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NSC Spokesman Challenged on Lack of U.S. Action to Protect Civilians in Gaza

IDF forces in Gaza. Credit: IDF X page

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby set off a firestorm yesterday when he claimed that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) is more careful about avoiding civilian harm during combat operations than the U.S. military. The question came towards the end of a press conference during which Kirby had already deflected numerous questions on U.S. “concerns” about the fate of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.

A reporter, later identified as Niall Stanage of The Hill, asked Kirby: “You said Israel has been ‘receptive’ to our concerns. And for months, we have heard people at that podium talk about, ‘The civilian death toll is too high.’ It was too high at 5,000, 10,000, 15,000. Around 28,000 people have been killed. What does the White House base the assessment on that Israel is receptive to its concerns?”

To which Kirby replied: “As I said, we have seen them take actions—sometimes actions that—that even I’m not sure our own military would take, in terms of informing civilian populations ahead of operations where to go, where not to go. They have taken steps.”

The reporter followed up that Biden has “been talking forcefully about it for a long time. And the Israelis are now—have hammered people into this tiny corner in southwest Gaza, tight up against the Egyptian border, where people think there’s a looming catastrophe happening. Shouldn’t there be more forceful action than just words?”

“We are working very, very closely with our Israeli counterparts,” Kirby dodged. “We’ve made clear our concerns that we would not support a Rafah operation that did not properly count—account for the more than a million refugees that are down in—in Rafah. We’ve been very, very clear and consistent about that.”

Kirby’s suggestion that the IDF might be better at avoiding civilian casualties than the U.S. military has caused a freakout on social media, the British Daily Mail notes, where The Nation writer Jeet Heer argued: “If I were in the Pentagon I’d be very upset that a government spokesperson was saying that the U.S. military is less mindful of civilian life than the IDF.”

The Intercept’s Ryan Grim wrote: “The IDF recently deliberately targeted civilians as a ‘distraction’ from a hostage rescue effort, killing more than 100. Also struck the ambulance trying to rescue Hind Rajab [a six year old girl who was found dead five days after her cousin called for help. The cousin and the ambulance crew were also found dead. The windshield of the ambulance was full of bullet holes] This guy has lost it,” he wrote about Kirby.

“This is properly extraordinary: the White House spokesperson John Kirby is literally saying the IDF is more mindful of civilian lives than the American military,” wrote French entrepreneur Arnaud Bertrand. “The IDF, who’ve been killing an average of 170 women and children daily, everyday, for four straight months. A military currently accused of genocide at the Hague. This is the American government quite literally willing to sully the image of their own military—undoubtedly the most sacred institution in the country—and sacrifice it so that Israel can continue its carnage. Absolutely unreal.”