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International support for Israel is eroding

Thomas Latschan
March 23, 2024

More than 32,000 people have been killed in Israel's military offensive, according to Gaza's Health Ministry. Now Israel's government is preparing a ground offensive in Rafah, where a million people are sheltering.

People inspect rubble following Israeli bombardment that hit the al-Habash family home
Images of destruction and the growing toll have given Israel's staunchest allies pauseImage: AFP

As the death toll climbs and the threat of famine looms, Israel's closest allies are expressing their growing doubts about the ongoing war in Gaza following the October 7 terror attack in Israeli territory, which left 1,160 people dead and 250 taken hostage.

Allies are particularly concerned by the Israeli government's insistence that it will proceed with plans to launch a ground offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than 1.1 million people have sought refuge. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the offensive is necessary to wipe out the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which the US, EU and other governments classify as a terrorist organization.

Calls for a ceasefire are growing more urgent as concern mounts about full-blown humanitarian catastrophe.

Guterres says 'it is time to silence the guns'

Cracks appear in Biden-Netanyahu relationship

The United States has shielded Israel at the UN Security Council by exercising its veto to block a number of resolutions calling for an immediate cease-fire.

But cracks are appearing in the relationship. At the start of the week, US President Joe Biden and Netanyahu reportedly argued during a phone call. Biden said plans for a ground offensive were a "mistake," while Netanyahu stands by them.

Netanyahu has made clear that the plans still need a few more weeks of preparation, but his uncompromising position — and the ever-more catastrophic humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza — is causing a rethink of the US position in the UN Security Council.

A US draft resolution calling for an "immediate and sustained cease-fire" was blocked by China and Russia on Friday. 

This initiative was accompanied by intense negotiations for an agreement for both a cease-fire and the release of Israeli hostages in return for the freeing of Palestinians held by Israel's government.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently traveling through the Middle East to talk to all parties involved. "An agreement is very much possible," Blinken said during the week.

Aid agencies concerned about Gaza water supplies

Canada cuts off weapons

Carried by support from the New Democratic Party, the ruling Liberal Party, the Green Party and the Bloc Quebecois, Canada's Parliament voted 204-117 to temporarily suspend arms exports to Israel.

"Since January 8, the government has not approved new arms export permits to Israel and this will continue until we can ensure full compliance with our export regime," Foreign Minister Melanie Joly's office said in a statement reported by news agency Agence France-Presse. "There are no open permits for exports of lethal goods to Israel."

Canada is typically seen as one of Israel's closest allies, along with the United States. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been criticized for his ambiguous position.

When South Africa filed a genocide lawsuit against Israel at the International Court of Justice in January, Trudeau told reporters that Canada supports the ICJ and its process but avoided rejecting or endorsing the premise of the case. At the same time, Canada would abide by the ICJ's ruling, Trudeau said.

Opposition parties and civil society actors have pressured Trudeau's government to take a clearer position. This likely contributed to the arms export stop. The resolution is nonbinding, but the government has indicated it will implement it.

This makes Canada one of a series of countries to halt arms exports to Israel, including Japan, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.

Hunger in Gaza reaches catastrophic levels

EU pressures Israel

Within the European Union, Spain has become one of the strongest critics of Israel's military campaign. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has called on the European Commission to review the EU-Israel association agreement, a deal on political and trade relations. 

Sanchez and his Irish counterpart, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who has since announced his intent to step down, said that Israel could be in breach of the human rights obligations and basic democratic standards that underpin the agreement. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock rejected that call, which in any case was not formally discussed at an EU summit in Brussels that ended Friday.

On Thursday, the leaders of the 27 EU countries settled on a joint statement that took a firmer line with Israeli government. The EU collectively called for an "an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and the provision of humanitarian assistance."

In the first collective EU statement issued in five months of internal divisions, the member states also called on Israel not to launch its Rafah ground operation.

This article was originally written in German.