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

Charles Q. Brown warns prolonging Gaza operation will drive more civilians to terrorism, as US military officials push IDF to be ‘more calculating and precise’ in its strikes

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)

The top US military official indicated Thursday that Israel will have a harder time eradicating Hamas the longer its military campaign in the Gaza Strip drags out and the more civilians that are killed in the process.

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

“And I think that’s something we have to pay attention to,” Brown told 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 said.

A senior Israeli official retorted to The Times of Israel that if the Israel Defense Forces is forced to work faster, it has less time to carry out operations surgically and in a manner that limits civilian casualties.

Brown, in his comments, called Israel’s war aim of toppling Hamas “a pretty large order,” while claiming that the campaign 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 advances its ground incursion through northern sections of the Strip.

An American intelligence official told The New York Times that Sinwar’s exact location is not known to the US, but 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 in recent days 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 told The Times of Israel.

Targeting the hospital could put the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian civilians at risk, the US official warned.

Top US military officials have been pushing their Israeli counterparts to be “more calculating and precise” in the IDF’s Gaza strikes, an official told The New York Times, adding that Washington has urged Israel to use 250-pound satellite-guided bombs instead of 1,000- to 2,000-pound munitions.

Current and former US military commanders who spoke to The Times praised Israel’s decision to effectively split Gaza in half with its military operations.

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

Nonetheless, Brown told 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 avoided advocating outright for a short military campaign but did say that operations like the one Israel is trying to pull off have a tendency to carry on 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 said.

While insisting that Israel is abiding by the laws of war in Gaza, the joint chiefs chairman said the IDF could improve public explanations of its sometimes controversial conduct. He said he had raised the issue with his Israeli counterpart, IDF Chief of Staff 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 also reportedly killed in the blast, which caused underground 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, to provide more context to the strike,” Brown said.

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