U.S. Defense Secretary Denounces Israel’s Strike on Aid Workers in Gaza

In a tense phone call on Wednesday, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III upbraided his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, over Israel’s deadly attack on a humanitarian food convoy in Gaza earlier this week.

“Secretary Austin expressed his outrage at the Israeli strike on a World Central Kitchen humanitarian aid convoy that killed seven aid workers, including an American citizen,” Maj. Gen. Patrick Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement Wednesday night, describing the phone call.

“Secretary Austin stressed the need to immediately take concrete steps to protect aid workers and Palestinian civilians in Gaza after repeated coordination failures with foreign aid groups,” General Ryder said.

While Mr. Austin’s comments echoed President Biden’s forceful language – “outraged and heartbroken” — about the killing of the aid workers, they nonetheless marked a significant change in the American secretary’s tone from that of previous calls with Mr. Gallant that the Pentagon has summarized. The two men, both former Army generals, have spoken more than 40 times since the Hamas-led Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

Mr. Austin’s comments echoed President Biden’s forceful language about the killing of the aid workers.Credit…Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters

Despite the tough language, there was no indication that Mr. Austin threatened to halt the flow of American munitions or place conditions on U.S. weapons sales to Israel, as many congressional Democrats are now urging. In that sense, Mr. Austin loses nothing by talking tough.

The secretary’s anger over the Israel airstrike on the humanitarian convoy comes a week after the two men sparred in private meetings in Washington over Israel’s plan to invade the southern city of Rafah, where U.S. officials have warned that a major military action could lead to catastrophe.

At that meeting on March 26, Mr. Gallant emphasized what he said was the urgent need to destroy Hamas, secure the release of Israelis taken hostage in the Oct. 7 attacks and “ensure Israel’s military edge and capabilities.” Mr. Austin focused on the dire consequences a major combat operation in Rafah would have on Palestinian civilians.

In the phone call on Wednesday, Mr. Austin urged Mr. Gallant to conduct a swift and transparent investigation of the strike on the convoy, to share their conclusions publicly, and to hold those responsible to account, General Ryder said, a demand made earlier by White House officials.

The secretary said that “this tragedy 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,” General Ryder said.

Mr. Austin stressed to Mr. Gallant that Israel’s attack on the humanitarian convoy makes it more difficult to bring desperately needed aid into Gaza, which the secretary said must be increased in the coming days, especially in northern Gaza, to avert famine, General Ryder said.

Back to top button