Dems hammer Netanyahu for Gaza strategy: ‘Screwing his own people’

House Democrats are bashing Israel’s wartime strategy in Gaza, warning that the military approach adopted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will only empower the Hamas militants he’s targeting at the expense of Israel’s long-term security.

The criticisms echo those coming from the Biden administration, which has recently ramped up concerns that Israeli leaders are doing too little to protect Palestinian civilians in the urgent hunt for the terrorists responsible for the deadly attacks of last October — a short-sighted strategy, the Democrats say, that will not only fail to eliminate Hamas in the near-term, but also destabilize the region for years to come.

“I’m hearing that there just doesn’t appear to be an end game. If you are steadily causing casualties among non-combatants — women and children — it’s a real concern,” said Bennie Thompson (Miss.), senior Democrat on the Homeland Security Committee.

“I’m not aware of a plan at all, other than to try to kill as many people in Gaza as you can.”

Some of the Democratic critics are pointing to Washington’s own failed efforts to put down insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, accusing Netanyahu of disregarding the difficult lessons of those marathon campaigns as Israeli forces move deeper into Gaza and the casualties mount.

“They’re ignoring all the lessons that we learned,” said Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.), a former Marine who served four tours in Iraq. “You have to limit civilian casualties. You have to have a political endgame both sides can believe. You have to win over the population’s support.

“Israel’s not doing any of those things.”

“It goes back to the very good advice that President Biden tried to give Netanyahu immediately after Oct. 7: Don’t act out of rage. Don’t make the same mistakes we made after 9/11,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). “And I don’t think that advice has been taken yet.”

The Democratic critics are all quick to emphasize their support for the state of Israel and its right to self defense, particularly in the wake of Hamas’s attacks of Oct. 7, which led to the death of roughly 1,200 people and the kidnapping of 250.

But Netanyahu is undermining that security, they contend, with aggressive military strikes that are designed to eradicate the Hamas threat once and for all, but have also killed thousands of Palestinian civilians in a region where more than half the population consists of women and children.

Some Democrats are accusing the Israeli prime minister, who has been indicted on a series of fraud and corruption charges, of conducting a political war that puts his own self-preservation above the interests of the country he leads.

“Israel is a staunch ally; we want them to win this war,” Moulton said. “But Netanyahu is screwing his own people by having a strategy that’s good for him and not good for Israel’s success.”

The criticisms are similar to those coming from the Biden administration, where Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently lambasted Israel’s tactics in Gaza. Blinken said U.S. officials have seen no evidence that Netanyahu has a plan for minimizing civilian casualties in Rafah, a Hamas stronghold in southern Gaza where more than 1 million Palestinians have gathered for safe refuge.

“We also haven’t seen a plan for what happens the day after this war in Gaza ends, because right now the trajectory that Israel is on is — even if it goes in and takes heavy action in Rafah — there will still be thousands of armed Hamas left,” Blinken said last week on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

“So the trajectory right now is that going into Rafah, even to deal with these remaining battalions – especially in the absence of a plan for civilians – risks doing terrible harm to civilians and not solving the problem, a problem that both of us want to solve, which is making sure Hamas cannot again govern Gaza.”

On Capitol Hill, Democrats increasingly agree.

“He’s right that the counter-insurgency of Hamas is perpetual, and that Netanyahu has no strategy for that,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.). “I mean, he’s trying to go into Rafah and Hamas is popping back up into northern Gaza. And this is like the Iraq War strategy.”

The tensions between Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, and Democrats on Capitol Hill are hardly new. The conservative Netanyahu has long clashed with liberals in Congress over issues as diverse as Palestinian rights, the proposal for a two-state solution and the Iran nuclear deal negotiated under the former Obama administration.

Yet those tensions have escalated following the Oct. 7 attacks, as Netanyahu’s retaliatory strikes against Hamas have dragged into their seventh month and the casualties in Gaza have topped 35,000, according to Gazan health authorities.

On Monday, that debate intensified even further when the International Criminal Court (ICC) filed charges against several Hamas leaders, for their role in the Oct. 7 massacre, and against Netanyahu and his defense minister, for their response to those attacks. Among the charges against the Israeli leaders: using starvation as a weapon of war and intentionally targeting civilians.

Israeli officials, for their part, have vehemently denied any suggestion that they’ve committed war crimes, arguing that they’ve taken great care to minimize any harm to civilians.

Netanyahu on Tuesday dismissed the charges, telling MSNBC they were the work of “a rogue prosecutor who’s out to demonize the one and only Jewish state.” And Biden, joined by other Democratic leaders, have also hammered the ICC — a court the United States has never formally endorsed — for suggesting that Israel and Hamas bear some moral equivalence. Biden called the charges “outrageous.”

Yet the ICC controversy has done nothing to erode the Democrats’ underlying concerns with Israel’s conduct throughout the Hamas war and the absence of an articulated long-term strategy for securing the region.

Blinken’s State Department had issued a report earlier this month which found it was “reasonable to assess” that Israel has violated international human rights laws, though the agency stopped short of accusing Israel of clear wrongdoing. And some Democrats are warning that Netanyahu’s handling of the conflict could prove detrimental to Israel by eroding the bipartisan support the country has enjoyed on Capitol Hill stretching back decades.

“It’s not in Israel’s long-term interest to allow Netanyahu to continue [his current strategy], because a lot of us who have historically supported Israel have started to reconsider that support given Netanyahu’s approach,” Thompson said. “Without a demonstrated plan, or a documented plan, there’s no real support, long-term, [that] he can gather with what he’s doing now.”

Some Democrats noted that Netanyahu’s delicate coalition government includes several hardline cabinet members who have advocated openly for the Israeli resettlement of both Gaza and the West Bank. With that in mind, some lawmakers suggested Netanyahu might be eying a long-term strategy that includes the annexation of certain Palestinian lands.

“It certainly is the strategy of some of the folks in his government — and he needs them to keep his coalition together — so by extension it becomes his strategy,” Huffman said. “And that’s really troubling.”

Rep. Gregory Meeks (N.Y.), senior Democrat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, voiced similar concerns.

“Netanyahu’s strategy is to stay [in power] as long as he can, and he knows that they’re so racist that if he doesn’t do what they say, they will leave his coalition and then that government falls,” Meeks said.

“That’s why it’s got to come to a head at some point.”

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