WASHINGTON, DC – In the five months since Hamas launched a horrific terrorist attack against Israel, the United States has stood by its democratic friend and ally Israel as it has carried out a difficult military campaign to defend itself and destroy Hamas in Gaza. However, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) says he has a duty as Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and as a friend and supporter of Israel, to address the fact that Israel’s military campaign has veered off course.

With tens of thousands of Gazan civilians killed, millions more on the brink of famine, and broader conflict with Hezbollah and within the West Bank on the edge, Senator Reed asserts that Israel must make a fundamental course correction in its war.

In a speech on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Reed stated: “The United States will continue to support Israel as it works to degrade and defeat Hamas, but I have deep reservations about the conduct of this war. I believe good allies and good friends stand together. But great allies, great friends are willing to speak hard truths and hold each other to the highest standards, especially around the conduct of war and issues of national security. It is clear to me, now five months into this war, that Israel’s strategy to defeat Hamas is in peril.”

In his remarks, Senator Reed urged Israel to change its military strategy and tactics, and supported Senator Schumer’s recent call for new leadership to replace Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

A transcript of Senator Reed’s floor speech follows:

REED: Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the situation in the Middle East and the war between Israel and Hamas.

Five months ago, Hamas brutally attacked Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and taking 240 hostages. Hamas militants terrorized the Israeli people, committing unspeakable acts of torture and mutilation against innocent men, women, and children.

This tragedy was the single deadliest day in Israel’s 75-year history, and the deadliest day for the Jewish people since the Holocaust.

In the wake of these horrific attacks, the United States has stood by its democratic friend and ally Israel, as it has since the very beginning, when Harry Truman stood up and was the first state leader to recognize Israel.

I personally traveled with a bipartisan group of my colleagues two weeks after the attacks to mourn with the Israeli people and offer support for Israel’s defense, to ensure that they knew that the United States was with them. 

In my meetings in Israel and with Jewish leaders from Rhode Island, it is clear to me that this attack has had a profound impact on Israelis and Jewish people everywhere.  This attack has touched the deepest nerve, reopened the wounds of the past, and left many wondering not how but if Jews will ever be safe from persecution because of who they are. 

As I have continued to make clear, Israel can and must defend itself against the military threat from Hamas. Any nation that is attacked in this manner has the inherent right to self-defense.

The United States will continue to support Israel as it works to degrade and defeat Hamas, but I have deep reservations about the conduct of this war.  I believe good allies, good friends stand together.  But great allies, great friends are willing to speak hard truths and hold each other to the highest standards, especially around the conduct of war and issues of national security. 

I want to echo the Majority Leader, the senior senator from New York, a truly devoted, pro-Israel champion, who is spiritually and emotionally connected to Israel more than anyone else in this body, who has been a friend to Israeli leaders across the political spectrum.  And who is unafraid to speak truth to power.

It is clear to me, now five months into this war, that Israel’s strategy to defeat Hamas is in peril. While the IDF has made important progress in rooting out Hamas in Gaza, I do not see a clear end game or metrics for success coming from this Israeli Government.  There is no plan for the day after the fighting stops. 

We know that more than 30,000 Gazans are dead. The millions of Gazans that have survived have largely been forced to flee south toward Rafah and the crossing with Egypt and have little access to food, water, shelter, or medical care.  Those remaining in the north are facing dire humanitarian conditions.  More than two million Gazans are at-risk of starvation or famine.  Enormous portions of the Gaza Strip have been completely destroyed and left uninhabitable.  The West Bank is teetering on the brink of chaos. There are regular exchanges of fire with Hezbollah on the northern border with Lebanon, which has forced nearly 100,000 Israelis to move from their homes to escape the attacks, and Lebanese non-combatants are caught in the crossfire.  The region stands at the precipice of being engulfed in all-out war.

Today, as Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and as a friend and supporter of the Israeli people, it is my duty to say clearly that this war has veered off course. There must be a fundamental course correction for the national security interests of Israel, America, and our allies and partners.

I do not come to this conclusion lightly. There are two factors that we must understand and come to terms with. First, Israel should learn from the United States’ hard-earned strategic and tactical lessons from Iraq and Afghanistan.  And second – as Leader Schumer courageously argued here on the Senate floor last week – Israel and its allies must acknowledge that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s failed policies and desperate pursuit of power created much of the tragic situation we are witnessing today. There are actionable steps Israel can take to address these issues.

We should start by recognizing the lessons from America’s war in Iraq. We, too, suffered a national tragedy on September 11th, 2001, and immediately sought to defend ourselves. We launched our campaign to degrade and defeat al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and the results of that war showed early military success. But the anguish of 9/11 affected our ability to make clear strategic decisions, and we, despite my opposition, mistakenly invaded another country—Iraq—which had no role in the attacks of that horrific day. National grief and political fury can cloud the thinking of even the shrewdest military tacticians.

I worry that the mistakes of America’s war in Iraq are being made again by Israel in Gaza.

Similar to the power vacuum that the U.S. created when it dismantled Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq, Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 contributed to the extremist violence we see today. The rise of Hamas—a terrorist group whose stated goal is the destruction of Israel—assumed control of the Gaza Strip. But instead of using that opportunity to build lifelines for the people of Gaza, Hamas built a 500-mile tunnel network to terrorize Israel. Instead of providing education, health care and basic services for Palestinians, Hamas stockpiled and unleashed thousands of rockets against Israel.

Now, in the wake of October 7th, Israel’s stated goal is to destroy a terror group capable of guerilla style warfare in a large urban territory with the aid of a massive underground tunnel system. This mission would be daunting for even the most highly trained and advanced militaries.

As it pursues this goal, Israel should consider lessons from the United States tactical experiences in Iraq. In particular, the battle of Fallujah in 2004 provides a painful case study in counterinsurgency warfare in an urban environment. After a violent, grinding fight through that city, the U.S. failed to achieve the objectives of clearing the territory from insurgents. As the Modern War Institute at West Point assessed, “Senior political leaders should not react emotionally in war and direct immediate action against a densely populated urban area when conditions for success are not present.”

In contrast, operations in Gaza may be more successful by following the model of the battle of Mosul in 2016-2017, where the United States worked with coalition forces to wrest Iraq’s third largest city back from ISIS militants. I had an opportunity to visit Mosul on the ground while our forces fought alongside coalition Iraqi forces against ISIS. The operation was conducted with patience and precision, and ISIS was successfully eliminated in Mosul. Even then, success was arduous and costly. As the Financial Times characterized it, “the mission to clear the city of Jihadi militants was ultimately successful. But the fighting was intense, took three times longer than planned, left 10,000 civilians dead, and killed more coalition soldiers than expected.”

In prosecuting its current war, Israel must do a better job of following the lessons of successful counterterrorism campaigns.  At times, Israeli forces have conducted heavy bombing campaigns using weapons with large payloads, rather than more targeted operations that yield more successful – albeit slower – results. 

The IDF’s willingness to bomb heavily populated civilian areas to pursue Hamas leaders has changed both the perceptions and the realities of this war. Protecting the civilian population is a strategic imperative in counterterrorism operations and the law of war. You want to separate the insurgents from the population and gain the trust of the population to continue to successfully conduct your operation against an increasingly isolated insurgent group.

Simply put, Israel’s current strategy risks creating more terrorists than it is eliminating. Can you imagine a 15-year-old who has lost his youngest sibling, his mother, his father, his grandparents; where will his rage and fury and profound sadness be directed? It’s a question I think we should all contemplate.

The second issue we have to understand is the broken, polarized political environment that badly weakened Israel’s national security before October 7th. Prime Minister Netanyahu returned to power in 2022 facing charges of corruption and a criminal trial looming. His narrow political coalition is the most far right, conservative government in Israeli history. He has continued to make clear that he will never support a two-state solution.

In a desperate attempt to stay in power, Netanyahu has emboldened the most far right members of his coalition.  He has not only allowed extreme positions to be the stated goals of his administration—he has provided far right members of his coalition with ministries by which they can enact their agendas. His Minister of Finance, Bezalel Smotrich, has fought his entire career to expand Settler control in the West Bank and now has control over restarting payments to the Palestinian Authority.  His Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has been convicted on at least eight charges, including supporting a terrorist organization and incitement to racism.

And, facing his own criminal charges, Netanyahu worked to significantly weaken the Israeli judicial system for his own benefit. He did this despite hundreds of thousands of Israelis protesting in the streets. He did this over the objections of Israeli military reservists, who refused to report for duty in protest of the way these changes would weaken Israeli democracy. And he did this despite warnings from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that the IDF would be weakened as a result. 

Adding to this toxic and destabilizing mix was Netanyahu’s strategy for dealing with Hamas. For years, he purposely propped up Hamas as a means to ensure that a two-state solution would never come to fruition. As far back as 2012, Netanyahu told Israeli press that “it was important to keep Hamas strong, as a counterweight to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.”  It was not just a counterweight, he knew that having Hamas in power in Gaza meant that a two-state solution would never be possible.  This strategy to prop up Hamas also included allowing Hamas to receive monthly suitcases full of cash. A former defense minister for Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman, blamed this tactic as one that directly paved the way for the October 7th attacks.

Netanyahu’s long, relentless pursuit of political survival and power are now fueling his strategy for the war in Gaza. And it strikes me that it is his strategy, not Israel’s strategy; his future, not Israel’s future, that is the foremost factor at play.

These factors add up to several hard truths that must be spoken from one ally to another, just as Leader Schumer did last week with courage and principle.

Most importantly, Israel can’t use military force alone to reclaim peace and security for its people. Military force is used as a means to a political end – military force itself will not provide the answer. 

A political solution will take hard bargaining and diplomatic negotiations. Working with the United States, Qatar, Egypt and other allies and partners, the Israelis must reach a temporary ceasefire that allows for the safe return of the remaining hostages, expansion of humanitarian assistance, and capacity to safely deliver assistance to the people of Gaza. The ongoing airdrop campaign and sea port efforts are a step in the right direction, but Israel must do more to ensure that the increase supply of food and other desperately need supplies can reach the people of Gaza. 

There must be a realistic plan for day-after operations in Gaza. There needs to be a return to a framework for a two-state solution, where the state of Israel and a demilitarized Palestinian state exist side-by-side in peace and security. This plan will require buy-in from all, Israel, the Palestinian people, Arab neighbors, and the international community. Israel should not and will not find the long-term security and peace it wants by indefinitely reoccupying the Gaza Strip.

Finally, while it is a decision that will ultimately be made by the Israeli and Palestinian people, like Leader Schumer I believe it is time for new leadership for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.

Palestinian President Abbas is almost 20 years into what was supposed to be a four-year presidential term, and finding a successor for the Palestinian Authority is long overdue. A new Palestinian leader must recognize that the only path to peace, security, and prosperity is to work with Israel and regional partners for a path to statehood.

New leadership also includes Prime Minister Netanyahu. Polling indicates that more than 75 percent of Israelis believe he should step down, and I agree with Leader Schumer that Netanyahu represents an obstacle to long-term peace in Israel.

I have long been a friend and supporter of Israel. I first traveled there in the early 1990’s and have traveled there regularly since. More importantly, the United States has been Israel’s closest ally for 75 years. In 1948 when the Israelis declared their independence, the world was not particularly accepting, except here in the United States. To his immense credit, President Harry Truman stood up and said that we will recognize and support the state of Israel. And that profound bond exists today, and in my view and in my hope will always exist. We can’t have anyone break that bond.

Great allies hold each other to high standards and share hard truths when needed, and the U.S.-Israel alliance is no different.

I urge Israel to change course in Gaza immediately. I urge Israel to work with all of us to ultimately establish an enduring, secure, and peaceful Israel as well as a just and secure place where all people in the region can live safely.

With that, I yield the floor.