We want you to win, Sunak tells Netanyahu on Israel visit

Britain’s prime minister has told Israel “we want you to win”, amid international efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip. Rishi Sunak became the latest foreign leader to declare support for Israel’s war on Hamas, the militant group that attacked it this month, while calling for aid for Gaza’s more than 2mn besieged inhabitants. “We will stand with you in solidarity and we also want you to win,” Sunak said at a joint appearance with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stressing the UK’s stance that Israel has the “right to self-defence in line with international law”. Sunak, who also met Israel’s president Isaac Herzog, was due to travel to Saudi Arabia later on Thursday to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. “It is important that the conflict does not escalate regionally, that’s why I am talking to as many people across the region as I can,” the UK prime minister said during his visit to Israel. A day after US president Joe Biden secured agreement from Netanyahu’s government to permit basic humanitarian aid into Gaza, Downing Street said Sunak expressed his “sincere hope that further progress could be made on delivering crucial food, water and medicine”. As of Thursday, a UN co-ordinated convoy of international aid remained beside the Egypt-Gaza border. Israeli officials said on Wednesday that a small convoy with food, water and medicine would soon be allowed to enter the south of the enclave through Egypt. But they have provided no clear timeline. The agreement to let the supplies through followed talks between Biden and Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the US president’s one-day trip to Israel, the first such visit during wartime. Speaking on Air Force One during his return flight to Washington on Wednesday, Biden said Sisi had agreed to open the Rafah crossing from Egypt to allow in up to 20 trucks of humanitarian assistance. He added that the aid could start to reach Gaza by Friday, since first “they have to fill in potholes to get these trucks through”. The US president also said he had a “long talk” with the Israelis about “alternatives” with respect to an expected ground invasion of Gaza. An official said that UNRWA, the UN aid agency for Palestinians, was ready to provide aid from the Egyptian side of the border and waiting for permission. UN secretary-general António Guterres is expected to meet Sisi to co-ordinate the expansion of aid deliveries. But in an indication of Gaza’s needs, Martin Griffiths, the UN’s humanitarian chief, told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that the enclave required a return to prewar levels of 100 trucks a day to provide assistance throughout the territory to people in need. Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, also declined on Wednesday to detail how long it would take for the Rafah crossing from Egypt into the south of Gaza to be operational, saying it was damaged after Israeli bombing. Israel has refused to allow aid from its own territory while around 200 hostages remain in the hands of Palestinian militants. Half a million people in the enclave have been seeking shelter in UN schools that are running out of fresh water and food, after orders from the Israeli military for residents to leave the highly populated north of Gaza. But worsening conditions in southern Gaza have led some to return north in search of food and shelter. Israel has sought guarantees that aid will stay in the south of Gaza and be kept out of the hands of Hamas, which controls the enclave and which mounted the October 7 attack that triggered the war. Israel says that assault killed 1,300 people and has set Hamas’s elimination as a war goal. Nearly 3,800 Palestinians have been killed since the war began, many of them women and children, the Palestinian ministry of health said on Thursday. Biden’s trip was intended to show support to Israel and ease fears over a wider conflict. But Arab leaders, including Sisi and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, cancelled a summit with Biden after a deadly explosion at Gaza City’s Al-Ahli Arab hospital on Tuesday night. Israel and Palestinian officials blamed each other for the blast. Biden said at an appearance with Netanyahu that he believed the Gaza hospital explosion had been caused by “the other team”, citing Pentagon data. As tensions rise across the region, both Israel and the US have warned Iran to restrain its allies in regional militias from escalating or spreading the conflict. A chief concern is the restive border with Lebanon, which is controlled by Iran-backed Hizbollah, and could force Israel to divert military resources from its southern front in the Gaza region. The US embassy in Beirut called on Thursday for its nationals in Lebanon to make “appropriate arrangements to leave the country” while commercial flights remained available. It added: “We recommend that US citizens who choose not to depart prepare contingency plans for emergency situations.” Sunak said the UK had sent “military assets into the region” to help prevent escalation, adding that British surveillance aircraft were intended to ensure “that armed shipments don’t find their way to people like Hizbollah.” Netanyahu said his meeting with Biden had secured “immense security assistance of an unprecedented scope” that would aid the war effort. “We agreed on actions that will ensure the continuation of our just war,” Netanyahu said on Wednesday.


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Sunak’s comments were far from the warning delivered by Biden

Iain Watson

Political correspondent

There was nothing subtle about Benjamin Netanyahu’s comments – as well as the denunciations of Hamas as the “new Nazis”, the “new Isis” and “monstrous barbarians”, the Israeli PM framed the conflict as a struggle between Western civilisation and the “axis of evil” led by Iran.

He also warned of a long war and the need for continual support – with the subtext to Western governments not to get squeamish when Israel’s retaliation escalates.

Politically the UK PM Rishi Sunak saw it as important to be seen standing shoulder to shoulder with Israel.

But there were some subtleties in his speech – he warned Israel to minimise civilian casualties, albeit wrapped in approving language that he knew Israel would do this, unlike Hamas.

He also referenced international law and stressed the importance of humanitarian aid.

That said, it was far from the warning delivered by the US President not to be consumed by rage.

And with a succession of Western leaders being hosted in Israel, Sunak was playing his part in sending a message to Iran that a wider regional conflict would have consequences.

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