Home inSight Gaza War Aims and Strategy

Gaza War Aims and Strategy

Shoshana Bryen
SOURCEDaily Caller
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan visiting Jerusalem in early 2023. (Photo: U.S. Embassy Jerusalem)

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan thinks Israel is making a mistake. “A major ground operation [in Rafah by Israel against Hamas] would be a mistake,” he said at a White press briefing on March 18. “It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza, and isolate Israel internationally. More importantly, the key goals Israel wants to achieve in Rafah can be done by other means.”

According to Sullivan, President Joe Biden reassured Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, “I am for the defeat of Hamas… At the same time, I believe that to get to that, you need a strategy that works. And that strategy should not involve a major military operation…’”

Sullivan’s war aims for Israel appear to be preventing Palestinian civilian deaths, feeding people, restoring government functions, and protecting Israel’s international political standing. Both he and the president seem to think they know better than Israel how to achieve them.

The guys who brought you the deadly, disastrous U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that left $6 billion worth of military equipment for the reinstalled and reinvigorated Taliban government should recalibrate.

After the horrific attack by Hamas on Israel – maiming, raping, burning alive and otherwise killing 1,200 people and dragging 240 others, including corpses and babies, into Gaza – the Israeli cabinet issued a set of war aims to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). They are:

  • toppling the Hamas regime and destroying its military and governmental capabilities,
  • removing the terrorist threat from the Gaza Strip,
  • creating conditions for the return of the hostages,
  • defending the borders of the state and its citizens while removing the security threat from Gaza,
  • leaving the IDF full freedom of action without restrictions on the use of force.

The Israeli governments aims are military, they are achievable, and success would ensure the security of the citizens of Israel as well as rescuing the Palestinian people from the brutality of Hamas occupation designed to kill them.

Mr. Sullivan and President Biden should stand firmly behind those aims.

In 2021, Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy, gave an interview to inFOCUS Quarterly magazine of the Jewish Policy Center. He defined Hamas’s strategy of locating its military under the civilian population to ensure as many Palestinian casualties as possible in the case of an IDF counterattack as “ironic and perverse.”

“No party to a war has ever before, as an element of its strategy, purposefully arranged to maximize civilian deaths on its own side,” said Feith. “… So, Hamas is doing something that is really innovative, morally horrific and… even worse than the war crime of using civilians as human shields.

“The purpose of using human shields in war is to protect what the human shields are shielding,” he said. “… But what Hamas is doing is purposefully maximizing Palestinian civilian casualties. It wants to force Israel to have to kill Palestinian civilians…”

On the other hand, there is Israel.

Professor John Spencer, chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute (MWI) at West Point, served for 25 years as an infantry soldier. In January, he wrote, “Israel has taken more measures to avoid needless civilian harm than virtually any other nation that’s fought an urban war… Israel has taken precautionary measures even the United States did not do during its recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Spencer pointed to mechanisms for minimizing civilian casualties, including providing warning and evacuating urban areas. “This tactic is unpopular for obvious reasons: It alerts the enemy defender and provides them the military advantage to prepare for the attack.”

He noted that the IDF air-dropped more than half-a-million flyers, made nearly 20,000 real phone calls, sent 64,000 text messages and almost 6 million pre-recorded phone calls to civilians in Gaza – along with radio and social media messages with instructions for evacuation. “The IDF also conducted daily four-hour pauses over multiple consecutive days of the war to allow civilians to leave active combat areas,” he wrote.

This week, Spencer updated his thoughts. “Calls for a ceasefire are simply calls for Israel to surrender and let October 7 happen repeatedly. If the U.S. was in such a situation, it would respond more aggressively. Hamas exceeds ISIS in its desire to slaughter civilians. They’re unique in wanting many of their own people to die. Despite this, the fighter: civilian casualty ratio is 1:1 in Gaza vs a 1:9 global average – the lowest rate by far for similar urban conflicts.”

The IDF, Spencer concludes, “Is successfully achieving its goal of neutralizing Hamas in a uniquely difficult urban environment, with an enemy determined to increase civilian tragedies.”

Military victory first.