Not protecting civilians will be ‘strategic defeat’, warns Lloyd Austin

Published December 4, 2023
CHILDREN rest on blankets as displaced families fleeing central and southern Gaza set up tents in the new Tall el-Sultan camp, west of Rafah in the southern part of besieged enclave, on Sunday.—AFP
CHILDREN rest on blankets as displaced families fleeing central and southern Gaza set up tents in the new Tall el-Sultan camp, west of Rafah in the southern part of besieged enclave, on Sunday.—AFP

WASHINGTON: Secre­tary of Defence Lloyd Austin has cautioned Israel that it risks a “strategic defeat” if it fails to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza during the ongoing crisis.

Speaking at the Reagan National Defence Forum in California on Saturday, Mr Austin emphasised the centrality of the civilian population in such unrest, stating, “In this kind of a fight, the centre of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”

He said he has consistently communicated to Israeli leaders the moral responsibility and strategic imperative of safeguarding Palestinian civilians in Gaza. He also underlined the necessity for Israel to avoid violence in the West Bank, stressing that the US remains committed to peace in the Middle East.

The defence secretary asserted that a two-state solution is crucial for lasting peace in the region, advocating for separate nations for both the Jewish and Palestinian people. “We believe that Israelis and Palestinians must find a way to share the land that they both call home,” Mr Austin said, adding that “And that means a path toward two states living side by side in mutual security… a two-state solution remains the only viable way out of this tragic conflict that has ever been proposed.”

US secretary of defence says two-state solution is crucial for lasting peace

As the temporary truce in Gaza expired, the US defence chief’s comments reinforce Washington’s warnings to Israel about the precision and impact of the next phase of military operations. The Biden administration has urged Israel to carry out operations in southern Gaza more precisely than in the initial stage of the crisis.

While acknowledging Israel’s duty to respond to attacks, Mr Austin stressed that the flow of humanitarian aid to Palestinians was as important as protecting civilians. “We will continue to press Israel to protect civilians and to ensure the robust flow of humanitarian aid,” he affirmed.

The defence secretary, however, stated that the US remains Israel’s “closest friend in the world,” with American support deemed non-negotiable. He highlighted the US Air Force’s delivery of over 54,000 pounds of medical supplies, warm clothing, and food to Gaza, with additional flights expected in the coming days.

Despite the challenging nature of a two-state solution, Mr Austin emphasised the need for ending the unrest and preventing further insecurity and despair for both Israelis and Palestinians.

He concluded by condemning Hamas and reiterating America’s commitment to working towards the release of remaining prisoners and stabilising the region amid concerns of escalating tensions with other Middle Eastern countries.

Published in Dawn, December 4th, 2023

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