WASHINGTON (JTA) — A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces urged AIPAC and its followers to stick with Israel as it attacks Hamas even when “the going gets ugly” and “the scenes out of Gaza will be hard to stomach.”
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, the international spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces, spoke Thursday evening to a webcast convened by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee about what Israel expected from Americans and especially those who support the pro-Israel lobby.
Conricus’ comments came shortly before Israel issued a warning to civilians in Gaza that they should leave the northern part of the Gaza Strip within 24 hours. The warning, which applies to an area with more than 1 million residents, offered a timeline about when Israel plans to launch a ground invasion or otherwise step up its offensive against Hamas.
The offensive has been ongoing since Saturday, when Hamas attacked Israel from Gaza and killed, wounded or took captive thousands of Israelis, according to the Israeli military, in the deadliest day for Jews since the Holocaust.
The Gaza Ministry of Health, which Hamas controls, says more than 1,500 Gazans have since been killed in Israeli airstrikes.
In its warning, Israel said that “Hamas terrorists are hiding inside Gaza City in tunnels underneath houses” and that it wanted to avoid hurting the civilian residents of those homes when rooting them out.
“Civilians of Gaza City, evacuate south for your own safety and the safety of your families and distance yourself from Hamas terrorists who are using you as human shields,” the warning said. “In the following days, the IDF will continue to operate significantly in Gaza City and make extensive efforts to avoid harming civilians.”
Hamas responded to the warning by telling Gazans to stay put. The United Nations denounced the evacuation order as impossible to execute and called on Israel to rescind it. Some Gazan families were already packing bags and leaving their homes on Friday.
Hamas continued to shoot rockets at cities across Israel on Friday. Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group, has threatened to join the fight against Israel and officials from Iran, which funds both groups, has also threatened that the conflict could broaden.
In his comments to affiliates of AIPAC, Conricus hinted at a far-reaching operation and said Israel’s supporters should not flinch when it gets “ugly.” Israel has vowed to “wipe out” Hamas, and the proactive comments were a sign that Israel is concerned that the offensive could unsettle even its fiercest defenders.
“Even when the going gets ugly and the scenes out of Gaza will be hard to stomach — not as hard as the things that were coming out of Kibbutz Be’eri and Kfar Aza, but they will be hard to stomach— then we will need the support of anybody who loves freedom wants to stand up for what’s right,” Conricus said, referring to two of the Israeli villages on the Gaza border where Hamas committed brutal massacres.
Conricus’s warning comes as President Joe Biden, who has unstintingly backed Israel, has also said that it must hew to international law and respect human rights. Progressive Democrats, who have also condemned Hamas’ invasion, have also said that they fear Israel’s retaliation will be far-reaching. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat who is a leader among progressives, said Thursday she was concerned about the possibility of “ethnic cleansing.”
Much of the conversation in AIPAC’s 45-minute webcast, convened as an “emergency briefing,” anticipated that Israel would soon lose the sympathy it has garnered from a broad spectrum of international opinion.
“Whenever fighting starts usually it’s the enemy that takes an initiative attack, Israel enjoys a small window of international legitimacy and support then flips and Israel is forced by powerful countries around the world to limit its movement,” Conricus said. “We have seen that and that is unfortunately what we’ve faced in the past. This time must be different.”
Conricus said previous forays against Hamas left “unfinished business” but did not detail what “different” would look like in this case.
“They have been allowed to build themselves into a significant military with the ability to, we have sadly seen, cross into Israel and butcher Israeli civilians like none of our enemies have ever done before,” he said. “I think that is a result of the unfinished business and too many rounds of clashes without decisive military victory.”
Cory Meyer, AIPAC’s digital engagement director, asked Conricus how long he expected the conflict to last. “It will probably take a very long time, and we are preparing for a long time, weeks, months, however long it will take,” Conricus said. “That is the scope and that is the I think understanding in the military and in the government is something that will take time if we want to do it right and we want to do it right.”