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The U.S. considers the implications of an Israeli ground invasion into Gaza

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For 19 days, Gaza has been relentlessly bombarded by Israeli airstrikes in what is believed to be preparation for a ground invasion.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Entire neighborhoods in Gaza have been leveled, while Israel says it's targeting Hamas' network of underground tunnels. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Israel's strategy a violation of international humanitarian law.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTONIO GUTERRES: Protecting civilians can never mean using them as human shields. Protecting civilians does not mean ordering more than 1 million people to evacuate to the south, where there is no shelter, no food, no water, no medicine and no fuel, and then continuing to bomb the south itself.

MARTÍNEZ: At the U.N. Security Council meeting, the United States rejected calls for a cease-fire and instead called for a humanitarian pause in the fighting. Now, though, the question remains, when might Israel start a ground invasion? And what concerns do American leaders have about Israel's strategy?

MARTIN: For more on this, we called NPR's Tom Bowman, who covers the Pentagon. Tom, good morning.

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So, Tom, the U.S. secretary of defense has been in regular contact with his Israeli counterpart. There appears to be some concern building among U.S. officials about this offensive. What more can you tell us?

BOWMAN: Well, a few things. There's concern about this all spreading throughout the region should Israel invade and with maybe the Iranian-backed militants in Lebanon - Hezbollah - firing its vast amount of missiles into Israel. Concern as well about that Israel may not have thought through the implications of a massive ground invasion of Gaza. So, you know, top officials are asking, what are your goals? What about civilians, keeping them safe? We're already seeing reports of thousands of Palestinian civilian deaths, and the U.S. is warning the Israelis that this will be tough and brutal - Michel, worse than the fight to defeat the Islamic State in the Iraqi city of Mosul back in 2016. And we're talking a vast network of underground tunnels, booby traps, a close quarter of fighting with hundreds of thousands of civilians in the middle.

MARTIN: Say more about the fears that this conflict could spread. What are your sources saying to you about this?

BOWMAN: Well, again, it's - a major concern is Iran itself getting involved somehow. That's why you see the American aircraft carriers, the attack aircraft, the missile defense systems that will also protect U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria. By the way, I'm told this is all part of a long-standing U.S. plan to defend Israel. It's been on the shelf for some time. It's not just kind of a haphazard movement of armaments and troops.

MARTIN: And would you say more about that? What would the priorities for the U.S. military be in this scenario?

BOWMAN: One of the priorities is keeping U.S. troops in the region safe. There are a couple of thousand troops in Iraq, 800 to 900 in Syria. They have already been attacked by Iranian-backed militias, but those attacks by missiles and drones have been dealt with.

MARTIN: So, Tom, there's one more question I really want to get to, which is that President Biden has talked about and has openly said that he would like Israel to learn from the mistakes the U.S. made after 9/11. You've been talking to a lot of officials about that. What are those mistakes?

BOWMAN: Well, the mistakes for the U.S. were invading two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, overthrowing their governments and thinking this will all be better, all fueled by fear of more terrorist attacks or suspected weapons of mass destruction. And in both cases, you had guerrilla warfare that lasted for two decades, really continuing to this day. The same could be true here. You destroy Hamas, but who governs Gaza? And are you creating more militants by your tactics?

MARTIN: That's NPR's Tom Bowman. Tom, thank you.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is co-host of Morning Edition, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.
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