As the IDF is sweeping through the southern Gaza Strip in search of the criminal masterminds––the brothers Yahya and Muhammad Sinwar, Muhammad Deif, and Marwan Issa––who directed the October 7 massacre and kidnapping of helpless Israeli babies, infants, women, and the elderly, the only ally Hamas can still rely on is the Biden administration.
While offering Israel virtually unlimited material support, as more than 200 US cargo planes have already landed in Ben Gurion airport with direly needed weapons and ammunition, the White House is also applying extremely unfriendly pressure on Israel that threatens to debilitate its war effort.
A case in point is the press conference in Washington on Thursday that featured Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UK Foreign Secretary David Cameron.
Blinken conceded that “We continue to recognize the extraordinary difficulty of this task as Israel is dealing with a terrorist adversary that intentionally embeds itself with civilians. But again, Israel has an obligation to do everything possible to put a premium on protecting civilians and maximizing humanitarian assistance.”
How do you do that? How do you put a premium on protecting civilians when the cruel murderers you are pursuing look and behave like civilians?
The main difficulty for the IDF is not in moving its forces deeper into the Hamas territory in the south, but in gaining operational control once the enemy’s territory is circled and largely subdued above ground. That’s when the tough part begins, as it did in the northern part of the Strip: the prolonged hunt, tunnel shaft by tunnel shaft, to get at the targets. It is a complex, tedious job, which will be difficult to complete in a limited time, and inevitably involves hunting for terrorists while repelling the occasional attacks that often erupt out of the crowded population on the streets.
There – at the point where the need to control the civilian population that can still come out with shoulder-mounted RPGs to kill our soldiers is juxtaposed with the priority of protecting the same civilian population – there is where countless armies have failed: in South Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. This is when the army is most vulnerable, and when Israel’s allies should be supporting its unenviably complex mission.
Naturally, this is the point where Blinken decided to attack Israel. “As we stand here almost a week into this campaign in the south after the end of the humanitarian pause, it remains imperative that Israel put a premium on civilian protection, and there does remain a gap between exactly what I said when I was there, the intent to protect civilians, and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground,” Blinken said with the tone of a disappointed homeroom teacher.
THE PROBLEM WITH ANTONY
Blinken is out to entangle the IDF with the near-impossible humanitarian mission known as Gaza, which so many aid organizations have failed miserably, at a time when the IDF should dedicate everything in its power to defeating Hama:
“There are a number of things that we think it would be important to really focus in on: not only having these safe areas but making sure that the communications are such that people know where they can go when they can go there safely; making very clear when the periods of being able to move from one place to another are in place – in other words, these in effect daily pauses; making sure that those pauses apply not just to one neighborhood but to a broader area so that, again, people have the confidence to know that they can move out of harm’s way and move to a safe area; making sure that the areas that they go to are fully resourced and supplied with things that people will need to get by while they’re away from their homes – food, medicine, water; and, again, also making sure that in areas that are clearly out of the conflict zone that they remain so, that military means not be used in those areas.”
Is he kidding? Is he not aware of the clear and immediate solution that can be made available to the two million or so Gazans who have become refugees again? All he has to do as a US foreign policy maker is order Egypt to open its gates and allow a million Gazans to rush out to the northern Sinai, where they could be housed in a string of tent cities with proper sanitary and medical services, as well as food and water.
Instead, Blinken is riding the IDF, demanding it engage in the impossible task of managing the lives of the most densely congregated population on the planet – while conducting an existential war.
Obviously, there’s no reality to Blinken’s message. The IDF is charging ahead, and Prime Minister Netanyahu is carrying out his main task, which is to listen politely to the Americans’ drivel, smile, and nod. Or, as Blinken put it on Thursday: “This is something that we’re talking about with the Israelis on a regular basis, including as recently as today and including in the President’s conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu earlier today.”
Don’t you dare suggest that Bibi is not earning his keep. He is listening patiently every day to a borderline demented president who is worried about his chances to beat his Republican opponent in five out of six swing states that went red recently.
Back to reality: the IDF deployed Division 98 in the southern Gaza Strip. It comprises enlisted and reserve infantry and commando forces alongside armored brigades. Division 98 focuses on Khan Yunis, which it entered in swift action on Monday night, taking “Palestine Square” in the heart of the city and moving out to encircle the rest, neighborhood by neighborhood. Khan Yunis is where the Hamas quartet fled when the IDF invasion began, but there’s no telling if they are still there, or if they moved on to another place of refuge when the Israeli tanks approached.
The Hamas defense system in Khan Yunis includes a regional brigade consisting of four battalions that were kept out of the fighting in the first two months of the war. The army will be facing them in the coming week or weeks, with the assumption that once they are broken, Hamas will also be broken. The fighting will be fierce, and God willing, the enemy casualties will be much greater than our own.
In that context, should innocent civilians wander into this raging battlefield, they will die, no matter what Secretary Blinken has to say on the matter.