Austin: Israel Boosting Aid to Gaza, No Evidence of ‘Genocide’

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies before Senate Committee on Armed Services during a hearing on Department of Defense Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2025 and the Future Years Defense Program on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 9, 2024. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

WASHINGTON (AP/Hamodia) — Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told Congress Tuesday that Israel has responded to pressure to increase humanitarian aid to Gaza as Israel fights the Hamas terror group, but he said more must be done.

“It clearly had an effect. We have seen changes in behavior, and we have seen more humanitarian assistance being pushed into Gaza,” Austin said in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “Hopefully that trend will continue.”

Austin’s comments came during a session that was interrupted several times by protesters shouting at him to stop sending weapons to Israel. Austin was asked by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) to respond to the protestors’ accusations that the war is “genocidal.”

“We don’t have any evidence of genocide,” Austin responded.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member on the committee, asked Austin repeatedly if he would call the Oct. 7 massacre perpetrated by Hamas terrorists a genocide, to which he responded that “It certainly is a war crime.”

The Secretary said he spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, on Monday and that he repeated U.S. insistence that Israel must move civilians out of the battlespace in Gaza and properly care for them.

Austin and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. CQ Brown Jr. were testifying on Capitol Hill about the Pentagon’s $850 billion budget for 2025, and the hearing included questions about the administration’s Israel strategy following the tragic strike on World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza.

That accident led to a shift in tone from President Joe Biden on how Israel must protect civilian life in Gaza and drove dozens of House Democrats, including former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to call on Biden to halt weapons transfers to Israel.

Israel is investigating the circumstances that led to the strike. The death toll on civilians in Gaza remains proportionally lower than other modern urban warfare operations, including the U.S.’ own wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the amount of terrorists the IDF says have been killed, and the deaths recorded by the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, which does not distinguish between civilians and terrorists.

Israel in recent days took initial steps to increase the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza. In a call Friday, Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that future U.S. support for the war in Gaza depends on Israel taking more action to protect civilians and aid workers.

At the hearing, Austin also said that the military is moving ahead with plans to build a pier off the Gaza coast to increase the delivery of humanitarian aid, and initial operations will probably be ready to start by the third week of this month. He said that details are still being worked out but that aid organizations will help do that.

Six U.S. military ships with personnel and components to build a humanitarian aid pier are enroute to Gaza, with several in the Mediterranean Sea, heading toward Cyprus.

In their opening statements, both Austin and Brown emphasized that their 2025 budget is still shaped with the military’s long-term strategic goal in mind — to ready forces and weapons for a potential future conflict with China. About $100 billion of this year’s request is set aside for new space, nuclear weapons and cyber warfare systems the military says it must invest in now before Beijing’s capabilities surpass it.

But the conflicts in Ukraine and Israel are challenging a deeply-divided Congress and have resulted in months of delays in getting last year’s defense budget through, which was only passed by lawmakers a few weeks ago.

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy has issued desperate pleas that if the U.S. does not help soon, Kyiv will lose the war to Russia.

The Pentagon scraped together about $300 million in ammunition to send to Kyiv in March but cannot send more without Congress’ support, and a separate $60 billion supplemental bill that would fund those efforts has been stalled for months.

“The price of U.S. leadership is real. But it is far lower than the price of U.S. abdication,” Austin told the senators.

If Kyiv falls, it could imperil Ukraine’s Baltic NATO member neighbors and potentially drag U.S. troops into a prolonged European war.

Lawmakers are also seeing demands at home. For months, a handful of its far-right members have kept Congress from approving additional money or weapons for Ukraine until domestic needs like curbing the crush of migrants at the southern U.S. border are addressed. Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson is already facing a call to oust him as speaker by Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene because Johnson is trying to work out a compromise that would move the Ukraine aid forward.

To Read The Full Story

Are you already a subscriber?
Click to log in!