Israel said to push back on US advice for reducing Gaza civilian casualties

Report claims US officials want IDF to deploy smaller bombs, use better intel and send commando teams into urban zones, recommending tactics used during Iraq War’s deadliest years

A handout photo shows IDF soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip, in pictures distributed on November 4, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
A handout photo shows IDF soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip, in pictures distributed on November 4, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

American officials have advised Israel to take several steps to reduce firepower in the Gaza Strip and take a more exacting approach to its war against the Hamas terror group, pointing to its own experiences in Iraq two decades ago, according to a report Saturday.

However, Israeli officials see much of the advice as irrelevant, and the head of the Israel Defense Forces rejected the advice as liable to cause even more casualties, according to a separate Israeli report Saturday.

US officials say they have held a number of talks with Israelis in which they recommended taking actions to reduce civilian casualties, according to The New York Times, which cited officials speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Among the steps US advisers recommended was gathering more intelligence on Hamas command centers before launching strikes on them, improving their targeting of Hamas leaders, using smaller bombs against the terror group’s underground fortifications and deploying pinpoint commando squads to flush out fighters, the report said.

In meetings with Israeli leaders on Friday and Arab diplomats on Saturday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he had recommended steps Israel could take to reduce civilian casualties in Gaza, where the military has launched an offensive to eliminate the Hamas terror group.

“Israel must take every possible measure to prevent civilian casualties,” Blinken said during a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman. “In my meetings with Israeli officials yesterday, I conveyed additional steps that they can and should take to do just that. Protecting civilians will help prevent Hamas from further exploiting the situation. But most important, it’s simply the right and moral thing to do.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) and his team meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2R) and members and observers in the war cabinet, at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv, November 3, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

However, according to Israel’s Channel 13 news, during a meeting with Blinken on Friday, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi countered that there would be even more casualties if the military took the advice of American generals sent to advise Israel on the operation in Gaza.

According to Israeli defense officials, Hamas fighters are deeply entrenched inside Gaza’s civilian fabric, with tunnels and command bunkers running beneath residential neighborhoods. Israel accuses the terror group of using civilians as human shields, even hiding a command center beneath Shifa Hospital, the Gaza Strip’s largest. The IDF has repeatedly urged civilians to move south, away from much of the fighting, and says it is taking precautions to avoid civilian casualties while also vowing to eradicate Hamas, which rules the Strip.

War broke out on October 7 after thousands of Hamas-led terrorists stormed across Israel’s border, attacking communities and slaughtering people in their homes and taking others hostage. Some 1,400 people were killed in the onslaught and at least 242 people remain hostage, the vast majority of both groups civilians.

The Hamas-run health ministry in the Strip claims nearly 9,500 Gazans have been killed in Israel’s campaign, a figure that cannot be verified. Though the group claims most of those killed are civilians, its death toll, which Israel and US allege may be inflated, does not distinguish between fighters and non-combatants, and likely includes many killed by rockets fired by Gazan terror groups at Israeli communities that fall short in the Strip.

People check buildings destroyed in an Israeli strike on the Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on November 2, 2023. (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

Nonetheless, the claimed high death toll, coupled with broadcast images of bloodied children being pulled from bombed-out buildings, have eaten into the West’s tolerance for Israel’s offensive, with the US reportedly warning Israel that it may soon have little choice but to join calls for a ceasefire.

According to Channel 13, which cited two sources familiar with the meeting, Blinken told Halevy that American backing for Israel is “wall-to-wall” but that “public opinion” is making it more difficult for the administration to extend such support.

“If you want a long campaign, you must let in broad elements of humanitarian aid,” the American diplomat was quoted as saying.

The US officials quoted by The New York Times said they believed Israel purposefully wants to sow widespread destruction in Gaza to make an example of it in order to deter others from challenging it.

With Iranian proxy Hezbollah threatening from the north, Israel is keen to reestablish its reputation as a near-invincible military power after the Hamas attacks, during which the terror group was able to easily overrun military bases and take murderous control of civilian communities for hours before the IDF could mount an effective response.

Israeli artillery stationed near the Israeli-Gaza border, in southern Israel, November 2, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

According to the report, the US is sending smaller bombs to Israel in the hopes that they will use them over the larger munitions it has deployed in some cases, including a strike on Tuesday in the Jabaliya refugee camp, during which several apartment buildings collapsed.

Israel blames tunnels underneath the neighborhood for destabilizing the ground, but according to a New York Times analysis, Israel used at least two 2,000-pound bombs in the strike to take out a Hamas commander, among the largest in its arsenal.

According to a Bloomberg report on October 10, when the war began, the US rushed 1,000 small-diameter bombs to Israel as part of a 2021 weapons deal.

The paper reported that the US has also bolstered Israel’s intelligence-gathering operations over Gaza and has criticized the way it has hunted down Hamas leaders, which has only netted fairly low-level commanders.

Instead, it has advised Israel to use small teams of commandos to flush fighters out of civilian areas and hunt down terror leaders, a tactic it says was used during US operations in Iraq from 2006 to 2008.

In this April 23, 2008 file photo, US Army soldiers from from B Company, 1st Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment patrol in the Shiite stronghold of Sadr City in Baghdad, Iraq. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

However, according to the Times, Israel pointed out that sending small teams of commandos into tunnels where leaders are thought to be hiding would be a “suicide mission,” and that Gaza City’s highly dense urban environment poses a bigger challenge than any faced by American troops in Iraq.

Some 66,000 civilians were killed in Iraq between 2006 and 2008, according to one widely cited count, making them the bloodiest years of the US engagement there. Other estimates have placed the death toll over those years at 30,000 to 40,000.

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