The strike on Gaza's Al-Ahli hospital, which left hundreds dead, has changed the climate of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, even as the two sides shift the blame to each other. Calls for a ceasefire multiply as Joe Biden arrives in Israel.
PARIS — This is one horror too many, the kind that can change the course of a conflict.
Tuesday night's explosion at Gaza City's Ahli Hospital, which left hundreds dead, has already had a major impact — it undermined the diplomatic initiative of U.S. President Joe Biden, whose trip to Israel has become highly problematic. It has also, of course, inflamed Arab opinion against Israel and its Western backers.
For many, by Wednesday morning, Israel is no longer the victim of the worst terrorist attack in its history, but a country put on the defensive, forced to try to prove that it did not commit a war crime.
Israel is also trapped by its blockade of Gaza. There are no independent sources on the ground, not one foreign journalist, not one outside observer, to check the facts — whether it was an Israeli bombardment, as the Palestinians accuse, or a rocket fired by Hamas' ally Islamic Jihad that caused the explosion, as Israel claims.
This lack of an independent source ultimately backfires on Israel: the hospital strike comes after several days of relentless bombardment in urban areas. Even if Israel succeeds in proving that it did not cause the explosion, the damage has been done, and calls to stop their war will continue to multiply.
Back seat for diplomacy
The key to what happens next in the conflict will now be Wednesday's visit by Biden, whose trip is now totally different in nature. The U.S. president had conceived his trip in two stages: an initial phase of unconditional support for Israel after October 7, followed by tough diplomacy. That diplomacy would be to convince the Israeli government to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, which is still blocked. Secondly, to persuade it to carry out its reprisals "in accordance with the rules of war."
Biden was then due to travel to Jordan to meet regional leaders, but that trip was canceled after the hospital explosion in Gaza.
Diplomacy therefore takes a back seat — Biden's exchange with Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, the only possible interlocutor in the Palestinian camp, despite all his vulnerability, will now be by telephone.
This catastrophe is changing the international climate
The vanishing role of diplomacy is a failure that backfires on Joe Biden. What remains is the humanitarian aspect, which will become a priority.
Netanyahu greets Biden
Biden arrives in Israel, and is greeted by Netanyahu
Remember October 7 ...and October 17
The impact of the explosion is therefore considerable — it was already perceptible Tuesday night. An example of this being the change of tone from French President Emmanuel Macron on his X/Twitter account, who, without assigning blame for the strike, wrote: "Nothing can justify a strike against a hospital. Nothing can justify targeting civilians." It's worth remembering that demonstrations in the West Bank and neighboring countries often target both the U.S. and French embassies.
King Abdullah of Jordan, whose country has had diplomatic relations with Israel for 30 years, puts the blame on the Jewish state and speaks of a "war crime."
This catastrophe, about which we still don't have all the facts, is changing the international climate. It is reminiscent of the deadly bombing of Qana during the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. The war ended a few days later.
The context is different, but the change in climate is similar: 10 days later, the war in Gaza is different after the night of October 17.