newsIsrael at War

US, Israel ‘share common goal’ in defeating Hamas

An interview with Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder, the U.S. Department of Defense Press Secretary, following Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant's visit to the United States.

Pentagon Press Secretary U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder conducts a press briefing at the Pentagon on March 8, 2024. Credit: Joseph Clark/U.S. Department of Defense.
Pentagon Press Secretary U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder conducts a press briefing at the Pentagon on March 8, 2024. Credit: Joseph Clark/U.S. Department of Defense.

One of the main issues of contention between the United States and Israel regarding the war against Hamas is the planned Israeli operation in Rafah. During his visit to the United States last week, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant presented to senior U.S. officials a plan to evacuate almost a million noncombatants from the city.

“We evacuated nearly a million people from northern Gaza at the beginning of the war, and we can do it again,” Gallant told U.S. officials. However, the U.S. administration remains skeptical given the scale of humanitarian infrastructure that will be needed to carry out such a plan.

U.S. Department of Defense Press Secretary Maj. Gen. Patrick S. Ryder recently discussed with JNS Gallant’s visit and the administration’s stance on the conflict.

The Rafah question

Q: What was Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s impression of the Rafah operational plan presented by Minister Gallant?

A: First of all, it was a very productive meeting between Secretary Austin and Minister Gallant. The two, of course, have been in close communication since the beginning of this conflict on Oct. 7. 

Their discussion afforded the opportunity to talk about potential operations in Rafah and provided the U.S. perspective in terms of alternative approaches that Israel might consider in conducting those operations. I won’t speak for Minister Gallant in terms of the kinds of information that he presented, other than to say it was a very robust and very helpful conversation, I think, for all sides.

Q: Is the U.S. vetoing an Israeli operation in Rafah?

A: Well, look, we know that Israel is in a tough fight against Hamas, and we think that we share a common goal, the United States and Israel. We all want to see this terrorist organization defeated and prevented from being able to carry out the kinds of brutal and vicious attacks we saw on Oct. 7. 

So really what this is about is working with our Israeli partners to look at ways that Hamas can be defeated and dismantled, while at the same time taking into account the importance of protecting innocent civilians on the ground. 

There are over a million people right now that are displaced in Rafah. And so, what we don’t want to see is the humanitarian situation there be exacerbated as Israel does the very important work of eliminating Hamas as a threat to the Israeli people and the region.

Q: But does the U.S. see a viable path for an option or scenario in which Israel can operate in Rafah? 

A: I think a better way to say it is that we believe there’s a viable path to defeating Hamas and at the same time taking into account the importance of civilian safety and harm mitigation. I mean, you’re seeing this play out right now in terms of a potential famine in Gaza, millions of people that are displaced that need food, they need shelter, they need care. 

And what we don’t want to see again is that situation exacerbated, which by the way just plays into the strategic aims of Hamas. And so again, I think we all share the common goal of protecting innocent civilians and also defeating and dismantling Hamas as a threat to Israel and the region. 

U.S. military aid

In recent weeks there have been many reports about the Biden administration debating whether to halt or limit arms deliveries to Israel. Gallant signed a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken stating Israel is fighting in compliance with international law and is not limiting humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Q: There is some anxiety in Jerusalem about U.S. arms deliveries to Israel. Is there any change in U.S. policy on this issue? 

A: First of all, the United States and Israel share a long and deep partnership when it comes to security cooperation. We are committed to Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region. 

And when it comes to the war against Hamas, since Oct. 7, we have rushed a significant amount of military assistance to enable Israel to protect its citizens from future terrorist attacks. And that’s not going to stop. 

So, our policy has not changed in that regard. At the same time, as you know, we continue to have very frequent and deep discussions with our Israeli partners to take into account the importance of civilian harm mitigation in military operations, again, for all the obvious reasons. 

So, we’ll continue to have those discussions, but we will also continue to support Israel’s inherent right of self-defense.

Q: But is there a red line that would cause a change in armament deliveries to Israel? 

A: Well, I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. I’m just going to focus on the facts and the reality on the ground today. Again, we understand the threat that Hamas poses. We understand the brutal nature of their attacks on Oct. 7. 

And we understand that this heinous terrorist organization has embedded itself in the civilian population in Gaza, in dense urban terrain, and that it presents significant challenges in terms of rooting them out. All that to say, it is also of strategic and moral importance to ensure that innocent civilians, whether they be Israeli or Palestinians, are protected.

The northern front

Q: It seems that war is almost inevitable between Israel and Hezbollah. 

A: Well, I would hope not. And we certainly continue to support the diplomatic efforts that are underway to prevent it from becoming a war. And ever since Oct. 7, the United States has been very clear that we’re going to work hard to prevent the conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza from spreading into a broader regional war. I don’t think anyone wins if that happens. 

And so again, we fully recognize the challenges right now along the northern border. We recognize the challenges of Israelis being displaced. And again, we’re going to continue to be very supportive of diplomatic efforts to reduce those tensions so that Israelis can return to their homes and live in peace. 

Q: What will be the U.S. position if Israel feels that there is no other choice but to go to war in the north? 

A: Well, again, I don’t want to get into hypotheticals. Again, we support Israel’s inherent right to self-defense. 

But what I don’t think anyone wants to see is a broader regional war that extends past Gaza right now because again, no one wins in this situation. And again, we’re going to continue to work very hard as I know Israel is on finding a diplomatic outcome to this challenge. 

The U.S. Gaza pier

In his State of the Union address, U.S. President Joe Biden announced that the United States will build a pier off the Gaza coast to allow humanitarian aid to arrive via a maritime corridor from Cyprus.

Q: What’s the schedule for building this pier? And will we see U.S. boots on the ground?

A: To be clear right up front, no. You will not see U.S. boots on the ground. No U.S. forces on the ground in Gaza. None at all. But what we’re doing in support of a broader U.S. government effort and a broader international effort is working to provide another mechanism by which to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza. 

And so, this capability, which is a unique U.S. military capability called Joint Logistics Over-the-Shore…enables us to essentially build a temporary pier that will be off Gaza shores, that will be able to receive aid that will be then transported and taken to NGOs and others to be distributed to the people of Gaza. 

We’re still working through the details in terms of security on the shore and also the details in terms of the actual delivery and distribution of aid. We’re making very good progress. You can expect to see probably within the next 30 to 45 days this capability coming online. The one thing I would highlight is this is something we’re communicating very frequently and closely with Israel on, so they’re very well aware of this effort and supportive. 

Q: Is there a chance that Israeli soldiers will be the ones who will secure the pier?

A: Well, again, we’re working through all those details right now. I don’t want to get ahead of that process, but we’ll certainly keep you updated. 

Amichai Stein is the diplomatic correspondent for Kan 11, IPBC.

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