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What Austin and Kirby Report They Are Telling the Israelis

In between assertions of how “only one country on Earth can provide the kind of leadership that this moment demands.… And that’s the United States of America,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin delivered a tougher message than previous ones to Israel on its prosecution of its war against Gaza in his Dec. 2 speech to the Reagan National Defense Forum: You will lose your war with your current strategy—advice many an American wishes the U.S. military would adopt.

The lesson from U.S. experience in fighting ISIS in Iraq, General Austin said, “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.” (Emphasis in original.)

Therefore, Israeli leaders need to “avoid civilian casualties … shun irresponsible rhetoric and prevent violence by settlers in the West Bank, and to dramatically expand access to humanitarian aid.”

Judging by his remarks to all the Sunday talk shows this morning (ABC News’ “This Week”; NBC News’ “Meet the Press”; CBS News’ “Face the Nation”; and “Fox News Sunday"), White House National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby’s assignment was to reiterate the administration’s admonitions to Israel about civilians, but make clear also that the administration would not go too far in that direction, and that it was firmly backing Israel’s policy to pursue the war until Hamas is destroyed.

Kirby held up Israel’s renewed operations in northern and southern Gaza as demonstrating how “receptive” Israel has been to the “messages” from the U.S. “They went into north Gaza with a much smaller force than what they had originally planned to do,” he assured CBS anchor Margaret Brennan. In the south, they put “a map online of places where people in Gaza need to avoid and need to go.” Brennan reminded him that people in Gaza do not have much access to “connectivity.” Kirby replied not to worry, that paper leaflets are being handed out, too. There was no discussion by either of them that the vast majority of Palestinians have nowhere left to go—whether advised to do so online or on paper.

Brennan pressed Kirby to respond to Sen. Chris Van Hollen’s call for the Biden administration to impose some “red lines” on Israel, and raised the question of the 2,000-pound bunker buster bombs the U.S. has sent in. Kirby ignored the bunker buster question, insisting that the U.S. is discussing with Israel “about being careful, precise and deliberate in their targeting … to the maximum extent possible.” But oh, how difficult that is, since “Hamas deliberately shelters themselves inside residential buildings, hospitals and schools.”

In his various appearances, Kirby also made a big deal about how great it is that Israel has not stopped humanitarian assistance, “even fuel,” into Gaza; he assured ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that the U.S. is “working with the Israelis to see if we can keep it at that (abysmally inadequate–ed.) increased level that we achieved over the last week” of the pause.

Fox News’ Shannon Bream asked about proposals that the U.S. place restrictions on aid to Israel. Kirby replied, “Israel is a sovereign country.” It is responding to a terrorist attack. “We would do the same thing. Any nation would.”