In a crucial address at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized the imperative for Israel to prioritize the safeguarding of civilians in its ongoing conflict with Hamas in Gaza.
Austin drew parallels with his experience in urban warfare, particularly during the campaign against the Islamic State jihadist group in Iraq.
The resumption of hostilities between Israel and Hamas followed the collapse of a week-long truce, with both parties pointing fingers at each other for the breakdown of the agreement.
Austin stressed the critical role of protecting noncombatants in urban warfare, asserting that it is not merely a lesson learned but an essential strategy for victory.
“Like Hamas, ISIS was deeply embedded in urban areas. 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,” stated Austin during his address.
He underscored that in such conflicts, the civilian population becomes the center of gravity, and neglecting their protection could lead to a strategic defeat despite tactical victories.
Austin cautioned against driving civilians into the hands of the enemy, emphasizing the delicate balance between achieving military objectives and minimizing harm to noncombatants.
The latest escalation in the enduring conflict between Israel and Hamas initiated when the Palestinian militant group executed a surprise cross-border attack from Gaza on October 7, resulting in approximately 1,200 reported casualties.
In response, Israel launched an extensive land and air campaign on Hamas-controlled Gaza, with the group claiming over 15,000 casualties.
These casualties have not only fueled anger across the Middle East but have also provided motivation for armed groups to target both American troops in the region and Israel.
Israel faced drone and missile attacks from Lebanon and Yemen, while US forces in Iraq and Syria experienced multiple attacks, prompting Washington to attribute these incidents to Iran-backed forces.
US Defense Secretary Austin delivered a stern warning, “We will not tolerate attacks on American personnel. And so these attacks must stop. Until they do, we will do what we need to do to protect our troops and to impose costs on those who attack them.”
The situation remains highly volatile, with international attention focused on efforts to de-escalate tensions and protect civilian lives amid the complex urban warfare dynamics.