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Israel's lack of military gains against Hamas are being felt in Washington

Top US general berated Israeli military's shortcomings in Gaza, failures that could complicate Biden administration's domestic calculations
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Charles Brown speaks alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at a press conference at the Pentagon on 20 May 2024.
US chairman of joint chiefs of staff General Charles Brown speaks alongside Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin at a Pentagon press conference, on 20 May 2024 (Kevin Dietsch/AFP)

The top-ranking general in the US criticised on Monday Israel's military strategy in Gaza, warning that the failure of Israeli forces to both secure captured territory and eliminate Hamas from northern Gaza is hampering its ability to achieve its military objectives.

“Not only do you have to actually go in and clear out whatever adversary you are up against, you have to go in, hold the territory and then you’ve got to stabilise it,” said General Charles Brown, who chairs the joint chiefs of staff, as reported by Politico.

Brown said the Israeli military's tactic of moving Hamas fighters to different parts of Gaza has made securing the areas it occupies more difficult.

Brown said after Israel “cleared they didn’t hold, and so that allows your adversary then to repopulate in areas if you’re not there”.

Returning to the same area on multiple occasions “does make it more challenging [for Israel] as far as being able to meet their objectives of being able to militarily destroy and defeat Hamas”.

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The comments by Brown were a rare moment of criticism from the American military, which has aided Israel in its war on Gaza by providing military equipment and assistance through intelligence-sharing. That cooperation has polarised President Joe Biden's Democratic political base in an election year.

While the Biden administration has thrown its full-fledged support behind Israel's war efforts, some officials in the administration are beginning to offer more criticism of the Israeli government, particularly on its war strategy and the overall aid situation for the Palestinians in Gaza.

"On the US side, I think the impatience is driven mostly by a political calculus - rather than a strategic or military one," said Raphael Cohen, director of the strategy and doctrine programme at Rand Project Air Force.

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"Biden is facing increasing opposition from the progressive flank of the Democratic party and that’s a problem for him especially with the election in the US six months away, " Cohen told Middle East Eye.

He added that Israel can "legitimately claim a series of tactical successes", including by its own account having damaged Hamas's mid-level leadership, but that hasn't translated into overall strategic success.

Israel launched its war on Gaza in October, following the 7 October attack on southern Israel when Palestinian fighters led by Hamas broke out of Gaza and killed around 1,200 people. Palestinian armed groups also took around 240 people hostage.

Israel responded with full force, launching an indiscriminate bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion of Gaza that has so far killed more than 35,000 people, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

'Hamas will regroup and re-arm'

Israel has stated its goal is to eliminate Hamas from Gaza - although many Israeli leaders have spoken about how Israel's military mission is aimed at all of Gaza, not just Hamas and its leadership.

After weeks of fighting in northern Gaza and the siege of the largest hospital in the entire Strip, Israel pulled out of the area and moved towards Khan Younis.

Now, Israel has moved into Rafah, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have fled to escape Israel's military and also where Israel claims four Hamas battalions are located.

Meanwhile, as Israel continues to increase operations in the south, intense fighting has renewed in northern Gaza, with Hamas claiming a series of attacks on Israeli military personnel in the Jabalia refugee camp.

'Hamas, in time, will regroup and rearm. Israel will need to return to places it cleared'

- Raphael Cohen, Rand

Eight months into its war, Israel hasn't achieved any of its main objectives.

It has managed to kill Hamas fighters and said that it killed Marwan Issa, a top leader of the group in Gaza. However, it has failed to eliminate Hamas's leadership, and fighting continues between Palestinian armed groups and Israel's military throughout the Gaza Strip.

General Brown also spoke about how military approaches are not the only way to look at the conflict in Gaza.

“Hamas is not just an organization, it’s an ideology,” he said, alluding to how Hamas has governed the territory since 2005. “So you have to think about the overall peace to provide security not only for Israel, but in the region.”

Cohen from Rand says that rocket fire into Israel is "down to a fraction" compared to the outset of the war and that Israeli civilians are beginning to return to their homes near Gaza.

Given Israel's current way of operating in Gaza, Cohen said Israel is having to face a prolonged war effort, with Hamas showing no signs of being eliminated entirely.

"On a strategic level, unless Israel can find a way to stabilise Gaza and stand up an alternative to Hamas, all the tactical successes mentioned above are going to prove fleeting," he added.

"Hamas, in time, will regroup and rearm. Israel will need to return to places it cleared. And the suffering of the Gazan civilian population will continue. We see this happening already in the renewed fighting in northern Gaza," Cohen said.

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