US officials have quietly suggested ways Israel could reduce civilian casualties in its campaign to eradicate Hamas in the Gaza Strip, including using smaller munitions.
During his second Middle East visit in less than a month, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday about “concrete steps that can and should be taken” to minimize civilian deaths.
Blinken didn’t go into detail about what those steps would be. State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller also wouldn’t elaborate.
US officials, however, speaking anonymously to The New York Times, said the methods included improving how Israel targets Hamas leadership, gathering more intelligence before launching strikes and deploying ground forces to separate civilian population centers from the terrorists.
The United States also proposed using smaller bombs to destroy Hamas’s tunnels.
About 90% of the bombs Israel dropped in the first two weeks of the war were in the 1,000 to 2,000 pound range, the Times reported, citing a senior US military official. The remainder were 250-pound bombs.
Smaller bombs are better suited to Gaza’s urban environment, US military officials said, according to the paper. Israel’s arsenal includes a large stockpile of the bigger bombs, which it had intended for use against heavily fortified Hezbollah positions, the Times reported.
The United States is now trying to send more of the smaller bombs to Israel in the hope that Israel will adopt them. Blinken insisted that Israel could still achieve its objectives of finishing off Hamas while accepting America’s recommendations, the Times said.
Although White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said on Oct. 15, just over a week after Hamas’s horrific attack on southern Israel, that the United States was not “making requests or demands of Israel with respect to its military operations,” the Biden administration has gradually increased its appeals to Israel for more humanitarian aid for Gaza civilians.
Israel initially said it would agree to let food, water and medicine into the Gaza Strip. Last week, Miller said the White House was pushing for fuel to be added to the mix, something Israel has explicitly said it would not allow, as any fuel allowed into Gaza would go to Hamas’s war machine.
The United States is also pushing Israel to allow more aid into Gaza. “We’ve gone from zero to now over 100 trucks going into Gaza through the Rafah Crossing every day,” Blinken said on Nov. 3 in Tel Aviv. “But this is still not enough.”
Blinken also urged Israel to agree to a “humanitarian pause” to allow for aid to flow and to improve the chances of recovering hostages.
Netanyahu rejected Blinken’s request. “The Prime Minister has also said clearly there will be no ceasefire, no matter how temporary, without a return of our hostages,” Eylon Levy, spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, told the press on Monday.
Israel has stated its military objectives are the destruction of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad as military and political entities. Terror groups can never again be allowed to control the Gaza Strip, it said.
Queried by JNS about what Netanyahu believes would be the result if the campaign fell short of its goals, Levy said the country has no choice but “to destroy Hamas’s military and civilian machine.”
“We will not go back to 6:00 a.m. on Oct. 7. We will not go back to a world in which Hamas death squads can invade our land and butcher our people at will,” Levy said, adding that Israel and the United States are in “complete lockstep” on the war’s aims.
Israel has been gaining valuable knowledge from US military leaders, who led the campaign against Islamic State, he said. “Our officers have been learning from their generals about ‘Operation Inherent Resolve,’ about how the US improved its own MO [modus operandi] between [the 2004 Battle of] Fallujah and [the 2016 Battle of] Mosul to root out ISIS terrorists,” said Levy.
While Israel opposes pausing its campaign and wants to keep up the pressure on Hamas, it isn’t opposed to humanitarian aid per se.
“We see no contradiction between increasing the flow of humanitarian aid in the south and continuing to thump Hamas in the north,” said Levy.
Israel has been urging Gaza’s civilians to move to the south of the Gaza Strip, where it has set up safe zones while it concentrates its firepower on Gaza City in the north, the seat of Hamas’s power.
The Biden administration has pushed Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip since the start of the war, which began after Hamas terrorists carried out a surprise attack on Oct. 7, killing more than 1,400 Israelis, mostly civilians, including women, children and the elderly, wounding about 5,300 and kidnapping some 240 more back to the Strip, where they are still held.
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