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Former US diplomat warns Biden policy on Israel is putting America at risk

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(WASHINGTON) — For years, Hala Rharrit was a career veteran diplomat who took pride talking about American values such as human rights and freedom of the press.

Now, she’s the first U.S. diplomat to resign her post in protest of Biden administration policies toward Israel and the war in Gaza.

In an interview with ABC News this week, Rharrit said she believes the steady stream of U.S. bombs and other weapons sent to Israel with few conditions is putting America’s national security at risk as the Arab world grows more volatile — and hostile to U.S. interests — than ever.

“None of this is helping Israel,” Rharrit said of Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza. 

And the policy of shipping military aid with few conditions to Israel is “fundamentally bad for America,” she added.

The idea of diplomats and career government workers quitting their posts isn’t new. Resignations also occurred in the George W. Bush administration during the Iraq War as officials questioned the rationale for the U.S. invasion and deaths of American service members.

Those protest resignations are back on the rise this spring as Rharrit has been joined by nearly a dozen government workers in recent months who have abruptly resigned in protest of Biden administration policies toward Israel and the Gaza conflict.

Others to leave their federal government jobs include Josh Paul and Stacy Gilbert — both longtime officials at the State Department who had direct roles in overseeing U.S. policy toward Israel — and U.S. Army Maj. Harrison Mann, an executive officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency’s Middle East-Africa Regional Center.

The State Department declined to discuss personnel issues, but said officials have sought feedback from its employees throughout the war.

“I can say broadly that our staff have many ways to provide feedback and recommendations, both through the dissent channel and through more routine mechanisms including cables, emails, meetings, and spot reports,” a State Department spokesperson wrote in a statement.

“Since October 7, the Department has held multiple listening sessions specifically designed to give policy feedback related to the conflict. The Secretary, Deputy Secretaries, and Undersecretaries have participated in these sessions,” the statement added.

From the Biden administration’s standpoint, the steady flow of ammunition to Israel and statements of “ironclad” support were necessary to deter Iran and its proxies in the region, as well as terror groups like Hamas.

Officials also note that Hamas is to blame for the startling civilian death toll by hiding in encampments and in hospitals and schools. Hamas could lessen hostilities, they say, by releasing the remaining hostages and surrendering to Israel, even as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the notion of a permanent cease-fire.

U.S. advisers close to Biden also insist they haven’t given Israel a pass — repeatedly calling out Israel for not doing enough to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza and publicly demanded that Israel do more to protect civilians, including thousands who has sought shelter in the southern Gazan city of Rafah.

Meanwhile, Israel also has accused Hamas of operating from civilian sites and insisted Israel won’t be safe until every Hamas fighter is eradicated.

For Rharrit, part of her job at the State Department immediately following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel was to report back to Washington how Arab audiences viewed the conflict. As an Arab-language spokesperson based in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, Rharrit would scour local media outlets and track popular personalities on social media reporting on the war.

What Arab audiences watched, she said, was mostly traumatized images of children being killed or severely wounded in Israel’s bombing campaign. Young people, freshly orphaned, were everywhere, too — vowing revenge against Israel and the U.S. for supplying the weapons. There were also images of aid trucks backed up along the border juxtaposed with infants dying of malnutrition.

At the same time, Rharrit said she was given talking points to deliver to those Arab outlets — carefully crafted phrases approved from State Department headquarters in Washington.

“Israel has a right to defend itself” and “the U.S. stands with Israel” were the oft-repeated phrases that omitted any mention of the heavy death toll of civilians, journalists and aid workers inside Gaza.

Rharrit said she pushed back, telling higher-ups the talking points were “disconnected” from what Arabs were seeing on their phones. The statements also were at odds with Biden administration statements on other conflicts like Ukraine that frequently called out attacks on civilians, offered condolences to communities and called for the protection of journalists, she said.

Then in January, her headquarters in Washington asked her to stop filing reports because they were no longer needed, she said.

When asked about the details, the State Department said reporting written by “the Dubai Regional Media Hub’s reporting after the October 7 attacks was read at the highest levels of the Department.”

From Rharrit’s viewpoint, senior officials at the State Department were willfully choosing to ignore how the nearly unconditional flow of offensive weapons to Israel was damaging support for U.S. policies overseas and its standing on the international stage.

“We [the U.S.], in the Arab world were seen as complicit because we were surging munitions” to Israel, said Rharrit, who resigned April 24.

In May, Biden took the unprecedented step of withholding a single shipment of 2,000-pound bombs to Israel — devastating, non-precision weapons he said Israel could use to kill civilians — in a bid to urge restraint in Rafah. The move was meant with swift and angry pushback from Republican lawmakers who said he had no right to withhold an aid package Congress had approved.

Other military aid continues to flow to Israel, as it has for decades, including both offensive and defensive weapons.

A recent report by the State Department concluded that it was “reasonable to assess” that U.S. weapons have been used by Israel in a way that is “inconsistent” with Israel’s obligation under international law. At the same time, the report concluded the U.S. didn’t have “complete information” and would not withhold weapons to Israel.

Hamas killed some 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, and more than 240 were kidnapped in the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war, according to Israeli officials.

The Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health estimates more than 37,000 people have been killed in the conflict, although those numbers could not be independently verified.

Israel has denied that it has violated international humanitarian laws and said it has the right to eliminate the same Hamas fighters that attacked civilians on Oct. 7.

Rharrit said she believes more staff resignations are possible. Still, she acknowledges many of her former colleagues are hoping the war will end before that happens and are waiting it out.

Either way, Rharrit said she believes there is a heightened risk for Americans working abroad, including U.S. service members stationed in the Middle East and diplomatic staff, because, she said, the U.S. is now inextricably bound to this war.

While none has been attacked so far, “the administration is willfully putting a target on our backs,” she said.

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