US defence secretary Lloyd Austin (photo) has warned Israel that it risks “strategic defeat” unless it protects Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
In a sign of growing tensions between the close allies as Israel resumes its military campaign in southern Gaza, Austin said Israel would only win if it protected civilians and created humanitarian corridors.
“In this kind of a fight, the centre 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,” Austin said in a speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum in California.
US president Joe Biden and other senior American officials have warned their Israeli counterparts that they must avoid the kind of mass internal displacement triggered by their bombardment of Gaza’s north. They have urged Israel to be more precise in the next phase of its campaign.
Austin and other US military officials have invoked lessons learned in Washington’s fight against Islamic State in Iraq, which involved intense urban combat.
Photo: New York Post
Like Hamas, ISIS (banned in RF) “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,” said Austin, who is a former commander of US forces in the Middle East.
“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.”
US secretary of state Antony Blinken said that Israel had shared with him its plans about how to protect civilians in the next phase of the military effort, and said the US would monitor the ongoing campaign closely.
Biden is under increasing pressure from within his administration and the Democratic party to do more to constrain Israel.
“It is critical that Israel defeats Hamas. If they continue killing this many civilians, they’re going to make them stronger,” Democratic congressman Seth Moulton said.
The Israeli military intensified air strikes in southern Gaza and ordered residents of some Palestinian border towns to leave their homes.
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