The U.S. should immediately mobilize ‘Operation Gaza Relief’

The Washington Post

Israel has every right to pursue those who carried out Hamas’s horrific terrorist assault on Oct. 7. But the war strategy chosen by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has had a massive and unacceptable impact on Palestinian civilians. Israel’s campaign of bombing and shelling has killed an estimated 28,000 Palestinians, according to the health ministry in Gaza, more than 70 percent of them women and children. Many more are seriously injured. Acute shortages of medicine, food, water and shelter, combined with power and communication blackouts, have created a cascading disaster.

For months, the Biden administration has made urgent and repeated requests to the Netanyahu government to pursue a more targeted campaign against Hamas and to dramatically increase the facilitation of humanitarian aid delivered through the Rafah and Kerem Shalom crossing points. Israel has largely disregarded these appeals. In addition, the Netanyahu government is considering a military campaign in Rafah, where more than 1 million displaced Palestinians are living, which would make the humanitarian crisis even worse.

Given the lack of a meaningful response to the Biden administration’s appeals to the Netanyahu government, the responsibility to lead falls upon the United States. It falls on the United States because we are the largest provider of military assistance to Israel. It falls on us because the United States has supplied many of the bombs and artillery shells that Israel has employed in its Gaza campaign. It falls on us because the United States has a massive sealift capability to deliver aid and might be the only nation Israel would allow to coordinate the direct provision of aid to Gaza to address the suffering.

Moreover, our values demand the provision of lifesaving humanitarian support to Gaza. In conflict after conflict around the world, we shine a light on humanitarian tragedies and admonish the governments responsible. We stand against bombing campaigns that result in high civilian casualties. We coordinate aid to assist those suffering. Because of our close partnership with Israel, it is even more imperative that we act in Gaza.

Up until now, the administration has emphasized two strategies in this matter: urging Israel to greatly amplify the delivery of aid, and pursuing a diplomatic strategy to finalize a pause in fighting that will stop the bombing and provide an opportunity for an infusion of aid. These strategies minimize conflict with the Netanyahu government and avoid the complexity and responsibility for coordinating direct assistance. But these strategies have failed. The Palestinians cannot wait any longer, and our country needs to act now.

The role of the United States in this operation should be to get medical aid directly to hospitals by air and supplies of food, water and necessities to the shore. Humanitarian organizations must take over from there to distribute and utilize the supplies. In this intense conflict, the presence of U.S. troops or personnel on the ground inside Gaza would be an invitation to direct involvement in the conflict. We must not make that mistake.

We should immediately launch “Operation Gaza Relief.” It would address four key needs:

First, supply desperately needed medicine and medical equipment. The 11 partially functional hospitals remaining in Gaza cannot provide care needed by thousands of Palestinians with life-threatening injuries. Children are going through amputations and mothers through Caesarean sections without anesthesia. The United States should mobilize and support airlifts to provide those hospitals with supplies including basic medicines, from antibiotics to insulin. We should also consider deployment of the Navy’s two hospital ships, each with a 1,000-bed capacity, to the eastern Mediterranean — and coordinate help from hospital ships operated by other nations and the nonprofit Mercy Ships. The United States should also work with Israel to coordinate the transportation of Palestinians with serious injuries to hospitals in the region and to establish no-fire zones for field hospitals.

Second, the impending famine must be stopped through immediate onshore deliveries of food. Extreme hunger is widespread after months of grossly inadequate deliveries. Nine out of 10 Palestinians are surviving on less than one meal a day. Successfully feeding that many people will also require the delivery of fuel to restart bakeries and cooking stoves.

Third, address the acute water shortage. Contaminated water is already driving widespread illness; cholera and other diseases could spread quickly, with devastating effects. Two of the three lines that previously supplied Gaza with clean water from Israel have been out of commission for weeks. Israel should be pressed to repair and activate them. The United States should also ensure that the water desalination plants on the coast have the fuel they need to operate and should use its sea-to-shore assets to deliver water and water purification equipment.

Fourth, provide safe shelter. The Netanyahu government has repeatedly directed Palestinians to locations that have subsequently come under military attack. Netanyahu’s threatened military operation in Rafah would cause massive and unacceptable additional displacement. Operation Gaza Relief should facilitate assistance for aid organizations to deliver and erect emergency shelters in areas coordinated with Israel and the United Nations to make sure they are safe zones.

To improve the humanitarian conditions in Gaza, the United States should continue to push for a cease-fire coupled with the release of hostages, to advocate for a more targeted effort against Hamas that prioritizes avoiding civilian harm and to encourage Israel to deliver more aid.

But given the dire circumstances, these efforts alone are not enough. Operation Gaza Relief is essential. Our values demand action. There is no time to waste.