they also foresee possible breakthroughs for peace coming from negotiations,” he stated.

“I emphasized in Israel my support for its fight to dismantle Hamas but also the importance of seeking a significant pause in fighting that would enable return of hostages and expanded humanitarian aid,” he added. “I am more hopeful that negotiations can provide a path forward to self governance for Palestinians, with support from Jordan, and a demilitarized buffer zone in the north, enforced by Lebanon.”

Netanyahu’s office announced only that the prime minister met on Feb. 19 with the two senators at his Jerusalem office and that the director of Israel’s National Security Council, Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser and Jacob “Jack” Lew, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, attended the meeting.

Gallant Coons Blumenthal
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (right) shakes hands with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.), Ias Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) looks on during a Feb. 18, 2024 meeting in Tel Aviv. Credit: Shachar Yurman/Israeli Ministry of Defense.

Gallant’s office released a read out of his meeting with the senators on Feb. 18 at the defense ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.

The defense minister briefed the senators “on operational developments in the southern arena, and emphasized the consistent actions by the defense establishment since the start of the war, targeting Hamas terrorists and infrastructure,” his office stated.

“The IDF is taking significant measures to distinguish between Hamas terrorists and the civilian population,” he added, per the readout, which added that Gallant “detailed recent operations in the Al-Amal and Nasser hospitals, where troops have operated with great precision to apprehend terrorists, with no resulting civilian casualties.”

Gallant’s office added that the minister and the two U.S. senators “discussed ongoing military and other efforts to ensure the return of 134 hostages held in Gaza,” and Gallant “reflected on the importance of ongoing military pressure on Hamas to this end.” He also discussed “ongoing efforts to facilitate the entry of humanitarian aid, in cooperation with international partners.”

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