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Peace and Conflict

Cameron arrives in Israel, urges de-escalation | Update 17 April 2024

Cameron arrives in Israel, urges de-escalation via BICom

What’s happened: As Israel continues to weigh the nature of its response to Iran’s unprecedented attack on Saturday night, significant operations were conducted yesterday in both the Gaza Strip and southern Lebanon.

Iran: Israel’s western allies continue to urge a restrained response. Prime Minister Sunak yesterday told Prime Minister Netanyahu in a phone call that “further significant escalation will only deepen instability in the region. This is a moment for calm heads to prevail.”

  • Foreign Secretary Cameron arrived in Israel today for talks with senior Israeli officials on Israel’s response to the Iranian attack. Speaking to reporters, Cameron said “It’s clear the Israelis are making a decision to act. We hope they do so in a way that does as little to escalate this as possible.”
  • Earlier, alongside German Foreign Minister Baerbock, Cameron met with Israeli President Herzog this morning. Herzog thanked the two for “the UK and Germany’s strong stand alongside Israel in the face of the reprehensible attack by Iran. The whole world must work decisively and defiantly against the threat posed by the Iranian regime which is seeking to undermine the stability of the whole region.”
  • US Secretary of State Blinken, meanwhile, spoke with Minister Benny Gantz and with the Qatari prime minister. The State Department said that the US did wish to see further escalation.
  • US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, meanwhile, yesterday announced fresh US sanctions on Iran. “In the coming days, the United States will impose new sanctions targeting Iran,” he said, “including its missile and drone program” as well as the IRGC and the defence ministry. "These new sanctions and other measures will continue a steady drumbeat of pressure to contain and degrade Iran’s military capacity and effectiveness and confront the full range of its problematic behaviours... We anticipate that our allies and partners will soon be following with their own sanctions.”
  • The US Treasury Department is said to be seeking to enlist international cooperation in limiting Iran’s export of oil and its access to the microelectronics it needs to produce the kind of drones with which it attacked Israel on Saturday.
  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, meanwhile, yesterday threatened Israel with a “painful response” if it takes the “slightest action” in retaliation. In a call with Qatari emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Raisi said “we firmly declare that the slightest action against Iran’s interests will definitely be met with a severe, extensive and painful response.”

In Gaza: More than 40 targets were struck by the Israeli Air Force, including in central Gaza on rocket launchers primed and ready for attacks on Israel.

  • Multiple Palestinian gunmen were killed in clashes on the outskirts of the Nuseirat camp, while an airstrike was carried out against a cell operating an armed drone.
  • The IDF says other targets hit included underground rocket launch positions, booby-trapped buildings, structures where operatives were gathered, observation posts, underground sites, and other infrastructure.
  • Israeli ground forces, meanwhile, have in the past few days returned to parts of northern Gaza from which they had previously withdrawn. Operations in the town of Beit Hanoun are ongoing.
  • Israel media reports today claim that the IDF has begun to raise troop readiness ahead of a large-scale operation in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, and in the refugee camps in the central Gaza Strip.

In the north: According to Israeli media, two high-ranking Hezbollah commanders were killed yesterday in air strikes in southern Lebanon.

  • They were named as Ismail Yousef Baz, the commander of Hezbollah’s coastal district, killed in a strike on a car near Tyre; and Muhammad Hussein Mustafa Shehoury, the commander of one of the Radwan Force’s rocket and missile units.
  • The IDF said Baz “was involved in advancing and planning rocket and anti-tank missile fire at the State of Israel from the area of the coast in Lebanon, and during the war he organized and planned a range of terror attacks against Israel.”

Context: Israel’s western allies, while strongly condemning Iran and pledging their continued support in combating Iranian attacks on Israel, have urged Israel to show restraint in its response to prevent further regional escalation.

  • In weighing its response, therefore, Israel is forced to balance the need to maintain deterrence following an unprecedented Iranian attack consisting of over 300 missiles and UAVs, and protecting the emerging anti-Iranian Israeli-western-Arab alliance which was illustrated during the attack. (For further analysis see yesterday’s BICOM briefing and Israeli Media Summary below.)
  • The US has traditionally been reluctant to pursue particularly punitive measures on Iranian oil exports, for fear of angering China.
  • Israel withdrew the bulk of its troops from the Gaza Strip ten days ago, retaining the ability to conduct pinpoint strikes in all areas of the Strip when the need arose.
  • The operation in Beit Hanoun, together with Israel’s killing of three of the sons of Hamas Political Bureau Director Ismail Haniyeh in an airstrike in the Shati refugee camp in northern Gaza a week ago, indicate that despite IDF achievements in the north, the Hamas presence remains.
  • On Monday, the US condemned Hamas for being the obstacle to a ceasefire in Gaza, having rejected the latest US-brokered hostage deal.
  • “There’s a deal on the table that would achieve much of what Hamas claims it wants to achieve, and they have not taken that deal,” US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said.
  • “The bottom line is that they have rejected it, and if they did accept it, it would allow for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza of at least six weeks, which would benefit the Palestinian people whom they claim to represent. It would also allow us to continue improvements in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The bottom line is Hamas needs to take that deal, and they need to explain to the world and to the Palestinian people why they aren’t taking it because it is Hamas right now that is the barrier and the obstacle to a ceasefire in Gaza.”
  • The basic formula for the deal rejected by Hamas is thought to have included Hamas freeing about 40 Israelis – women, the elderly, and ill or wounded in exchange for several hundred Palestinian prisoners in Israel and a limited return of Gazans to the north of the Strip. This would be alongside a temporary ceasefire, during which further talks would be held.
  • Israel continues to maintain that for Hamas to be fully defeated as a military force in Gaza, an operation in its last stronghold of Rafah is required. However, an operation there would likely require the removal of the civilian population.
  • Due to the sensitivity, any major military operation into Rafah will likely need to be coordinated with the US and Egypt.
  • On Monday, the US welcomed the increase in the flow of aid to the Strip. "The aid has increased and quite dramatically in just the last few days," White House national security spokesman John Kirby said. "That's important, but it has to be sustained.”

via BICom