During the Reagan National Defense Forum on Saturday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a warning, stating that Israel could potentially face a “strategic defeat” if it did not exercise greater caution in its approach to combatting Hamas. He emphasized that such actions might lead more Palestinians to support the terrorist group.
Pentagon chief warns Israel of ‘strategic defeat’ pic.twitter.com/plPi9sZWsz— COMBATE |🇵🇷 (@upholdreality) December 3, 2023
During the Reagan National Defense Forum, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued a warning about the potential for Israel to face a “strategic defeat” in its conflict with Hamas if not approached with caution. However, it’s worth noting that Austin may not be fully aware that the majority of Palestinians already express support for Hamas, as indicated by a recent wartime poll conducted by Birzeit University’s Arab World for Research & Development (AWRAD). The poll, conducted in Gaza and the West Bank last month, revealed that 59% strongly supported or supported to some extent the October 7 attacks carried out by Hamas-led factions. Additionally, 76% of respondents expressed support for Hamas.
It’s important to consider the limitations of the poll due to the absence of free speech in Hamas-controlled Gaza and Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of the West Bank. Despite these limitations, the results underscore the notable level of support for Hamas among Palestinians. Furthermore, historical data, such as the 2006 parliamentary elections, also indicate significant support for Hamas among the Palestinian population.
Moreover, Austin’s warning may not fully account for the fact that Palestinian civilians from Gaza actively participated in the October 7 Hamas-led attacks, and some even celebrated these atrocities. The visual evidence of mobs cheering terrorists who returned with hostages and engaging in the abuse of the bodies of deceased Israelis was widely documented.
In the context of his warning, Austin drew parallels with the U.S. experience in fighting ISIS, suggesting that lessons learned from that conflict could be applied to Israel’s situation:
Israel is in a hard fight against a cruel enemy, in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.
But democracies like ours are stronger and more secure when we uphold the law of war. So we will continue to press Israel to protect civilians and to ensure the robust flow of humanitarian aid.
First and foremost, that’s the right thing to do. But it’s also good strategy.
You know, I learned a thing or two about urban warfare from my time fighting in Iraq and leading the campaign to defeat ISIS.
Like Hamas, ISIS was deeply embedded in urban areas. And the international coalition against ISIS worked hard to protect civilians and create humanitarian corridors, even during the toughest battles.
So the lesson is not that you can win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians.
You see, in this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.
So I have repeatedly made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative.
And so I have personally pushed Israeli leaders to avoid civilian casualties, and to shun irresponsible rhetoric, and to prevent violence by settlers in the West Bank, and to dramatically expand access to humanitarian aid.
This week, a U.S. Air Force C-17 airlifted more than 54,000 pounds of U.N. medical supplies, warm clothing, and food to the people of Gaza—and we expect more such flights in the days ahead.
And so two things are true: any state has a duty to respond to a terrorist attack like October 7th. And every state has a duty to protect civilians during armed conflict.
And so that’s crucial as Israel works to dismantle the Hamas terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. And it will also be crucial for our work with our allies and partners after the conflict ends.
While Secretary of Defense Austin implied that the U.S. could impart knowledge to Israel about combating terrorists in urban settings, historical accounts reveal that it was, in fact, Israel that provided valuable lessons to the U.S. on this front. The New York Times, in a 2003 report, highlighted how the U.S. extensively studied Israel’s tactics employed during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, particularly in the city of Jenin.
In this operation, Israeli commandos demonstrated a proactive approach by penetrating the heart of the city and fighting their way out, as opposed to the conventional method. They strategically created openings in walls to engage in house-to-house combat, minimizing exposure to outdoor threats. Israel’s experiences in urban warfare proved influential in shaping the U.S. military’s approach to similar challenges.