JINSA report defends Israel’s conduct in Gaza but critiques its larger strategy

The report scrutinizes Israel’s struggles to administer cleared areas of Gaza, prepare a post-Hamas plan and communicate effectively in the international press

Israeli army armoured vehicles operate near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 30, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

A new report issued by the Jewish Institute for National Security of America, authored by former U.S. military officials, largely praises Israel’s conduct of its war in Gaza as justified, legal and reasonable. But it also criticizes Israel’s reluctance to allow significant humanitarian aid, administer cleared areas of Gaza and prepare for a clear post-Hamas Gaza plan, as well as its difficulties communicating effectively in the international media.

While the report’s praise of Israel’s tactics and conduct in Gaza is unsurprising, the numerous areas where the report critiques Israel’s operations are notable, especially coming from the reliably pro-Israel think tank.

The report was authored by the members of JINSA’s Gaza Assessment Task force — a group of retired senior military officials, including Gen. David Rodriguez, Adm. Michael Rogers, Gen. Charles Wald, Lt. Gen. David Beydler, Lt. Gen. Tom Trask, Col. Mark Warren and Lt. Col. Geoff Corn.

“The IDF has carried out its mission to eliminate the Hamas threat with operational and tactical excellence and in overall compliance with the Law of Armed Conflict,” the report’s authors wrote. “This occurred despite encountering a complex urban and subterranean battlefield in which almost the entirety of Gaza… had been prepared and repurposed by Hamas as fortified fighting positions. The U.S. military would benefit from studying how the IDF fought effectively in this highly complex, multi-domain environment.”

The report slams Hamas for “intentionally and systematically violat[ing] those laws,” intentionally endangering civilians “in an attempt to compel the IDF to inflict civilian casualties so as to trigger opposition to Israel by the United States, European countries, the United Nations, and international courts as well as in public opinion.”

It also argues that much-cited aggregate casualty numbers are a “misleading” metric by which to judge the “legality of IDF operations.”

At the same time, the report offers criticisms of some  aspects of Israel’s approach.

“The IDF’s operational effectiveness has been jeopardized by the lack of a clear, announced strategy for a post-Hamas future for Gaza,” the authors said. “Our military experience has taught us that tactical success is often undermined when military operations are not consistently directed toward a well-defined and understood strategic end-state.”

The report states that failing to define a day-after plan for Gaza may necessitate indefinite operations in Gaza to stamp out reemerging elements of Hamas, even in areas already cleared by Israel.

“Failure to contend with these questions has already enabled worrying developments that portend a Hamas resurgence,” the authors wrote.

They also said that Israel has “fulfilled its legal obligations” to provide humanitarian aid in Gaza, but “the strategic legitimacy of Israel’s campaign has been compromised by the perception of indifference to the humanitarian suffering in Gaza.”

They said that Israel’s “reticence to provide more than the legally required humanitarian assistance or to administer areas of Gaza that have generally been cleared of Hamas threaten to undermine the tactical victories it has won on the battlefield.”

The report argues that if Israel allows humanitarian aid access beyond what is legally necessary and works to implement interim governance mechanisms, it can better counter adversaries’ narratives and advance its military goals.

The report further states that “issues related to detainee treatment and humanitarian assistance do raise concerns about Israel’s interpretations of its legal obligations and, more importantly, whether otherwise legally compliant policies are responsive to broader strategic considerations.”

The authors said that Israeli concerns about Gazan civilians’ support for or participation in the Oct. 7 attack “cannot be permitted to dictate decisions related to humanitarian obligations and policies.”

The report also says that Israel faces continued difficulties in communicating with the global community to counter Hamas disinformation and clearly explain the Hamas threat and its own objectives and strategies, an issue also seen in previous rounds of fighting.

It particularly criticizes Israel for failing to clearly define and communicate the practical meaning of its goal of destroying Hamas, outside of the term’s military connotations, as well as using a variety of different terms with different potential meanings to discuss its plans and operations.

It says Israel has, in some cases, overpromised and underdelivered in communications with international media and focused too heavily on specific American and British audiences.

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