Is an Israeli ground invasion of Gaza a mistake? Britain’s defense chief won’t say.
The U.K.’s top defense official repeatedly declined to second President ’s comment that an Israeli occupation of Gaza would be “a big mistake.”
In an interview Tuesday evening, British Secretary of State for Defense was given multiple opportunities to agree with Biden’s remark on “60 Minutes.” The president said that Israel had every right to defend itself and target Hamas during a ground invasion of the enclave. But he warned that Israeli forces shouldn’t stay behind after uprooting the militant group to control Gaza’s 2.3 million people.
Shapps didn’t side with Biden’s analysis. “Judgments about how that’s done, as long as it’s within international humanitarian laws, are for Israel” to decide, he said at the U.K. Embassy in Washington, D.C. While he wants to see a proportionate Israeli response, “there’s a job to be done.”
Asked again if he sided with Biden’s answer, Shapps said he didn’t want to “start advising [Israel] on precisely what they’re operation should be.” He also wouldn’t say whether Israel shared its invasion plans with the U.K., instead reiterating that “Israel has the absolute right to defend itself.”
Shapps’ evasion hints at a small, quiet split between the U.K. and U.S., two staunch allies that are often in agreement on some of the world’s greatest matters, most especially the defense of Ukraine against Russia. That could make his high-level meeting in Washington on Wednesday a little more awkward, especially his one-on-one with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
Still, London and Washington are almost entirely aligned on supporting Israel as it retaliates following Hamas’ surprise attack that killed 1,300 people, including some Americans. Israel’s airstrikes and siege of Gaza have since claimed around 3,000 lives. It’s feared that a ground invasion of Israel would kill hundreds of civilians during intense, block-to-block urban warfare.
Biden is on his way to Israel to show his support for the country, meeting in Tel Aviv with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He was scheduled to then fly to Amman, Jordan, for a gathering with the country’s king, along with the leaders of Egypt and the Palestinian Authority. But an explosion at a hospital in Gaza that killed 500 people led to the event’s cancellation.
Hamas claims the Israeli military bombed the hospital, while Israeli forces assert that a Palestinian militant group is to blame.
“The United States stands unequivocally for the protection of civilian life during conflict and we mourn the patients, medical staff and other innocents killed or wounded in this tragedy,” Biden said in a Monday night statement.