Palestinians are standing next to a vehicle in Deir Al-Balah, in the central Gaza Strip, on April 2, where employees from the World Central Kitchen (WCK), including foreigners, were killed in an Israeli airstrike, according to the NGO. (Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Israel must roll out a plan in the “coming hours and days” to better protect aid workers and civilians trapped inside Gaza, or the United States may alter its policy of unfettered support, the White House said today, in the clearest sign of growing frustrations in Washington over Israel’s military activities six months into the war. 

“I’m not going to preview any potential policy decisions coming forward: What we want to see are some real changes on the Israeli side,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said at the White House today. “And, you know, if we don’t see changes from their side, they’ll have to be changes from our side.”

Kirby’s comments come days after Israel’s deadly attack on vehicles ferrying aid workers from Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, a move that promoted a call today between US President Joe Biden and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

During that 30-minute conversation, Biden called on Netanyahu to announce and implement a series of steps to address civilian harm, humanitarian suffering, and the safety of aid workers, according to a White House readout.

“What we are looking to see, and hope to see here in coming hours and days, is a dramatic increase in humanitarian assistance getting in, additional crossings opened up, and a reduction in the violence against civilians, and certainly aid workers,” Kirby added. “We want to see that, even as the Israelis work through their [strike] investigation, that they are willing and able to take practical, immediate steps to protect aid workers on the ground and to demonstrate that they… have civilian harm mitigation in place.”

Kirby declined to “preview” just what policy steps Washington might take if Israel presents a plan that does not meet the White House’s expectations.

The UN says over 180 aid workers have been killed since the war began Oct. 7, while Palestinian figures put the overall death toll in Gaza above 30,000.

Although frustrations in the Biden administration over Israel’s handling of the war have been spilling out, today’s announcement was the first time it publicly threatened to shift course, a move that could potentially mean more oversight to the weapons it delivers via military aid and foreign military sales. 

As the administration waits to see what Israel decides to do, it is moving ahead with plans to build a floating pier, also called joint logistics over-the-shore (JLOTS), off the Gaza’s coast.

“JLOTS continues to be enroute, we expect to achieve full operations capability by the end of the month, early May,” Pentagon Press Secretary Pat Ryder told reporters today.

“The strike certainly doesn’t make that job easier,” he later added. “But that has not deterred us from continuing to work with groups and [non-governmental organizations] NGO’s to come up with solutions, that’s what we’ve been tasked to do.”

How Congress Could Block Weapons To Israel

Some key players on Capitol Hill are indicating they are done waiting for a change in Israel’s tactics. 

When asked during a CNN interview whether the United States should impose conditions on military aid to Israel, Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said, “I think we’re at that point.”

Coons, who sits on the Foreign Relations Committee, added that he could support conditioning military aid if Israel “continue[s] with large-scale military operations in Rafah without making any provision for civilians.”

In 2016, the two countries signed a 10-year agreement under which the US agreed to provide $38 billion in military aid — including $33 billion in Foreign Military Financing, which has to be spent by Israel on US-made equipment, and another $5 billion on missile defense technologies. However, the deals still have to be approved by Congress, leaving lawmakers with two primary avenues for blocking arms sales to Jerusalem.

Before the State Department formally notifies Congress of a proposed sale it previews the deal to the chair and ranking members of the Senate and House Foreign Affairs committees, known within Congress as the “four corners.” Any of those lawmakers have the ability to covertly put a hold on the deal, as several members did on major sales to Turkey for several years following Ankara’s purchase of a Russian air defense system, as reported by Defense News in 2020.

Lawmakers could also block the deal by passing a joint resolution of disapproval in both the House and Senate, but Congress has never successfully used that mechanism to prevent a sale from taking place, according to the Congressional Research Service. Such a measure would be unlikely to clear the House due to GOP support of Israel.

During an interview with CNN earlier today, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said the United States “cannot approve the sale of arms to a country that is in violation of our own laws on this, and that includes access to humanitarian relief.” But though she noted that “Congress has responsibility here and I’m willing to take that responsibility,” she fell short of a commitment to sponsor proposed legislation that would block the deal.