There’s been a pattern to these conflicts. Hamas launches an attack on Israel. The White House announces that it has Israel’s back. Israel carries out some air strikes. People die in the air strikes. Hamas claims that there were a lot of civilian deaths. Local Arab Muslim countries offer to negotiate a ceasefire. The White House pressures Israel to accept and demands a timetable for the end of the fighting.
Considering the sheer horror and scale of the Hamas attack, the seeming unity, will this play out any differently?
As I mentioned earlier, Biden’s speech had some good moral outrage in it. But moral outrage is rhetoric. What about policy? Unlike outrage, policy is about specifics. And while people rightly zeroed in on Biden’s condemnation of Hamas atrocities, there’s an entire section that strikes a very different and very familiar note.
“I just got off the phone with — the third call with Prime Minister Netanyahu. And I told him if the United States experienced what Israel is experiencing, our response would be swift, decisive, and overwhelming. We also discussed how democracies like Israel and the United States are stronger and more secure when we act according to the rule of law. Terrorists purpo- — purposefully target civilians, kill them. We uphold the laws of war — the law of war. It matters. There’s a difference.”
Behind the slick language (that of the speechwriter, not Biden) is a familiar narrative. Israel has to take out Hamas, which operates in urban areas and hides behind its own civilians, somehow without killing enemy civilians.
Hamas has told Gaza residents not to evacuate and leave the areas where Israel has warned that it will strike because it wants them to die.
“Ahead of airstrikes against targets belonging to the terror groups, and out of a desire to minimize civilian casualties, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has been sending warning messages to the residents of the Gaza Strip urging them to evacuate areas that are about to be targeted in strikes. In response to these messages, media outlets operated by Hamas and PIJ have been instructing residents of the Gaza Strip not to heed these warnings and not to share them or forward them to others.
On October 10, 2023, the spokesperson department of Hamas’s interior ministry wrote on the ministry’s Telegram channel: “An important note: We repeat our call on the residents to ignore the voice messages being sent randomly by the occupation to their phones demanding that they leave their homes. Their goal is to arouse panic and fear as part of a psychological warfare [campaign] accompanying the occupation’s aggression against us.”
These are the same rules that Israel has been playing by in earlier conflicts and they don’t work.
The Biden administration is also warning Israel not to be “disproportionate”.
“We remain focused on holding the terrorists accountable for their attacks, and we support Israel taking necessary and proportionate action to defend its country and protect its people, and in doing so U.S. citizens living, working and traveling in Israel,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in an emailed statement.
What’s a proportionate response to having entire communities wiped out, women kidnapped and raped, children abducted, babies killed by a genocidal Islamic terrorist group?
I don’t think Watson wants to consider that proposition too closely.
But the Biden administration is, despite some aggressive rhetoric, following the old familiar playbook. Hopefully, Israel will deviate from it or the end result will be the same as it was during previous campaigns against Hamas.
UPDATE: Much stronger warnings in private
US President Joe Biden reportedly urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their Tuesday phone call to minimize civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip as Israel continues its massive aerial campaign and readies for a potential ground incursion in response to Hamas’s terror onslaught.
While Biden offered full-throated support for Israel in a public address Tuesday that was overwhelmingly welcomed by Jerusalem, he apparently struck a relatively more balanced tone in his call with Netanyahu.
Biden was more direct than in prior calls that the IDF should work to avoid civilian casualties, NBC reports, citing two US officials
How do you defeat a terrorist organization that operates behind civilians without civilian casualties? You don’t.