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Voices: Netanyahu thinks he can do what the hell he wants – we must stop him

The killing of seven international aid workers has betrayed the carelessness with which the Israeli administration has prosecuted its war  (AP)
The killing of seven international aid workers has betrayed the carelessness with which the Israeli administration has prosecuted its war (AP)

More and more, the killing of seven international aid workers in an Israeli drone attack in Gaza feels like a turning point in this conflict – a diplomatic and political one that will soon become a military one.

We don’t yet know the full facts about what happened, and must trust that the Israeli authorities will produce a transparent and truthful account of what occurred.

The attack was certainly deliberate in the sense that it was not collateral damage from a bombing raid. What does seem to be clear, then, is that this cannot be explained away as “a mistake”, the kind of error that happens because “war is hell”, as one Israel spokesperson put it. It betrays the carelessness with which the Israeli administration has prosecuted this war.

Despite the increasingly tokenistic claims of the Israeli Defence Forces that civilians are being protected as far as possible, that is clearly not the case. We see on our smartphones and on our television screens scenes of biblical devastation and of children dying of malnutrition, even as the IDF and Netanyahu’s PR people say there is no danger of famine and there are no obstacles to aid getting through. This cannot all be dismissed as Hamas propaganda, wicked as they are.

The charred remains of the clearly marked convoy in an aid route speaks volumes. So does the TV clip of the Israeli premier, Benjamin Netanyahu, responding to the global outrage. It is a bizarre affair, with a sort of sympathetic smile playing around his lips as he shrugs and reminds the world that this sort of thing happens in wartime.

He talks as if he is in charge of the foreign policy of the United States, the EU, Australia, Britain and others, and that he can do as he likes. You would not think that Israel, brave as its people have been under attack, depends on the West and its regional neighbours for its security.

At long last, their patience tried beyond endurance, even Israel’s staunchest friends and allies are turning on Netanyahu’s government. Words and pleas for restraint do not seem to be working. Netanyahu treats President Biden with withering contempt. The secretary of state, Antony Blinken, is humoured. David Cameron is patronised. The Israelis are arraigned at the International Court of Justice on a charge of genocide, and it makes no difference to the plans for a brutal air and ground assault on Rafah.

The United States has lifted its customary veto on a ceasefire and Israel responds by cancelling talks in Washington – as if the role of America was purely to exercise Netanyahu’s orders by proxy at the UN Security Council, as if it was Israel that was the permanent member in possession of the veto. Ignoring constant pressure not to widen the conflict and draw America into more direct conflict with Iran, the Israelis go ahead and bomb an Iranian embassy in Syria.

Gaza, if it ever was, is no longer just Israel’s unfinished business. The humanitarian catastrophe is too great, and the threat of a far wider, far more dangerous conflict is too great to just let Netanyahu do whatever the hell he likes.

The attack on the Global Kitchen Centre charity workers is symbolic and indeed a turning point. Enough is enough. President Biden and Rishi Sunak have expended huge amounts of political capital in defending Israel, but now they are shifting their stance, telling Israel openly that too many people have died in this war, and it must stop.

In Britain, there is now a live debate on ending arms sales to Israel. Similar pressures are growing in America. Increasingly, it is not just those on the left, the “usual suspects”, who are behind such calls, though Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have as much a right to be listened to as anyone. We now have Conservative former ministers such as Alistair Burt, and experienced diplomats such as Lord Ricketts questioning the West’s effectively unconditional support for Israel. The mood has darkened.

The time has come for the West to stop begging Netanyahu to listen and to make him do so.

So, we now take the next step and force a change of policy by incrementally scaling back military and financial assistance. We cannot stand idly by while babies die, and Netanyahu pushes the region into an even worse conflagration.

Put bluntly: America is not going to fight a war with Iran because it would suit Netanyahu. He is a man who understands power, and power is what must be used. It has been done before when Israel has abused its friends, and it can be done again. Indeed, it should probably have been done long before now, when it became clear that the main war aim was retribution, and the main method a gigantic, medieval-style siege.

The war in Gaza must end now. Whatever the precise wording of the UN resolution may be, Israel should not be permitted to ignore it and press on to Rafah. The war must end now not just to save the Palestinian people in Gaza suffering yet more tragedies; but for the sake of Israel itself. Because everything Netanyahu has done has played into Hamas’s hands. Hamas laid a trap last year – and Netanyahu took the bait.

It has taken just under six months for the powerful wave of global goodwill and support for Israel after the Hamas atrocities of 7 October to be dissipated. In the face of the worst antisemitic attack since the Holocaust – the murders of 1,269 innocents, the taking of hostages and other crimes against humanity – Israel’s friends and allies stood with the nation. Even Israel’s enemies stayed quiet. Western politicians declared that Israel “had the right to defend itself”. Aid was sent; military and financial support was guaranteed.

How incredible, almost unbelievable it is that we in the West should now find ourselves, in such a relatively short span of time, seriously discussing putting an arms embargo on Israel.

For the president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel to be barely on speaking terms. To have Iran, ally and mentor of Hamas, strengthening its hold on its regional militias and proxies. To have the Houthi guerrillas stopping shipping getting to the Suez Canal. To see the Abrahamic Accords halted, and Israel’s attempts to establish diplomatic relations with Arab neighbours wrecked.

To see Israel, of all nations, arraigned at the International Court of Justice on a charge of genocide. To see Israel itself riven by division, and protests across Western capitals questioning the right of the state of Israel to exist. That has all been the appalling result of the appalling way Israel’s government has prosecuted this war. It is a war that Israel is losing; and that’s why it is time to end it.