TIME Gaza

Why Obama Wants Israel to ‘Do More’ About Civilian Deaths

Palestinians carry a body into the Shifa Hospital morgue, Gaza City, July 20, 2014.
Palestinians carry a body into the Shifa Hospital morgue, Gaza City, July 20, 2014. Alessio Romenzi

And why Israel doesn't like it

As the death toll in Gaza escalates, so does the pressure from Washington on Israel to limit the killing. President Obama has conveyed his “concern” about Palestinian civilian casualties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Hell of a pinpoint operation,” John Kerry sardonically cracked on Sunday. Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told CNN Tuesday that Israel appears to be “over doing it,” and is hurting its “moral authority.”

But while the U.S. is clearly distressed about the rising civilian death toll in Gaza, now at around 650 Palestinian dead, the Obama administration won’t say what it wants Israel to do about it.

“I think probably they could take some greater steps, maybe could do a little bit more,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said on Tuesday.

But when pressed to explain what “do more” actually means, Harf demurred. “I don’t have any specifics for you. It’s a conversation we’ll continue having with them.”

Harf wasn’t going off message. Later in the day, deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes also said that Israel “can do more” to curtail the death of innocents. But Rhodes did not elaborate either.

So it’s not quite clear just what the Obama team is trying to say. There are a few ways Israel could “do more” to limit Palestinian casualties, but we have to guess at what Washington means.

One would be for Israel to hold its fire entirely. But that’s clearly not the U.S. position. Obama wants Israel to agree to a ceasefire, but not a unilateral one. U.S. officials repeat over and over that Israel has a right to defend itself from Hamas’s rocket attacks.

Is it Israel’s ground invasion that America opposes? It is true that the U.S. sought to dissuade it. “Nobody wants to see a ground invasion because that would put more civilians at risk,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on July 14, days before Israeli troops crossed Gaza’s border. But the U.S. has not appealed for an Israeli ground withdrawal.

That leaves the question of specific targeting decisions. Israel says it is extremely careful in this regard, noting that it takes steps to warn innocents about impending attacks, including evacuation notices, cell phone calls and low-explosive warning “knocks.” But it has still killed numerous Palestinians in their homes. Two weeks ago it killed several young boys playing on a beach. This week, its tanks shelled a Palestinian hospital that Israel said Palestinian militants were using as a base. Both tragic and damaging to Israel’s reputation, these are probably the sorts of incidents the U.S. would like to prevent.

Israeli officials say that of course they don’t want to bomb hospitals—but that they’re in an impossible position. Hamas fighters operate in civilian areas, and store weapons or plan battles from places like homes and hospitals, they say. The Israelis even argue that Hamas actually welcomes and facilitates the death of its people. Hamas has urged Gazans to ignore Israeli evacuation orders. In recent footage from Hamas’s television network shown to TIME by an Israeli official, a Hamas leader says: “We, Hamas, call on our people to adopt this practice” of “sacrificing themselves to defend their homes.”

In this challenging environment, Israeli officials say they analyze every strike, consulting military lawyers as they run a calculation that involves a kind of moral mathematics. As Israel’s ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer told reporters yesterday, that means weighing the civilian toll of a strike against the potential future harm to Israeli soldiers and civilians that might come from inaction.

That’s obviously an extremely difficult—and highly subjective—calculation. Dermer says Israel would never kill fifty children in a classroom to destroy one Hamas rocket; whereas he says one civilian death would be an acceptable price for destroying 200 rockets. But where’s the line? Would Israel accept the death of one child to destroy a dozen rockets? A dozen children for 500 rockets? Bear in mind that those rockets almost never land with lethal results; two Israelis have been killed by the roughly 2000 Hamas rockets fired this summer. That’s a 0.1 percent fatality rate per rocket. And yet any given rocket could destroy a school bus or nursing home and render that figure tragically obsolete.

Nor are fatalities the only relevant metric. Israel is also trying to measure the impact of those rockets on its society, economy, and tourism industry. And how to weigh the economic and psychological cost of cancelled flights into Israel’s Ben Gurion international airport? Then there’s the additional matter of Hamas’s underground tunnels, meant to enable terrorism and kidnapping within Israel, and the stated reason for Israel’s ground invasion.

When Obama officials ask Israel to “do more,” they seem to be encouraging a revised moral equation. Of course, the U.S. can never micromanage individual targeting decisions. But Obama may want Israel to conduct fewer strikes, perhaps omitting targets like hospitals, even that if it means accepting more risk to its soldiers and civilians. Some philosophers contend that demonstrably accepting more risk to protect civilians is the grim duty of a just combatant against an enemy using civilian shields.

Beyond the humanitarian and philosophical argument for that, there’s also a strategic one. Israel must weigh the Hamas threat against a more intangible threat to its international reputation. The United Nations’ top human rights official is suggesting that Israel (along with Hamas) may be guilty of war crimes. Yes, we’ve been here before: a 2009 U.N. report charged Israel with targeting civilians during its 2006 offensive in Lebanon. Its chief author later recanted that conclusion—but not before real damage was done to Israel’s image.

Which brings us back to Obama. The president doesn’t want to appear indifferent to Palestinian suffering—one senior official recalls how his standing in the Muslim world plunged after he seemed to condone Israel’s December 2008 Gaza incursion—even if he sympathizes with Israel, and might even respond in much the same way. Obama has accepted plenty of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and from U.S. drone strikes elsewhere, after all. But he evidently feels he needs to say something, even if it’s not very clear what he means.

TIME Israel

Michael Bloomberg Blasts FAA for Halting Israel Flights

Bloomberg Flies El Al, Says Travel To Israel "Safe"
Mike Bloomberg, majority shareholder of Bloomberg LP and former New York mayor, second right, and Nir Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem, right, speak with member of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Jerusalem, Israel, on Wednesday, July 23, 2014. Gilad Mor—Bloomberg/ Getty Images

"It was an overreaction for the FAA to halt U.S. flights here – and a mistake they should correct"

Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg said the Federal Aviation Administration overreacted after it canceled flights to Israel for 24 hours. Bloomberg flew to the country himself Wednesday, to “show solidarity with the Israeli people” and to “show that it’s safe to fly in and out” of the country, despite the ongoing crisis in Gaza.

“Halting flights here – when the airport is safe – hurts Israel and rewards Hamas for attacking Israel. Hamas wants to shut down the airport; we can’t let that happen,” Bloomberg said in a statement posted to his website. “I’m a pilot – and I’ve always believed the FAA does a great job – and still do. But on this issue, I think the agency got it wrong.”

The FAA ordered American carriers to stay put on Wednesday, after a rocket hit a mile away from Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport. Flight operations were canceled “due to the potentially hazardous situation created by the armed conflict in Israel and Gaza,” the FAA said.

Bloomberg, who says he has “always been a strong supporter of Israel,” landed in Tel Aviv at 5 a.m. local time on Wednesday via an El Al flight. He applauded Secretary of State John Kerry for also flying into the region on Wednesday to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“He was right to fly in, and I hope he will report back that the airport is safe and that the FAA should reverse its decision,” Bloomberg said.

TIME Gaza

Here’s What Gaza Explosions Look Like From Space

NASA

Astronaut Alexander Gerst tweeted the image Tuesday, calling it his "saddest photo yet"

TIME brussels

EU Preparing Further Sanctions Against Russia After MH17 Crash

The Bodies Of The MH17 Plane Crash Are Repatriated From The Ukraine To The Netherlands
A numbered coffin carried by Dutch military personnel contains an unidentified body from the crash of MH17 on July 23, 2014 at Eindhoven airport, Netherlands. Peter Macdiarmid—Getty Images

But it's unclear how potent any sanctions will be

For a continent determined to present a united message of outrage and reprisals after the downing of Flight MH17 killed 211 of its citizens, the signals coming from the European Union this week have been contradictory.

While its foreign ministers emerged from a meeting Tuesday vowing strong and unified action, a cross-channel spat over the sale of French warships to Russia exposed the depths of the economic conflicts which have prevented the EU from hitting Moscow with the toughest tools in its arsenal.

Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron said it was “unthinkable” that the UK would continue with the $1.62 billion warship deal, as France has done, given the Kremlin’s alleged backing of the Ukrainian rebels believed to have shot down the plane. The leader of France’s ruling Socialist Party, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, hit back: “When you see how many oligarchs have sought refuge in London, David Cameron should start by cleaning up his own backyard.”

For Stefan Lehne, a former Austrian diplomat who is now a visiting scholar with the Carnegie Europe policy center, the spat underscored a “lack of coherence” among the 28 member states, and one which is unlikely to be solved in the coming days or weeks, despite last Thursday’s tragedy.

“The shooting down of this airliner has of course increased urgency and support for doing something, but it has not changed anything fundamental,” he says. “There are still all the different interests of the member states.”

So for now, the EU has continued with its policy of inching forward with low-level sanctions while issuing more ultimatums, a cycle it has pursued since a political crisis in eastern Ukraine escalated into a full-scale insurgency earlier this year: First, add more names to a list of Russian and Ukrainian individuals and companies with their assets frozen and banned from entering the EU. Then threaten to move to the most damaging ‘Tier Three’ sanctions – which would hit whole sectors of the Russian economy like banking, arms and energy – unless the Kremlin moves to de-escalate a conflict which EU leaders say it is fuelling by supplying weapons and manpower.

Inevitably, Putin takes a few steps in the right direction, and EU leaders breathe a sigh of relief that they do not yet have to sacrifice their €400bn annual trade with Moscow. But slowly the Russian tanks return to the Ukrainian border, the ceasefires disintegrate, and more Russian-made tanks and weapons seep into the rebel strongholds — again and again the cycle has repeated itself.

Europe’s leaders profess that the plane crash has ended this cycle, and on Thursday it will become apparent exactly what has changed when the EU reveals who else is going to be added to a sanctions list first drafted in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.

The list will go further than ever before, targeting people and companies providing material support to Putin. The EU will also review a set of proposals on potential Tier Three sanctions which could be implemented if Russia does not cooperate with an international investigation into the downing of MH17 and fails to halt the stream of weapons into the country.

Much of the discussion has focused on a potential arms embargo, but only for future sales. That would mean France could still sell Russia its two warships, while Russian money in Britain’s banks would be protected, German companies operating in Russia could continue their work relatively unimpeded, and eastern European nations which get 80% of their gas from Russia could be slightly more confident of the security of their winter gas supplies.

Carnegie Europe’s Lehne does not think the EU will move to any Tier Three sanctions on Thursday. Instead, he says it’s playing the long game. He believes that the gradual escalation of threats combined with an economic squeeze on key allies of Putin is having an impact on the Russian president’s decision-making.

Others think the time has come to get tougher. Elmar Brok, chair of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said on Tuesday that Putin left open no “possibility of finding a political solution” and the EU should proceed with stronger sanctions.

The Lithuanian President, Dalia Grybauskaite, even made the comparison with appeasement in the Second World War. “In 1930s, Nazism wasn’t stopped, and now aggressive Russian chauvinism isn’t stopped and that resulted in the attack against a civilian plane,” she told a Lithuanian radio station.

Karel Lannoo, head of the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies, points out that Russia has more to lose than Europe from any restrictions on Russia’s energy sector, which accounts for 50 percent of Russia’s federal budget reserves.

“[The EU] can act in a coordinated way, just show they can have alternate sources of energy, that they are not too dependent on Russia,” he tells TIME. “It’s an oil and gas country, and the moment they don’t have these exports anymore, their economy will fall down.”

TIME Italy

The Costa Concordia Makes Its Final Voyage

Two and a half years have passed since the cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground outside of Giglio, Italy, killing 32 people and leaving the ship partially submerged in shallow water. Salvage crews worked tirelessly to re-float the wreck last week, filling steel boxes with air to serve as pontoons. Other boats will now tow the ship on its 240-kilometer (150-mile) journey to Genoa, Italy.

The Costa Concordia operation is the largest salvage attempt to date, with the ship weighing in at 114,500 tons. Dismantling the vessel on the reef was not an option. “It’s far more dangerous to the environment to leave it where it is than to tow it away,” Italy’s civil-protection chief Franco Gabrielli told Giglio residents.

The floatation and salvation project is expected to cost more than $2 billion. TIME takes a look at the Costa Concordia’s journey so far.

TIME

Kerry on Gaza: ‘This Needs to End for Everybody’

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to reporters after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 23, 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks to reporters after meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah on July 23, 2014. AP

“We had a good conversation today about how we can take further steps"

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that there has been some progress made over the past 24 hours in achieving a cease-fire in Gaza. Kerry’s comments came following a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

“We had a good conversation today about how we can take further steps, and we’re doing this for one simple reason: The people in the Palestinian territories, the people in Israel, are all living under the threat or reality of immediate violence, and this needs to end for everybody,” Kerry said following the meeting in Ramallah.

As of Wednesday, approximately 635 Palestinians, 77 percent of whom were civilians, have reportedly been killed in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, which escalated last week when Israel commenced a major ground invasion of the Gaza Strip. At least 30 Israelis have also been killed, 28 of whom were soldiers, according to the United Nations.

Kerry is traveling to Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Tel Aviv Wednesday in an effort to broker a cease-fire deal. Kerry’s presence in the region comes after militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza, rejected a deal presented by Egypt and agreed to by Israel. Kerry said Wednesday he was “very grateful to President Abbas for his leadership, for his deep engagement in the effort to try to find a cease-fire.”

“We will continue to push for this cease-fire,” Kerry said. “We will continue to work with President Abbas and others in the region in order to achieve it. And I can tell you that we have, in the last 24 hours, made some progress in moving towards that goal.”

Following his meeting with Abbas, Kerry was set to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

TIME interactive

How the World Sees America Now

Russia's approval for the United States plummeted in 2014. So did Brazil's. China and France increased in their affection for the country. This map shows the rise and fall in esteem for the United States around the world in recent years

Russians’ disapproval for the United States has hit new lows, according to the latest figures released by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project. In 2013, 51 percent of Russians said they had a favorable view of the United States–the fourth straight year that a majority of those polled gave the U.S. a thumbs up. This year, with discord rising between American and Russian leaders, Russian approval of the U.S. plummeted 28 percentage points.

The following interactive allows you to compare any two different years back to 2002 to see how global opinion has changed. Not every country was polled every year.

 

Note: Clicking on the green hyperlinks updates the interactive map in the article.

Following Barack Obama’s election in 2008, many countries saw spikes in favorability toward the United States in 2009, and in many cases those bumps in approval have since waned. Germany greeted the new White House administration with a 33 point bump in approval, for example, but has since dropped 13 points to a 51 percent favorability rating. France and China, meanwhile, has bucked the trend, with growing support for the U.S. since last year.

TIME eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian Pilots Missing After 2 Jets Shot Down in East

Two Ukrainian military jets shot down
A file picture dated September 17, 2007 shows Ukrainian Su-25 attack planes during manoeuvres at the landfill in Rovno, Ukraine. Pro-Russian separatists have shot down two Ukrainian military jets in the east of the country, Defence Ministry spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskiy said on July 23, 2014. Sergey Popsuevich—EPA

Both pilots ejected safely but their whereabouts are unknown

Pro-Russia separatist rebels shot down two Ukrainian military planes over eastern Ukraine Wednesday, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council told TIME. Both pilots ejected from their aircraft but remain missing.

An aide to separatist leader Alexander Borodai, told CNN that the two jets had been shot down by rebel fighters using a shoulder-fired missile system. However, Yarema Dukh, the Council’s press secretary, says that the jets were shot down from an altitude of 17,000 feet, an altitude she says is too high for those systems to reach. The aircrafts’ altitude, Dukh says, is instead a sign that “the planes may have been shot down by another plane.”

On top of that, though, it’s widely believed that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a Boeing 777 which crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, which most likely originated from rebel-controlled territory. Flight 17 was traveling at 33,000 feet at the time of the suspected shoot-down — much higher than the Ukrainian jets.

The two jets shot down Wednesday, both Soviet-built Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft, were among four fighter planes returning to base after supporting Ukrainian government forces along the Russia-Ukraine border, the Council said in a press conference Wednesday. They were hit over the Savur Mogila area close to the border around 1:30 p.m. local time.

The Ukrainian aircraft were flying in the same area as where Flight 17 crashed, killing all 298 people on board. On Wednesday, 40 of the 200 MH17 passengers’ bodies thus far recovered arrived in the Netherlands for identification. The flight’s two black boxes also safely reached investigators in Britain Wednesday.

In the days before the MH17 disaster, a Ukrainian An-26 transport plane and another Su-25 jet were also shot down. A second Su-25 was fired upon, but the pilot managed to land his plane with minimal damage.

TIME Ukraine

Malaysia Airlines Ukraine Crash: ‘No Evidence’ Black Boxes Tampered With

A pro-Russian separatist shows members of the media a black box belonging to Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, before its handover to Malaysian representatives, in Donetsk on July 22, 2014.
A pro-Russian separatist shows members of the media a black box belonging to Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, before its handover to Malaysian representatives, in Donetsk on July 22, 2014. Maxim Zmeyev—Reuters

"A thorough analysis of the information obtained will take time"

A team of investigators led by the Dutch Safety Board said in a report Wednesday there’s “no evidence” that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17′s cockpit voice recorders had been manipulated after the crash.

The Dutch Safety Board requested that the Air Accident Investigation Branch of the United Kingdom (AAIB) analyze Flight 17′s data recorders, also known as “black boxes” despite their typically bright orange color.

Many observers were concerned the black boxes — which include a cockpit voice recorder as well as a flight data recorder — were somehow tampered with by pro-Russia Ukrainian rebels who control the scene of the crash. Speculation that said rebels may have been responsible for shooting down Flight 17, some say, was a potential incentive for the rebels to damage or destroy the devices to hinder an investigation.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a Boeing 777, crashed July 17 in eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.

TIME Infectious Disease

Sierra Leone’s Chief Ebola Doctor Contracts the Deadly Virus

Sheik Umar Khan, head doctor fighting the deadly tropical virus Ebola in Sierra Leone, poses for a picture in Freetown, June 25, 2014.
Sheik Umar Khan, head doctor fighting the deadly tropical virus Ebola in Sierra Leone, poses for a picture in Freetown, June 25, 2014. Reuters Staff—REUTERS

Symptoms of Ebola include high fevers, diarrhea and vomiting

The top doctor fighting Sierra Leone’s deadly ebola outbreak has contracted the virus himself, the country’s government said Tuesday.

Sheik Umar Khan, 39, is leading an assault on the virus that the World Health Organization says has already claimed 632 lives—206 in Sierra Leone alone as of July 17.

The ebola virus is ruthless, with a mortality rate of 90%. Transmitted through direct contact with the body fluid, blood and infected tissue of victims, ebola can easily spread to the health workers working hard to fight it.

“Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk,” Khan said in an interview with Reuters, before displaying the illness.

Khan is credited with treating more than 100 Ebola victims, Reuters reports, and is considered a “national hero” by the nation’s health ministry. The doctor has been moved to a treatment facility run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, according to a statement released Tuesday from the president’s office.

The outbreak began in Guinea this February, but has quickly spread across West Africa.

[Reuters]

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