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US ambassador: ‘Nothing fundamentally changed’ between US and Israel despite arms issue

Amb Lew attempts to defuse tensions following Biden's announcement to halt arms shipments

United States Ambassador to Israel Jacob J. Lew attends a Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), in Tel Aviv, March 7, 2024.(Photo: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The American ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, asserted on Sunday that “fundamentally, nothing has changed in the basic relationship” between Israel and the United States despite President Joe Biden's declaration that the U.S. would not supply weapons for Israel’s operation in Rafah.

Speaking with Israel’s Channel 12 News, Lew emphasized, “We’ve had conversations about large bombs, particularly heavy bombs, when there’s a possibility that they’ll be used in densely populated urban areas, and that's something we need to keep talking about.”

He continued, “But in my opinion, it is a mistake to think that something has fundamentally changed in the relationship.”

“Just to be clear, we are providing a huge amount of aid. We did this even before October 7, it intensified after that day, and even this week, when everyone focuses on the decision to delay, freeze, one shipment of armaments – everything else continues to flow,” he added.

Israel launched a limited operation on the eastern outskirts of Rafah beginning last week, after months-long U.S. pressure not to enter the town for fear of massive civilian casualties.

“What the president said was that he didn’t think it was a good idea to launch a massive ground invasion in a highly populated area, but he specifically said that one-ton bombs should not be used in that environment,” Lew continued.

Military aid to Israel has increased since war erupted in Gaza, Lew stressed, noting that only “one set of munitions” had been held back, while “everything else keeps flowing.”

Israel and the U.S. “need to keep talking through” issues regarding “large diameter bombs, heavy bombs, particularly when there’s the possibility of them being used in densely populated urban areas,” he added.

The ambassador clarified that the operations in Rafah thus far have not escalated to the massive incursion the U.S. had warned against.

“What Israel has done so far has not reached a place where there are disagreements,” he said, adding that he hopes “in the end, we will not reach real disagreements.”

In response to being asked if the Biden administration still saw the elimination of Hamas as the goal of the war, Lew said: “We have learned from our experience in difficult wars that there is a difference between eliminating something and making it no longer a threat, and the challenge is to weaken Hamas to the point where it is no longer a threat.”

“This does not mean that you will eliminate each and every Hamas operative,” he said. “We never said that it was not a legitimate goal to pursue the four battalions.”

In his opinion, a better way to reach this goal would be “through targeted operations, closing the border and preventing supplies.”

Lew stressed that Washington and Jerusalem have a common goal in Gaza.

“To defeat Hamas, locate the leaders of Hamas and close the border to smuggling in both directions. Our common interest here is broad.”

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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