Senate Armed Services Chairman Jack Reed on Israel-Hamas conflict —

Israel’s move to provide a brief daily break in its military campaign against Hamas is a “good first step” that grew out of persistent “quiet diplomacy” of President Biden, but it should not lead to a ceasefire, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed said Thursday.

“I think that’s real progress, and it’s been a result of the president’s quiet diplomacy directly with the Israeli government,” Reed told CBS News on this week’s episode of “The Takeout.” 

“It’s not just a humanitarian effort. It’s also a very smart operational effort. You want to disassociate the Palestinian population from Hamas. You want to offer them safety and security, and you also want to signal to the Palestinians that the goal of the Israeli forces is not their destruction, but the destruction of Hamas. It’s very important, and I don’t think it would’ve happened without the president’s gentle suggestions.”

Reed said those suggestions have come in the form of advice to plan their urban assault on Gaza well, but also to heed the American counterinsurgency experience in Iraq and Afghanistan: seek to protect civilians from embedded terrorist groups or cells and find common cause if you can.

“They have to not only take out Hamas, but they have to do it in a way that minimizes their impact on the Palestinian people,” Reed said. “It’s not an easy task, not an easy task at all. But in the long run, if the people are with you, the bad guys are more vulnerable. To the extent that the Palestinian people feel that they’re suffering and they’re the object of the military operations, they’re not going break any allegiance (with Hamas).”

Reed also said that not nearly enough humanitarian assistance is flowing into Gaza. The number of trucks arriving daily is a fraction of the flow before Hamas’ attack in Israel.

“We have to get more supply routes in,” Reed said. “We have to think creatively. Can we take supplies over the sea from Cyprus, for example. Maybe we could get our (Army) Corps of Engineers to put up temporary dockage so that the ships can get in.”

Reed said Saudi Arabia “should be devoting billions of dollars to a fund that would help international organizations move more food and vital supplies” into Gaza. Reed said he made that recommendation to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a recent trip to Saudi Arabia. Reed said the crown prince was diplomatically noncommittal. “But we have to plant that idea so that this becomes an international effort where the funding can be made available, and the resources can be made available.”

Reed also was asked if Israel has committed war crimes in its campaign against Hamas.

“The issue with Israel is one of proportionality in terms of the weapons they use,” Reed said. “It comes down to individual incidents of whether or not excessive force was used. That’s an issue that the world community can’t ignore. Nor can Israel.”

Reed was asked if the matter was an open question.

“I think it is because at this point the evidence has not been sufficiently accumulated,” Reed said. “Several senators (have) communicated to the president that we have to ensure that the Israelis, particularly if they’re using our equipment, are following the rules of war. We can’t ignore this issue. There has to be accountability.”

Reed also said Israel would be wise to explain its long-term aims in Gaza in hopes of persuading Palestinian civilians not aligned with or sympathetic to Hamas that they have a stake in a peaceful Gaza after the military campaign ends.

“This goes to sending a message to the world that there’s going to be a transition to a period and a time when the Palestinian people will live in peace and safety, ” Reed said. “I think the longer Israel defers that sort of future projection of what their plans are, the more uncertainty is existing.”

Reed described Hamas as “a dictatorship run by a cadre of terrorists.”

He also praised Mr. Biden’s two retaliatory strikes against Iranian-backed militia groups that have launched more than 40 harassing rocket attacks on U.S. military personnel in Iraq and Syria.

“What we’re seeing, which makes some sense, is a gradual escalation,” Reed said. “Minimize casualties but maximize destruction of valuable war material. And I think the message is, impose the costs, so that they don’t feel they have a free ride at attacking our service members.”

Reed expressed confidence Congress would approve aid to Israel and Ukraine in the coming weeks, noting the support of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“The good news for us here is McConnell is strongly committed to aid for Ukraine,” Reed said. “My message is very simple. I’d rather send resources than young Americans.”

On the political front, Reed said he was sad to see Sen. Joe Manchin decide not to seek re-election in West Virginia.

“He has been extremely helpful on so many different issues,” Reed said. “And he’s taken a lot of tough votes. He’s also tried to maintain a bipartisan rapport, which is less and less common around here.”

As for Manchin’s plans to travel the country, Reed did not see that as a prelude to a run for the White House or any effort to undermine Biden’s reelection. “I would counsel him to take the high road,” Reed said. “I think Joe’s objective is not so much to disrupt the election (but) to engage on these important issues. If he finds some traction, well, that might be another case altogether.”

Executive producer: Arden Farhi

Producers: Jamie Benson, Jacob Rosen, Sara Cook and Eleanor Watson

CBSN Production: Eric Soussanin 
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