Israel Should Get The Weapons It Needs To Win

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Senator Lindsey Graham attracted lots of overheated headlines in recent days when, in blasting the Biden administration for delaying some weapons for Israel to use in Gaza, he drew an analogy to President Truman’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II.

Graham said that, just as Truman used all the firepower at his disposal to end the war with Japan as soon as possible, Washington should give our close ally in Jerusalem what it says it needs to do the same with Hamas. Anything less, he suggested, would send the “wrong signal” to Hamas, Hezbollah, and their backers in Tehran, encouraging them to continue pursuing their stated desire of destroying the Jewish state.

Graham’s analogy evoked predictable outrage, but the South Carolina Republican raised an agonizing question of long standing in the world of U.S. foreign policy: what’s the best way to wage war, limit casualties, and deter future aggression? On the question of whether Washington should give Jerusalem what it says it needs, he’s got the better of the argument.

To be clear, war is a ghastly business. People die – some in uniform, some as civilians in the crossfire. Today, they die due to aggression by a revanchist Russia and a genocidal Hamas. And they die in Ukraine as Kyiv defends its homeland, and in Gaza as Jerusalem seeks to prevent another October 7.

Laudably, Washington wants Jerusalem to limit civilian casualties in Gaza as much as possible. Jerusalem, in turn, has no reason to want anything else; as casualty numbers rise, Israel risks more global isolation.

But the real question revolves around the best way to limit casualties (both Israeli and Palestinian), not just now but over the long run.

Not surprisingly, Washington and the wider world are focused on the here and now: the war, the casualties, the potential for greater bloodshed, and the resulting political pressures that U.S. and other leaders face.

President Biden has been pressing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to invade Rafah, Hamas’ last stronghold, while Secretary of State Antony Blinken in recent days blasted Jerusalem for lacking a plan to protect civilians in Gaza. Washington even offered to help Israel gather the intelligence to pinpoint the whereabouts of Hamas officials if Jerusalem abandoned its invasion plans.

If the U.S. goal is to limit casualties not just now but over the long run, however, Washington should adopt a different posture.

Hamas didn’t just slaughter 1,200 Israelis on October 7. Inspired by their success, the group’s leaders vow to mount as many more such attacks as needed to destroy the Jewish state. That would mean more deaths of not just innocent Israelis but, when Jerusalem responds to each attack (as any government would), more deaths of innocent Palestinians – especially because Hamas will continue hiding among civilian populations for the explicit purpose of boosting casualty numbers.

Wouldn’t total civilian casualties on both sides be lower over the long run if Israel has the weaponry to destroy Hamas now?

Moreover, U.S. efforts to rein in Jerusalem as it seeks to destroy Hamas cannot help but embolden Hezbollah, which continues to fire rockets into Israel from southern Lebanon, as well as Iran, which crossed an important threshold in April when it mounted its first direct attack on Israeli territory.

Wouldn’t total civilian casualties across the region be lower over the long run if, with full U.S. backing, Israel deters Hezbollah and Iran from mounting larger-scale aggression by finishing off Hamas?

In the late summer of 1945, Truman faced the same basic question that Biden faces today: how to end a war as quickly as possible, with as few casualties as possible then and for the foreseeable future.

Truman had two choices – to drop the ghastly bombs, which killed more than 100,000 innocents and finally convinced Tokyo to surrender, or mount a U.S. invasion of Japan that would cause the deaths of not only hundreds of thousands of U.S. military personnel but also millions of Japanese civilians.

Two years later, Secretary of War Henry Stimson wrote, “[D]eath is an inevitable part of every order that a wartime leader gives. The decision to use the atomic bomb was a decision that brought death to over a hundred thousand Japanese…  But this deliberate, premeditated destruction was our least abhorrent choice.”

Biden, too, has two choices – to give Israel what it needs to eradicate Hamas, or limit the aid and continue pressuring Jerusalem to back off.

In a war that Hamas initiated and Israel seeks to end, giving the latter what it needs is once again “our least abhorrent choice.”

Lawrence J. Haas is a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council and the author of, most recently, The Kennedys in the World: How Jack, Bobby, and Ted Remade America’s Empire (Potomac Books).

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