New top American general says Israeli goal of toppling Hamas ‘a pretty large order’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Q. Brown attends a meeting with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, on October 5, 2023, in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/AFP)
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Charles Q. Brown attends a meeting with US President Joe Biden in the Oval Office of the White House, on October 5, 2023, in Washington. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images/AFP)

Asked whether he’s concerned that the rapidly climbing, non-combatant death toll in Gaza due to Israel’s war against Hamas will lead Palestinian civilians to turn to terror activity, US Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Charles Q. Brown responds, “Yes, very much so.”

“And I think that’s something we have to pay attention to,” Brown tells reporters in his first comments on the war in Gaza since he took over as the top US military official last month.

“That’s why when we talk about time — the faster you can get to a point where you stop the hostilities, you have less strife for the civilian population that turns into someone who now wants to be the next member of Hamas,” he says.

Brown calls Israel’s war aim of toppling Hamas “a pretty large order,” while claiming that Israel was focused on targeting senior Hamas leadership, which it might succeed in doing more quickly.

Israel has said Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar is at the top of its kill list, as the IDF slowly advances in its ground incursion through the northern section of the Strip

An American intelligence official tells The New York Times that Sinwar’s exact location is not known to the US and that they have left open the possibility that the IDF has a better understanding of where he is.

Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s Gaza governor, speaks during a meeting in Gaza City, on April 30, 2022. (Mahmud Hamas/AFP)

Israel has been closing in on the Shifa Hospital in Gaza City which stands above an underground Hamas command center that houses senior operatives of the terror group, a US official tells The Times of Israel.

But targeting that hospital could put the lives of hundreds, if not thousands of Palestinian civilians at risk, the US official warns.

Top US military officials have been pushing their Israeli counterparts to be “more calculating and precise” in its Gaza strikes, an official tells NYT, adding that Washington has urged Israel to use 250-pound satellite-guided bombs instead of 1,000- to 2,000-pound munitions.

Still, Israel’s decision to effectively split Gaza in half through its military operations has won praise from current and former US military commanders who spoke to The New York Times.

As has Israel’s decision to hold off a full-scale ground invasion, instead advancing a phased incursion that started with northern Gaza on October 27, which was in line with recommendations from US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant, the US official tells The Times of Israel.

Nonetheless, Brown tells reporters, “I think the longer this goes, the harder it can become.”

Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, November 9, 2023. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Brown avoids outright advocating for a short military campaign but says that operations like the one Israel is trying to pull off have a tendency to extend longer than planned.

“[Almost] every conflict that I’ve been involved with throughout my military career … [has] particularly gone a bit longer than most people would have imagined. So we’ve got to prepare ourselves for that,” he says.

While insisting that Israel is abiding by the laws of war in Gaza, the joint chiefs chairman says the IDF could improve public explanations of its sometimes controversial conduct and adds that he has raised this issue with his Israeli counterpart Herzi Halevi during an October 30 phone call, after Israel bombed a major Hamas stronghold in the Jabaliya refugee camp.

The IDF said the strike took out a senior Hamas commander along with several other terrorists but at least 50 civilians were reportedly killed in the blast that caused underground terror tunnels to collapse, bringing down several nearby buildings.

“There’s room for improvement based on what we’re seeing… What I’ve talked to [Halevi] about is how do we demonstrate — not only with the videos but also as they talk about the strikes — why they’re striking in some locations, provide more context to the strike,” Brown says.

Most Popular