Politics & News

Israel Is Repeating America’s Mistake in Iraq

Israel’s war on Gaza has reached its six-month mark, but it still hasn’t achieved its stated goal of destroying Hamas, and the death toll has surpassed 33,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children.

The civilian death toll and the looming famine in Gaza are a human tragedy. The opinion columnist for New York Times, David French, said that it is a profound mistake to think that defeating Hamas in battle is at odds with the legal and moral obligation of providing food and protection for civilians.

As a matter of fact, the two goals are inseparably linked, and providing humanitarian aid isn’t just a moral imperative, it is a military necessity to prevent new insurgencies. Israel may ultimately face its most significant defeat, if it fails at either one.

War can be divided into two phases. Phase 1 regulates the combat operations of the initial attack, and Phase 2 regulates the way in which an attacking force governs the territory it controls, before the transition to permanent civilian control.

French, a former major in the US Army Reserve who was deployed to Iraq in 2007, compared Israel’s conduct of the war in Gaza to the US war in Iraq. He said that decisive and effective military action can inflict heavy losses on enemies, but initial strikes and invasion create a vacuum. Hamas is not just the principal military force in Gaza, but also the government.

Removing Hamas from power can be very much like de-“baathification” of Iraq, as it destroys the civil service and removes the means of preserving civil order.

If the same military that creates the vacuum doesn’t fill it, either through its administration or an allied administration, the enemy force maintains an opening, and has a room to revive and fill that vacuum.

But the vacuum must be filled in a specific way, with a regard to the safety and security of the civilian population. According to the US military’s Commander’s Handbook on Law of Land Warfare, if the US is the controlling power, it must provide food and clean water, and law and order for civilians.

That was the main failure of the first phase of the Iraq war. The US forces was lethal and effective in urban combat. However, they were ineffective in maintaining civil society or the rule of law.

Although Iraqis’ hunger and thirst didn’t make the news like Gazans’, they experienced anarchy, which almost cost America the war, and embroiled it in one of its longest conflicts.

While the US combat operations were precise and targeted, despite involving mistaken strikes, and scandals like prisoners’ abuse, the initial occupation was a disaster. That disaster represented a failure to uphold US legal obligations to the people who were temporarily under the US jurisdiction and control.

Therefore, during the surge, the American military adopted a totally different approach, which focused on protecting the population. The US military stayed in cities and rural communities until it was certain that people were safe, and food supplies were secure, making sure there was no power vacuum left.

With regard to the war in Gaza, so many Republicans, such as Donald Trump, think that the war should be deadly, decisive and fast. However, the lack of regard to the lives of local population could give Hamas a chance to rule Gaza again.

For this reason, the Biden administration’s approach so far is superior to Trump’s. The Biden administration’s approach, that is providing military aid while exerting pressure for increased humanitarian aid, is closer to matching the military, legal and moral needs of the moment.

In fact, Biden’s approach is achieving results. After he reportedly threatened to condition future military aid on concrete Israeli steps to deliver more aid to Palestinian civilians, Israel reopened a vital border crossing. This approach is the path forward, according to French. It provides aid to civilians while giving Israel the weapons it needs to defeat Hamas and deter a full-scale war with Hezbollah and Iran.

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