A three-star Marine general has been sent to Israel ahead of an expected invasion of Gaza as the Biden administration grows worried the IDF does not have a clear mission plan.
Israeli officials have repeatedly stressed their aim of rooting out and destroying Hamas’ leadership.
But they have not explained how they intend to do so, or what happens after the invasion – to the concern of Washington. American officials told The New York Times they have not yet seen an ‘achievable plan of action’.
Biden himself, visiting Tel Aviv last week, warned the Israelis to learn from US mistakes after 9/11 – seen as a reference to the quagmire in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said Israel would need ‘clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment about whether the path you’re on will achieve those objectives.’
Behind closed doors US defense secretary Lloyd Austin was also pressing his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant to detail their plans.
Lloyd Austin, the U.S. defense secretary, is seen on October 13 speaking to his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, in Tel Aviv
Lt. Gen. James Glynn, who previously headed the Marines’ special operations and was involved in the operations against ISIS in Iraq, has been sent to Israel to help them prepare for the invasion of Gaza
Israeli troops are seen close to the Gaza border on Monday, with an invasion expected at any moment
Israeli forces have been told that they should expect to go in to Gaza to destroy Hamas’ leadership
He warned that urban warfare was complicated, and could result in the deaths of many civilians.
Austin was the head of United States Central Command in 2016 and 2017, when U.S. forces were helping Iraqi and Kurdish troops to force ISIS out of Mosul.
Lt. Gen. James Glynn, who previously headed the Marines’ special operations and was involved in the operations against ISIS in Iraq, has been dispatched to Israel to help plan for the challenges of urban warfare.
Glynn is not directing operations, but giving advice, according to Axios.
Michael Knights, a fellow with The Washington Institute, has pointed out that the Islamic State had only two years to prepare defenses in Mosul, but Hamas was likely to be far more entrenched.
‘Hamas has had 15 years to prepare a dense ‘defense in depth’ that integrates subterranean, ground-level and aboveground fortifications, communication tunnels, emplacements and fighting positions as well as potential minefields, improvised explosive devices, explosively formed penetrator anti-armor mines and buildings rigged as explosive booby traps,’ wrote Knights earlier this month.
On Sunday, Austin told ABC News’s This Week: ‘The first thing that everyone should know, and I think everyone does know, is that urban combat is extremely difficult.’
He said that he had ‘encouraged’ Gallant to ‘conduct their operations in accordance with the law of war.’
Gallant is seen speaking to top IDF officials on Friday
Gallant, in the black shirt, is seen in discussion with the military officials on Friday
Austin spoke to Gallant again on Monday, the Pentagon confirmed.
During their conversation, Austin stressed ‘the importance of civilian protection’, the Pentagon said, in addition to American security assistance to Israel.
Israel could attempt to follow the Mosul model, with surgical airstrikes combined with raids by special operations troops.
Or they could try to repeat the US, Iraqi and British invasion of Falluja in 2004, and roll into Gaza with tanks and infantry.
Both options are extremely complicated in a densely-populated area like Gaza, but the Falluja approach could be far more bloody. Pentagon officials believe the Mosul approach may be the best, the paper reported.
The exact figures for casualties from the effort to rid Mosul of ISIS are not known, but The Associated Press put the number of civilians killed at between 9,000 and 11,000.
‘One of the things we’ve learned is how to account for civilians in the battle space – and they are a part of the battle space,’ said Austin.
‘And we, in accordance of the law of war, we’ve got to do what’s necessary to protect those civilians.’
Hamas on Monday released two more of the 200 hostages they are holding, bringing the total freed to four.
A view of a street filled with debris after the Israeli airstrikes on a building at Nuseirat Refugee Camp in Deir al-Balah on Monday
The southern Gazan city of Khan Yunis is pictured on Monday
U.S. officials are warning that a ground invasion of Gaza will likely cost many thousands of lives
Some have suggested that Israel should delay their invasion of Gaza to give the mediators more time to secure the release of more hostages.
An IDF spokesman on Friday insisted there could be no delay, accusing Hamas of releasing the hostages as a tactic to halt the invasion – a tactic he said would not work.
Major Doron Spielman told CNN there was ‘going to be no break’ in his country’s effort to destroy Hamas.
Earlier John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council, said they were not ‘interfering’ in Israel’s military operations.
But he did say that the issue of hostages was ‘front and center on the president’s mind when he met with the Prime Minister (Netanyahu) and he had the chance to meet with some of the families.’
The release of the four was negotiated by Qatari mediators, with the involvement of the Red Cross.
After the release of Judith and Natalie Raanan on Friday, Bloomberg reported that the U.S. and some European governments were pressuring Israel to delay the invasion, and give the Qataris more time for negotiations to free the hostages.
Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said it would ‘continue our dialogue with both the Israelis and Hamas, and we hope these efforts will lead to the release of all civilian hostages from every nationality.’
The IDF said the majority of hostages are still alive. Among them are 20 children and between 10 and 20 people aged over 60, it said.
‘As of today (Friday), there are 100-200 Israelis who are considered missing persons,’ it added in a statement.
‘In comparison, on the first day of the war, there were 3,000 people considered missing persons. This number has dramatically decreased as the IDF has confirmed their locations.’
The IDF also stressed the complexity of locating information about missing persons and said that it is in constant communication with the families of the hostages.
Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday celebrated the release of the Americans and said they would work to free the rest – but added that the fight against Hamas would continue ‘simultaneously’ with the negotiations.
‘Two of our hostages are home. We will not ease the effort to bring back all abductees and those missing,’ he said in a statement posted to social media.
‘Simultaneously, we keep fighting until a victory is reached.’
Israel says it’s entering Gaza to rescue the 203 hostages are being held captive by Hamas terrorists
Tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers and scores of tanks and armoured vehicles are now positioned on the border
A column of Israeli tanks now sits on the border with Gaza, ready to invade
Israel is preparing to bombard the small strip of land with missiles, before sending in ground troops
Israeli soldiers listen to Israel’s Defence Minister Yoav Gallant as he meets them in a field near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel on Thursday
Israel’s military spokesperson, Daniel Hagari, echoed the prime minister on Friday and emphasized that the war against Hamas was continuing apace.
‘The top priority of the country is to return all the abductees and locating the missing, in all possible ways: civil, intelligence and military,’ said Hagari, during a news conference in Tel Aviv.
‘At the same time, we are continuing the war against the Hamas. And getting ready for the next stages of the war.’
Hamas has previously demanded Israel release Palestinian prisoners in exchange for the hostages.
The terror group has also threatened to kill the hostages live on television if Israel invades Gaza.
An IDF spokesman, Doron Spielman, said the release of the two Americans would not slow plans to invade Gaza
Spielman, the IDF spokesman, said Hamas’ move was purely to buy time, insisting they had never shown humanitarian concerns.
‘Hamas is trying to paint itself as a human rights organization now. They’ve given back two of the hostages but the real face of evil is still there. Rockets are raining down on Israel.
‘You know, let’s get back all the hostages and then we can begin to speak with them.’
He added: ‘This is right out of the Hamas playbook. It’s a very typical cycle. They attack and massacre and send rockets to Israel, then they run back to Gaza.
‘In the past they hid under their own civilians waiting for us to kill them – and then they turn to America and the international community and claim human rights violations so we’ll stop, so they can regroup.
‘They want to have us pause on eliminating them… [but] we’re at war with them. There’s going to be no break. We’re going to eliminate them.
‘This is just another tactic for them to try to get us to stop. But they’re mistaken. Hamas is an evil that has to be stopped completely. And that’s what we’re going to do.’