Defiant Israel Military Says U.S. Should Copy Gaza Strategy, Not Criticize

The Israel Defense Forces are defiant in the face of American criticism of the recent airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, with one military official suggesting Western nations including the U.S. should learn from its urban warfare tactics rather than condemning them.

The Israeli airstrikes—particularly the spectacular destruction of high-rise towers—galvanized progressive support for Palestinians in the U.S. and left President Joe Biden facing demands from within his own party to re-evaluate America's long alliance with Israel.

But IDF officials that spoke with Newsweek defended the service's extensive recent airstrikes on the Gaza Strip, which aid organizations say have exacerbated the coastal enclave's dire humanitarian situation and devastated its already crumbling infrastructure.

One IDF official who did not wish to be named said Western countries should learn from what they called a "phenomenal" military success in Gaza. "They should be sending their militaries to us to see and learn," the official told Newsweek.

In the U.S., lawmakers including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have urged the White House to end arms sales to Israel. The progressive grandee said the U.S. was "supplying weapons to kill children in Gaza."

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) called the IDF strikes "terrorism," and others such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) pushed to block a $735 million arms package destined for Israel.

The IDF official described international criticism as unfounded and unfair. "Not only should the IDF not be criticized for its choice of targets, and procedures and techniques, the IDF should actually be commended by these people," the official said.

"If they really care about civilians and the protection of civilians, they should be criticizing Hamas."

The destruction of Gaza's high rises became emblematic of Israel's most recent campaign against Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist groups.

In particular, the destruction of the al-Jalaa Tower in Gaza City—home to the Gaza offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera—remains a point of controversy, even after the ceasefire ended the tit-for-tat rocket barrages and airstrikes that killed 256 Gazans—among them 69 children—and 12 people in Israel, including two children.

The IDF said the Jalaa building was also home to multiple significant Hamas targets, including teams responsible for electronic warfare. This weekend, IDF Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Aviv Kohavi told Channel 12 that "the building was destroyed justly" and he did not have a "gram of regret."

Channel 12 said Kohavi told "a foreign source" that AP staff had coffee each day in the building's lobby cafeteria alongside Hamas militants, whether or not they were aware of it. AP said the suggestion was "patently false" and that there was no cafeteria in the Jalaa Tower lobby.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz distanced himself from Kohavi's remarks, telling reporters: "When the chief of staff talked about it, he was trying to portray the atmosphere, not the actual aspects." He added that "there was Hamas infrastructure in offices that operated from this building."

Another Channel 12 report cited one anonymous Israeli pilot who claimed that Gaza high rises were targeted in part to ease army frustration. "I went on a mission to carry out airstrikes with a feeling that destroying the towers is a way to vent frustration over what is happening to us and over success of the groups in Gaza in kicking us," the pilot said.

Israeli military figures dismissed the claims when asked by Newsweek. Captain Rebekkah Karp of the IDF fire support school said during an online after-action briefing that targets "aren't according to the emotions of any IDF officer...Our goal is to destroy military infrastructure within the Gaza Strip. And that's what we do."

Karp continued: "We are aware of multiple high rise buildings that within different floors, different offices, different parts of these buildings, are many various military uses, which make that building a legitimate military target.

"We do everything we can to minimize the amount of casualties," she added. "None of our strikes have been without eyes on the target."

The IDF official who did not want to be named also dismissed the Channel 12 report, describing instead a "meticulous process" of target selection: "They are not motivated by emotion, they are motivated by which military gain against an enemy can be obtained from striking it."

The official did say, though, that the strikes on high-rises were also designed to be a deterrent against other hostile Palestinian, Lebanese, Syrian, Iranian, and other groups in the region.

"They all need to understand very clearly two things: Yes we are committed to the law of conflict and we do our best not to strike non-combatants. But two, there is no safe place to hide for any terrorist," the official said.

While Democrats are calling for more distance between Israel and the U.S. Republicans are pushing for closer cooperation and the IDF is hoping for more military backing.

Axios reported Tuesday that Israel will ask for $1 billion in emergency military aid, partially to replenish the Iron Dome defense system and precision munitions supplies used in Gaza airstrikes.

The IDF official told Newsweek that Americans should be looking to learn from Israeli tactics rather than criticizing them, lauding what they said was a near-1:1 ratio of combatant to civilian deaths in Gaza.

"To achieve a ratio of almost one to one, I think is unprecedented," the official said, adding they were "not belittling even one single civilian non-combatant casualty."

"They should be sending their militaries to us to see and learn and adapt what we did and how we managed to strike so many militants," the official added.

"Tell me another conflict where a Western military achieved a 1:1 ratio in an urban populated urban area using an air force; it hasn't been achieved." The numbers, the official said, are "phenomenal."

But the IDF's military success is no comfort to progressive Democrats tired of America's traditionally unquestioning support for Israel.

The rightward shift of Israeli politics—much of it credited to long-serving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in recent years has given momentum to those critics who consider Israel an apartheid nation defending systemic racial inequality and human rights abuses.

For Israel's supporters, the country remains America's most trustworthy friend in a turbulent region. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other regional militant groups are committed to destroying the country and its Jewish inhabitants.

During the recent fighting in Gaza, Biden and his top official repeatedly asserted Israel's right to self-defense and safety, angering those who argued that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights but are not afforded them.

Biden is unlikely to suddenly pivot away from Israel. The political and strategic costs of such a move would be too costly for a president busy with more pressing issues, both foreign and domestic.

But the latest round of death and destruction in Gaza has certainly sharpened pro-Palestinian sentiment within his party, particularly among those tipped as future leaders.

"I understand that people have their concerns and it's very popular to criticise Israel," the IDF official told Newsweek. "It's in fashion, it's back in fashion, or maybe never went out of fashion."

"There are lots of politics at play," the official said, and "populism in the air."

Al-Jalaa tower in Gaza destroyed Israeli airstrike
This photo shows the destruction of the al-Jalaa Tower in Gaza City by an Israeli airstrike on May 15, 2021. MAHMUD HAMS/AFP via Getty Images