US accused of failing to pursue ceasefire in Gaza

America appears more concerned about the trajectory of the war than stopping it, western official says

A funeral in Jerusalem for Valentin Ghnassia, who was killed in a battle with Hamas near Gaza, on Thursday. AFP
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The US is in talks with its Middle East allies about possible outcomes of the Israel-Gaza war but is not prioritising a ceasefire, a western military official has told The National.

America wants to keep its pro-Iranian foes from widening the conflict and help its Arab Levant allies deal with any domestic repercussions of Israel’s attacks of Gaza, said the official, who is in contact with Washington.

“The United States has little control at this stage on what the Israelis are doing to Gaza,” said the official.

“A US role will develop as far as a ceasefire if Israel gets bogged down in Gaza."

The official was speaking from Amman as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Israel on Thursday in a show of support.

Mr Blinken is due to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman on Friday.

The State Department has not revealed any specifics on the objectives of Mr Blinken’s trip.

He will be “sympathetic” to the position of Jordanian and Palestinian authorities, which are dealing with public pressure as civilian casualties in Gaza mount, the official said.

Israeli retaliatory bombing has killed more than 1,300 people in Gaza in less than a week, after the Hamas attack on Israel killed about 1,300. Most of the dead on both sides were civilians.

“There is a need to assuage Arab domestic constituencies,” the official said, pointing out government-sanctioned demonstrations in solidarity with Gaza in Jordan this week.

He said Washington was also exploring a scenario in which Israel manages to overrun the whole of Gaza, regarded by many analysts as the worst outcome, involving countless thousands more civilians being killed.

“Washington would have to throw more support to the Palestinian Authority and Egypt in this case, because Israel would not want to take over the administration of Gaza,” he said.

Gaza was under Egyptian control before Israel occupied the area in 1967, along with the Sinai, which it returned to Egypt in exchange for peace in the late 1970s.

The Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem had been administered by Jordan until the 1967 conflict, while Syria controlled the Golan Heights.

The Palestinian Authority lost control of Gaza to Hamas in a civil war in 2007.

Egypt has made it clear that it supports the Palestinian right of self-determination and does not want to return to the 1967 status quo.

Reuters quoted an unnamed Egyptian security official as saying on Wednesday that Cairo had talked to countries including the US about humanitarian aid to Gaza, but rejected proposed safe corridors to Egypt for people fleeing the fighting.

Complicating possible de-escalation talks, there are also militias directly supported by Tehran in Gaza that are allied to Hamas, such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, as well as in Syria, where such groups have sporadically fired projectiles at Israel in recent days.

Israel has launched thousands of air strikes against the militias since 2012.

Palestinian groups also operate in southern Lebanon, where Iran has its strongest proxy force, Hezbollah.

Despite an expansion of Iranian influence over Hamas and other Palestinian factions in the past decade, US officials "went out of their way" this week to dismiss any direct role for Iran in the attack from Gaza on Israel, the official said.

“The boats and the paragliders Hamas used have all the hallmarks of training and supply by Iran,” the official said.

"But America wants to keep playing ball with Iran," he said. "All sides are hoping that the border skirmishes with Lebanon and Syria will remain at a tit-for-tat level."

Updated: October 14, 2023, 4:50 PM