Defense secretary amplifies growing US concern as war resumes
Protecting civilians is crucial in urban warfare, Austin says
By Peter Martin
Dec 10, 2023
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Israel risked “strategic defeat” in its war with Hamas if it fails to heed warnings about the mounting civilian death toll.
“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,” Austin said in a speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, on Saturday.
Austin’s comments come as top US officials have grown increasingly vocal in their warnings to Israel about the death toll in the Gaza Strip. Those warnings, previously confined to closed-door meetings, have been thrust into the open by mounting pressure from Israel’s Arab neighbors, human-rights activists and opinion at home — including the left of President Joe Biden’s Democratic Party.
While Austin and other US leaders have vowed to continue supporting Israel, they worry that American support could become untenable if civilian casualties continue to mount.
During a trip to Israel this week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the punishing campaign unleashed on northern Gaza shouldn’t be repeated as Israeli forces move south after the end of a multiday cease-fire with Hamas.
In California, Austin turned to personal combat experience to make his case.
“I learned a thing or two about urban warfare from my time fighting in Iraq,” he said. “Like Hamas, ISIS was deeply embedded in urban areas. And the international coalition against ISIS worked hard to protect civilians and create humanitarian corridors.”
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