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Austin: No proof Israel is committing genocide

“We don’t have evidence of that to my knowledge,” the secretary of defense testified before Congress.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Department of Defense fiscal 2025 budget request at the Hart Senate Office Building on April 9, 2024. Credit: Chad J. McNeeley/U.S. Department of Defense.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testifies at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Department of Defense fiscal 2025 budget request at the Hart Senate Office Building on April 9, 2024. Credit: Chad J. McNeeley/U.S. Department of Defense.

Washington has no evidence that Israel is committing “genocide” in Gaza, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified during a Tuesday hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee about the 2025 defense budget.

About a dozen and a half anti-Israel protesters, who disrupted the beginning of the nearly three-hour hearing, were removed from the room.

“I want to address what the protesters raised earlier: Is Israel committing genocide in Gaza?” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked Austin.

“We don’t have any evidence of genocide,” Austin replied. “We don’t have evidence of that to my knowledge.” 

Austin also denied a standing claim of anti-Israel protesters, that the Biden administration has “greenlit” and is complicit in an Israeli genocide of the Palestinians.

“I absolutely did not,” Austin said. “I would remind everybody that what happened on Oct. 7 was absolutely horrible—numbers of Israeli citizens killed, and then a couple of hundred Israeli citizens taken hostage and American citizens as well.”

Austin’s response came after Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said at a Boston-area mosque on Friday that there is proof that Israel has committed genocide against the Palestinians.

“If you want to do it as an application of law, I believe that they’ll find that it is genocide, and they have ample evidence to do so,” she told attendees at the Islamic Center of Boston in Wayland, Mass. on April 5.

A spokesperson for the senator told Politico that Warren meant to refer to “the ongoing legal process at the International Court of Justice, not sharing her views on whether genocide is occurring in Gaza.”

Warren, who is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, did not use the word “genocide” in her questions and statements during the hearing when describing Israel’s military operations against Hamas.

She did appear to cite official Hamas casualty statistics when probing Austin about a potential Israeli operation in Rafah.

“Since October, Israeli strikes have killed over 30,000 Palestinians, the majority of them are women and children. Rafah has become the latest refuge of Palestinian civilians and is now home to more than 1.4 million people,” Warren said. “Secretary Austin, do you think an attack on Rafah that kills another 30,000 civilians would enhance either U.S. or Israeli security?”

There had been “far too many civilian casualties” in the conflict, Austin said. He told Warren that he had relayed that message to Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant.

“This is a point that I have stressed with my counterpart on a number of occasions, just as recently as yesterday, and it cannot be, going forward, what we’ve seen in the past in terms of the type of activities that we’ve seen in Gaza City and Khan Younis,” Austin said. (A Pentagon readout of Austin’s call with Gallant yesterday did not reference Palestinian civilian casualties.)

Lloyd Austin Senate Armed Services
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, greet senators prior to a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Department of Defense fiscal 2025 budget request at the Hart Senate Office Building on April 9, 2024. Credit: Chad J. McNeeley/U.S. Department Defense.

“Far too many civilians have been killed as a result of combat operations and they need to get civilians out of that battle space around Rafah,” he told Warren.

During the hearing, Austin also discussed U.S. efforts to increase humanitarian aid flows into Gaza and said that a temporary pier, which Biden announced in his March 7 State of the Union address, would arrive off the coast of Gaza before the end of this month.

Warren, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) were Israel’s harshest critics at the hearing.

Biden should have paused U.S. arms sales to Israel after an April 1 airstrike killed seven aid workers in a World Central Kitchen convoy, said King, who caucuses with the Democrats.

“I was surprised that at the very week that the World Kitchen attack occurred, and the continuing humanitarian crisis, that the administration approved the transfer of additional munitions to Israel, particularly offensive munitions,” King said, who added that “2,000-pound bombs are not defensive. They’re offensive and they’re not very ‘precision.’”

The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, an independent Israeli think tank, has argued that the 2,000-pound bombs that the United States has sold to Israel include the BLU-109 “bunker buster,” which is particularly useful in destroying Hamas’s underground tunnel networks and concrete bunkers.

Austin Senate Armed Services Committee
Senior U.S. Defense Department officials testify at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the Department of Defense fiscal 2025 budget request at the Hart Senate Office Building on April 9, 2024. Credit: Chad J. McNeeley/U.S. Department of Defense.

Islamic Republic

Austin also faced questions about Iran’s role in supporting radical proxy groups around the region.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) asked the defense secretary why the U.S. Navy should not retaliate directly against Iranian ships, in response to Houthi drone and missile attacks against U.S. interests. “Why don’t we sink their ships?” the senator asked.

“Attacking Iran is a different issue,” Austin said. He denied that Iran had attacked the United States directly. “Their proxies are attacking us,” he said.

“I maintain the point that Iran needs to be held accountable for what it continues to do,” Austin added. He did not specify what that accountability would look like.

Gen. Charles Q. Brown, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Michael McCord, a U.S. under secretary of defense, also testified before the committee.

Brown told the Alaska senator that he could walk him through potential military responses to a successful Houthi attack on a U.S. Navy ship but could only do so in a classified setting.

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