Israel & UN Negotiate to Deploy Starlink in Gaza

Israel and the United Nations are in talks to deploy the SpaceX Starlink communications system in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials and a UN spokesperson said the move comes as part of a plan to improve safety for UN aid workers there.

The UN has told Israel that having the system in place is a prerequisite for the organization to fully resume aid distribution in the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials said, according to Axios. However, Israel is concerned that the system could fall into the hands of Hamas. This will make it difficult for Israeli intelligence to track the group’s communications and increase the risk of coordinated attacks on Israel.

In June, the UN scaled back its activities in the Gaza Strip. This came after aid workers were threatened by Israeli airstrikes and attacked by Palestinian civilians and armed individuals. Security assessments concluded that the organization had exceeded acceptable limits in terms of security risks and therefore decided to suspend most aid distributions in the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli government perceived the UN decision to suspend aid distribution as a political move, but the organization’s officials denied this. The Biden administration has attempted to mediate between the parties, emphasizing that it has begun work on a solution.

“We have been involved in a number of discussions in the past few days between the various United Nations agencies and various components of the Israeli government to try to work through some security challenges that the UN is currently facing to deliver humanitarian assistance,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a briefing last week, though did not mention Starlink specifically.

The issue came up during Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant’s visit to Washington last week, a senior Israeli official said. He told the head of the UN security department that Israel intends to take steps to avoid attacks on UN staff in the Gaza Strip. Israeli officials added that Gen. Ghassan Alian, the Israeli government’s coordinator for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, held a meeting on the issue at UN headquarters in New York last week. During the discussions, the UN asked to deploy SpaceX’s Starlink communications system at its headquarters in the Gaza Strip, Israeli officials said.

The UN said it needed Starlink to provide better radio and mobile communications for its staff in the Gaza Strip, officials said. The US called on Israel to agree to UN requests and urged the UN to provide the Israelis with guarantees of the security of the system.

“There are some of the requests where Israel has legitimate security concerns, and what we’re trying to do is broker agreements that give the UN personnel the assurances they need that they can operate securely while still protecting Israel’s legitimate security concerns,” Miller said.

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