Lloyd Austin
Lloyd AustinREUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Saturday that the US would “remain Israel’s closest friend in the world”.

Speaking at the Reagan National Defense Forum in California, Austin said that six days after the Hamas attack on October 7, “I flew to Israel to underscore our solidarity and our resolve—and to make it crystal-clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad.”

“And so we have rushed US security assistance to Israel to help it defend its people and its territory—and to help ensure that Hamas can never again commit the atrocities that we saw on October 7th,” he added.

“US leadership has helped in the release of dozens of hostages. And we will continue to do everything that we can to help secure the release of every man, every woman, and every child seized by Hamas—including American citizens.”

Austin noted that the US has reinforced its military presence in the Middle East, including two Carrier Strike Groups, an Amphibious Ready Group, a Marine Expeditionary Unit, a guided-missile submarine, integrated air-defense and missile-defense forces, and more fighter aircraft and bombers.

He warned Iran in the wake of the repeated attacks against US personnel in Iraq and Syria, which the US has responded to by striking facilities in Iraq and eastern Syria used by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and by Iran-affiliated militias.

“We will not tolerate attacks on American personnel. And so these attacks must stop. And until they do, we will do what we need to do to protect our troops—and to impose costs on those who attack them,” stressed the Secretary of Defense.

Nothing that “Israel is in a hard fight against a cruel enemy, in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth,” he added that the US “will continue to press Israel to protect civilians and to ensure the robust flow of humanitarian aid.”

“Like Hamas, ISIS was deeply embedded in urban areas. And the international coalition against ISIS worked hard to protect civilians and create humanitarian corridors, even during the toughest battles. So the lesson is not that you can win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians,” said Austin.

“You see, in this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat. So I have repeatedly made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative,” he added.

Austin also reiterated that the Biden administration believes “that Israelis and Palestinians must find a way to share the land that they both call home. And that means a path toward two states, living side by side in mutual security.”

He then stated that “the United States will remain Israel’s closest friend in the world. Our support for Israel’s security is non-negotiable. And it never will be.”