At least 13,000 people have died during Israel’s current operation in Gaza. On November 20th: UN Secretary General António Guterres described the killing of civilians there as “unprecedented and unparalleled in any conflict” of his term.

The United States provided much of the bombs, grenades and ammunition that caused these deaths. I resigned from the State Department office responsible for these transfers a month ago, when it became clear what would develop in Gaza if there was no change in policy for which there was no appetite.

The current ceasefire was an important step that enabled the exchange of hostages and the distribution of humanitarian aid. But it is due to end on Thursday and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has warned his troops that they will be prepared for another two months of heavy fighting.

Meanwhile, US support for Israel’s unattainable military objectives in Gaza remains unchanged, but as global calls for a ceasefire grow, it is long past time for the US government to get involved. But how?

Through his “iron” Despite its commitment to Israel’s security, the United States has a wide range of influence over Israeli defense policy. It is also capable of incentivizing a ceasefire. Here are seven ways the U.S. could help push Israel toward a ceasefire without endangering Israel’s basic national security:

  • The USA offers more than $3.8 billion to Israel annually as military aid. The Biden administration has vowed never to place conditions on that aid, which comes from funds appropriated by Congress. But all development aid is subject to conditions. There is space in the existing Laws and guidelines to prevent U.S. weapons from being supplied to entities credibly involved in serious human rights abuses or from being used to cause large-scale civilian casualties. We should adhere to these laws and guidelines for Israel, as we do for other partners.
  • As the main supplier of Israeli weapons, the US could also ration the flow of critical weapons to Israel, which is currently burning through huge amounts of air-to-surface munitions and artillery shells. This could be achieved by limiting Israel’s ability to capitalize War reserves that the USA holds in Israel – perhaps limiting the release of such weapons to a case-by-case basis. The U.S. could also deny permits or delay arms shipments that Israel has requested through the regular foreign military and direct commercial sales processes managed by the State Department. (In 2021, Biden took this step with the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen by suspending arms transfers, as the president said“This war must end.”) Congress could also act here by removing Israel from the war NATO+5 list of eligible countries for accelerated review of arms sales.
  • U.S. diplomacy provides Israel with a shield in the Middle East. U.S. efforts in the region focused on Integration of Israel into the Arab world. There are increasing calls across the region also from Saudi Arabiathat the Israeli-Palestinian peace process must be successful before relations with Israel can be normalized. The United States should support these demands and provide diplomatic support to the calls for a ceasefire by Arab leaders and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. This, coupled with increasing U.S. abstention in UN votes raising concerns about Israeli actions in the occupied territories, could convince Israel that without steps toward a ceasefire it will lack the diplomatic protection it needs to succeed in other regional ventures to be will disappear.
  • The US could signal that it will be used if there is no ceasefire what approach it chose on Ukraine’s efforts to hold Russia accountable for war crimes. The USA is currently not facilitating the work of the International Criminal Court on this issue, but neither is it hindering it. Israeli officials may decide to change course if the US makes clear that its continued bombings in Gaza will have consequences, including the possibility of holding Israeli military decision-makers and forces accountable for their actions. The risk here, of course, is that the US itself could become implicated in potential war crimes because it supplies Israel with weapons.
  • The US is already conducting a military dialogue with Israel. In it, American defense officials could highlight the long-term costs of Israel’s current actions in Gaza and the threat it poses to Israel’s defenses, both in terms of the stability of the West Bank and the willingness of Arab partners to continue working with it. (This will depend on the extent to which the Israeli operations are planned and driven by the Israeli military, as there are good reasons to believe that this is part of the motivation for the campaign It’s more about keeping Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government coalition together than military strategy.) Through these channels, the United States has the opportunity both to provide trusted advice to multiple echelons of the Israel Defense Forces and, in a less public context, to express significant displeasure with Israel’s actions. Such words could be supported by the cancellation or postponement of certain operations, such as military exercises.
  • Other diplomatic steps the US could take to more indirectly pressure Israel into a ceasefire could include repealing the program that allows Israeli citizens to enter the US without a visa. The government introduced this visa waiver program in September. Biden could also announce a policy review on whether to keep that in place Recognition of the Trump administration by Israel’s unilateral annexation of the Golan Heights. Such moves would send the message that Israel’s continuation of the war in its current form would not be without consequences for bilateral relations.

Any of these paths would require something that has been in short supply in Washington lately: political courage. Only about 45 members of Congress, including two senators, have called for a ceasefire. But the tide is turning, and it seems only a question of how many Palestinian deaths will it take to get a critical mass in Congress to call for a ceasefire. The levers are available to the US to pressure Israel to end this bloody and senseless war – if only the country is willing to use them.

Josh Paul was most recently the director of the State Department’s Office of Political-Military Affairs, which oversees U.S. arms transfers.

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