SecDef Austin Warns of ‘Strategic Defeat’: If Israel Isn’t Careful, Palestinians Might Support Hamas

Lloyd Austin (Anna Moneymaker / Getty)
Anna Moneymaker / Getty

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin warned at the Reagan National Defense Forum on Saturday that Israel could face “strategic defeat” if it was not more careful about how it fought Hamas, because more Palestinians might be driven to support the terrorist group .

Austin seemed not to know that the vast majority of Palestinians already support Hamas, at least in one recent opinion poll.

A wartime poll of Gaza and West Bank residents last month by Birzeit University’s Arab World for Research & Development (AWRAD) found that “the majority of (59%) strongly supported or (16%) supported to some extent the October 7 attacks carried by the Hamas-led factions.” Hamas received the support of 76% of respondents. The poll is marred somewhat by the fact that there is no free speech in Hamas-run Gaza or the Palestinian Authority-run areas of the West Bank. Still, the results are notable.

The majority of Palestinians also voted for Hamas in the last Palestinian election of any kind, the parliamentary elections of 2006.

Moreover, Palestinian civilians from Gaza participated in the Hamas atrocities on October 7, and many celebrated the attack: the world watched on video as mobs cheered terrorists who brought back hostages and joined in abusing the bodies of dead Israelis.

Austin warned that Israel could face “strategic defeat” in the war, and claimed that the U.S. had learned that by fighting ISIS:

Israel is in a hard fight against a cruel enemy, in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth.

But democracies like ours are stronger and more secure when we uphold the law of war. So we will continue to press Israel to protect civilians and to ensure the robust flow of humanitarian aid.

First and foremost, that’s the right thing to do. But it’s also good strategy.

You know, I learned a thing or two about urban warfare from my time fighting in Iraq and leading the campaign to defeat ISIS.

Like Hamas, ISIS 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.

So 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.

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.

So I have repeatedly made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative.

And so 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, and to dramatically expand access to humanitarian aid.

This week, a U.S. Air Force C-17 airlifted more than 54,000 pounds of U.N. medical supplies, warm clothing, and food to the people of Gaza—and we expect more such flights in the days ahead.

And so two things are true: any state has a duty to respond to a terrorist attack like October 7th. And every state has a duty to protect civilians during armed conflict.

And so that’s crucial as Israel works to dismantle the Hamas terrorist infrastructure in Gaza. And it will also be crucial for our work with our allies and partners after the conflict ends.

Though Austin suggested that the U.S. could teach Israel about operating against terrorists in urban environments, it was actually Israel that taught the U.S. how to fight in those conditions. As the New York Times reported in 2003, the U.S. studied Israel’s tactics against terrorists in Jenin in Operation Defensive Shield in 2002. Israeli commandos raced to the heart of the city and fought their way out, rather than vice versa; and blasted holes in walls to fight house-to-house without outdoor exposure.

The U.S. completed the territorial defeat of ISIS under the Trump administration. Under Secretary Austin, the U.S. botched the pullout from Afghanistan; upon departing, the U.S. military also killed an innocent man, Zemari Ahmadi, plus nine other civilians, including seven children, in a drone attack that it initially claimed had been a targeted killing of a member of “ISIS-K.”

Austin also said that the war should lead to a two-state solution, seemingly unconcerned about rewarding Palestinians for terrror.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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