military matters

Cardin predicts Israeli operations in Gaza may begin to wind down even without cease-fire deal

Cardin predicts Israeli operations in Gaza may begin to wind down even without cease-fire deal

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Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD)

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, predicted in a Thursday meeting with reporters that Israel’s operations in Gaza may begin to wind down even if Hamas continues to resist and reject offers for a cease-fire, while also emphasizing that the terror group could still be pressured into agreeing to a cease-fire deal that it has been resisting.

Even if a cease-fire deal remains elusive, Cardin said his understanding is that “there is a finite date to how much more military operations [Israel] can do” and ”there’s not much more that can be gained through the military operations” — though he said he didn’t know exactly what that timeline would be.

“There will come a time, even if there’s not a cease-fire, that I believe Israel will want to move to a different level, and they will want to see responsible leadership in Gaza that can maintain security and move toward a more permanent situation,” Cardin said. “We hope it’s in conjunction with a cease-fire and return of hostages, but if it’s not … I think it still will happen at some point.”

He said that Israel’s security includes “more than just neutralizing, minimizing or destroying Hamas. It’s a regional security blanket.”

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said recently that the war is likely to continue at least until the end of the year.

Cardin praised the Biden administration’s efforts to secure a deal, describing the proposal on the table as “reasonable” adding that “if it does not go forward, it rests solely with the responsibilities of Hamas.”

He said that he’s “not surprised” that Hamas is obstructing a deal, but also argued, “just because Hamas doesn’t want to do it [does not mean] they’re not going to do it.” 

Cardin explained that the U.S. and others in the region, including U.S. adversaries and “those that Hamas might be listening to,” are placing pressure on the terrorist group to agree and Hamas will “find their support system eroding” if they do not.

He said that Hamas is seeking a “more permanent end to the conflict in this agreement than is possible at this stage,” but “there’s a way of finessing that and renegotiating that.”

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair maintained that Hamas cannot be part of the future of Gaza.

Cardin also said that a cease-fire agreement would make it “much less” likely that a full-scale war will erupt between Israel and Hezbollah along the country’s northern border with Lebanon.

The retiring Democrat, who will leave public office at the end of the year, said he’s continuing to work with colleagues on facilitating a trilateral agreement between the U.S, Saudi Arabia and Israel that would normalize relations between Riyadh and Jerusalem, as well as provide a path toward a two-state solution.

“These discussions are very much alive,” Cardin said, but “this has been made more difficult because of the [International Criminal Court] prosecutor general’s actions on requesting indictments” of Israeli officials.

In spite of repeated public reports that the administration and Saudi Arabia are moving closer to a bilateral deal including defense guarantees and a Saudi civilian nuclear program without the Israeli normalization component, Cardin said that “normalization is a critical part of the agreement … I don’t believe the Biden administration will submit this without the normalization as part of it.”

He said the Saudis have laid out to him what specific conditions they’re seeking on progress toward a two-state solution as part of a normalization deal, but declined to share them publicly.

“There are public statements and there are private statements — not just on the Palestinian or Arab side, but on the Israel side,” Cardin said. “We all put up with some of their language that makes it sometimes more difficult for us … It has to be a path, a genuine path, forward for two states living side by side.”

He said that Arab states including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Egypt and Qatar are interested in participating in governance and economic aspects of post-war Gaza, although there are “a lot of fill-in-the-blanks that haven’t quite been filled in yet” as far as what the post-war reconstruction effort will entail, and that all of that is dependent on achieving a cease-fire agreement.

Despite reports that bipartisan talks regarding a response to the ICC have collapsed, Cardin said his efforts are continuing, without specifying exactly which lawmakers he’s working with or what options are on the table.

He said his and the administration’s goal is to find a response that will deter the ICC from actually granting the arrest warrants that its prosecutor sought and proceeding further with the prosecution of Israeli leaders.

Cardin alluded to various tools that have already been granted to the executive branch to act, including “monetary” powers, sanctions and cooperation with partners. He again condemned House Republicans for advancing a sanctions bill outside of bipartisan negotiations.

Cardin said he had no issue with congressional leaders’ invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress. He urged Netanyahu to present a message that will maintain and strengthen bipartisan American support for Israel, as well as lay out a plan for post-war Gaza and a pathway to peace in the region.

The Maryland senator said that, based on discussions with Cindy McCain, the executive director of the World Food Programme, and others, there has not been a sustained flow of sufficient levels of humanitarian aid into Gaza. 

He said that, despite continued maintenance issues, he supports the continued operation of the U.S.-built military pier off Gaza as one of multiple avenues for moving aid.

Cardin said there are several issues that have hindered aid flows, including military and political issues, distribution, safety and diversion and theft of aid. He said that a cease-fire is the best path to establishing more durable systems for distributing aid.

But he also said that it is his and McCain’s view that the civil war in Sudan — which draws much less attention than Gaza — “could be the single largest humanitarian crisis in the world.”

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