News Roundup for December 14, 2023

December 14, 2023
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Top News and Analysis

Israel’s War Cabinet Blocks Mossad Chief From Restarting Hostage Talks in Qatar, Haaretz
Mossad chief David Barnea offered to travel to Qatar in a bid to restart negotiations on a deal to free more Israeli hostages held in Gaza, but Israel’s War Cabinet rejected the offer. Sources familiar with the matter say the decision not to send Barnea was made due to the fact that Hamas leadership in Gaza has been cut off from its leadership in Qatar. The War Cabinet members believe that there is no way of knowing how prepared the organization is to make a deal at this time. According to some evaluations, Hamas leadership in Gaza will have difficulties making contact with the negotiation team in Qatar due to the war going on in Gaza.

9 Israeli Soldiers Killed in Gaza City Ambush in Sign That Hamas Resistance Is Still Strong, AP
The ambush in a dense neighborhood came after repeated recent claims by the Israeli military that it had broken Hamas’ command structure in northern Gaza, encircled remaining pockets of fighters, killed thousands of militants and detained hundreds more. The tenacious fighting underscores how far Israel appears to be from its aim of destroying Hamas.

‘A Disservice to the American Public’: Democrats Rip Biden Over Weapons Sale to Israel, Politico
Democratic lawmakers are frustrated over President Joe Biden’s move to bypass Congress and approve the direct sale of tank shells to Israel, saying the administration needs to be more transparent about the weapons it’s sending to the Middle East ally. “There’s a reason Congress has oversight authority. And I want to make sure that oversight authority is continued,” said House Foreign Affairs ranking member Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY).

Nearly Half of the Israeli Munitions Dropped on Gaza Are Imprecise ‘Dumb Bombs,’ US Intelligence Assessment Finds, CNN
The assessment, compiled by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and described to CNN by three sources who have seen it, says that about 40-45% of the 29,000 air-to-ground munitions Israel has used have been unguided. The rest have been precision-guided munitions, the assessment says. Unguided munitions are typically less precise and can pose a greater threat to civilians, especially in such a densely populated area like Gaza. The rate at which Israel is using the dumb bombs may be contributing to the soaring civilian death toll.

Families of Americans Taken Hostage by Hamas Meet With Biden at White House, CBS News
Biden welcomed 13 family members of Americans who were taken hostage by Hamas during the Oct. 7 terrorist attack in Israel to the White House on Wednesday, his first time meeting them in-person. Those who attended and spoke afterward declined to reveal details of the meeting, but said they recognized that the president and his administration are working hard to secure the release of their loved ones.

US Delaying Sale of M16 Rifles to Israel Over Settler Violence, Axios
The decision to send the rifle deal for another review by the State Department signals the Biden administration remains concerned the Israeli government isn’t doing enough to curb violence by extremist settlers. The Israeli request was treated with caution by the Biden administration because of concerns Itamar Ben Gvir, the ultra-nationalist minister of national security who oversees the police, would distribute the rifles to extremist settlers in the West Bank.

What Are the Global Consequences of Washington’s Staunch Support for Israel?, NPR
NPR’s Michel Martin talks to Fawaz Gerges from the London School of Economics. Gerges says, “If you ask me really to summarize the situation, it would be the US versus the world – 154 nations voted for a cease-fire. Only 10 nations voted against it, including the United States. I don’t think, really, that President Biden and his operators in the White House and the State Department and the Defense departments appreciate the political and strategic and moral damage that they inflict on US foreign policy. I think throughout the region in the Middle East and in the Global South beyond the Middle East, I think they view the US as not only complicit in the war itself in Gaza but as a direct participant.”

Why Israel Has So Many Palestinian Prisoners [Video], Vox
Ranjani Chakraborty shares, “Israel has been engaged in harrowing negotiations to recover the roughly 240 hostages held by Hamas and other militant groups in Gaza following the October 7 attack. In exchange for their release, the Israeli government has a bargaining chip that is extremely valuable to Palestinians: the thousands of Palestinian prisoners locked up in Israeli prisons. Each one of these Palestinian prisoners has been processed by Israel’s military court system, which exists completely separate from the civilian court system that Jewish Israelis interact with. […] Two experts explain Israel’s military court system.”


Rain Forces Gazans Out of Makeshift Camps, Increases Risk of Disease, Haaretz
The pouring rain in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday turned the improvised refugee camps in the center and south of the enclave into mud swamps and dirt, driving thousands of people to seek shelter and hard earth in the streets and places where cement and asphalt could still be found. Even more worrying is that there doesn’t seem to be any way to receive aid from UNRWA or the other organizations that are still trying to operate in the Strip.

Palestinian Poll: Support for Hamas Has Tripled in West Bank, 88% Want Abbas to Resign, The Times of Israel
A wartime opinion poll among Palestinians published today shows a rise in support for the Hamas terror group, even in the devastated Gaza Strip, and an overwhelming rejection of Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, with nearly 90% saying he must resign.

Bernie Sanders Calls for Biden to Cut Israel Aid by $10 Billion, The Washington Post
“Israel’s military campaign will be remembered among some of the darkest chapters of our modern history,” Sanders wrote. “And it is being done with bombs and equipment produced and provided by the United States and heavily subsidized by American taxpayers. Tragically, we are complicit in this carnage.”

Benjamin Netanyahu Accused of ‘Evil’ Campaigning at Time of War, The Guardian
Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has been accused of breaking with convention by campaigning while his country is at war after a series of controversial statements in recent days. A number of senior Israeli political figures have been making moves before what are seen as inevitable elections when the war is over, but Netanyahu’s efforts to improve his dire ratings with the Israeli electorate – many of whom blame him for catastrophic intelligence failures in the run-up to the Hamas attack on 7 October – are regarded as the most blatant.

‘We Can’t Leave Any More Behind’: Families of Israeli Hostages Cling to Waning Hope, +972
The ceasefire ended, Israel resumed its deadly assault on Gaza with even more ferocity than before, and the families of the 138 hostages still being held in the Strip were back to square one — agonizing over the fate of their loved ones as Hamas asserts that not a single hostage will be released alive unless its demands are met, and Qatar warns that the window for freeing more hostages is narrowing.

Israeli Leaders: War to Go On Until Hamas Defeated, ‘With or Without’ World’s Approval, The Times of Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen both vowed Wednesday that the military offensive against the Hamas terror group will continue “until the end,” indicating Israel would not buckle to mounting international pressure for a ceasefire. Netanyahu told IDF soldiers that “we are continuing until the end, until victory, until the elimination of Hamas” — even in the face of international pressure. “Nothing will stop us,” he said.

Smashed Toys and Candy Store Fire Raises Questions Over Israeli Military’s Conduct, NBC News
As Israel faces increasing international pressure over its intensive assault on Gaza, videos have emerged that raise questions over the conduct of its troops on the ground. One video, apparently taken by soldiers themselves over the past week, shows Israeli troops setting fire to items in what they say is a candy factory in the Gaza Strip. They joke that the fire represents “the second candle of Hanukkah,” which would date it Dec. 8.

Opinion and Analysis

Congress Should Ask Hard Questions About Israel Aid, Foreign Policy
Dylan Williams writes, “Rather than continuing to give vague assurances that the administration will continue pressing Israel to follow international law—requests that Israel’s government has clearly ignored—lawmakers should ask Biden for specific commitments related to the enforcement of laws enacted to prevent US arms from being misused. With dozens—if not hundreds—of lives lost daily, and families on either side of the Gaza fence fearing for their loved ones, Congress has a responsibility to ensure that the steps it takes make a just and secure end to this war more likely, rather than funding actions that harm human security, regional stability, and international order with American taxpayer dollars.”

America Is Not Experiencing an anti-Israel Tidal Wave, Haaretz
Dahlia Scheindlin notes, “American campuses represent a special obsession: Israelis are riveted by every student demonstration and followed last week’s congressional hearing on campus activism and antisemitism breathlessly. From Israeli screens, it seems like nothing happens on US campuses except anti-Israel activity. The prevailing sense that the entire world is against them is compounding Israelis’ anxiety. US polling can balance the picture with quantitative trends rather than fresh outrage over each new incident. In a sea of numbers, this is only a partial review, but often the findings show a more sober, less sensational picture for Israel than Israelis seem to want to believe.”

A Different Path Israel Could Have Taken – And Maybe Still Can [Audio], The New York Times
Before Oct. 7, Israel appeared to many to be sliding into a “one-state reality,” where it had functional control over Gaza and the West Bank, but the Palestinians who lived there were denied full rights. In 2021, a group of hundreds of former senior defense and diplomatic officials in Israel published a report warning that this was a catastrophe — for Israel’s security, its democratic values, its international standing, and its very soul. Ezra Klein speaks with Nimrod Novik is a fellow at the Israel Policy Forum and a member of the executive committee of Commanders for Israel’s Security, the group behind the report.