Former Pentagon official: US ‘actions matter more’ when it comes to Israel-Hamas, Ukraine wars

The Israel-Hamas war continues as more U.S. forces are sent to the Persian Gulf amid “recent escalations by Iran and its proxy forces across the Middle East Region,” according to Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin.

“These steps will bolster regional deterrence efforts, increase force protection for U.S. forces in the region, and assist in the defense of Israel,” Austin said in a statement.

The announcement followed a visit by President Joe Biden to Israel in the wake of Hamas’ deadly terrorist attack and what has been deemed an imminent ground invasion of Gaza by Israeli Defense Forces.

This week, WTOP’s Luke Lukert spoke with Mario Mancuso, a former Pentagon official and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, about how the U.S. is managing its stake in war-torn Israel and Ukraine.

WTOP's Luke Lukert speaks with Mario Mancuso, former Pentagon official and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute on Oct. 22, 2023.

Read the conversation below:

Luke Lukert: We turn to Mario Mancuso, a former Pentagon official and senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. And Mario, two weeks after Hamas’s surprise attack, are the risks of a regional escalation being managed effectively by all involved — Israel, the U.S., Iran?

Mario Mancuso: I think they’re being managed about as effectively as they can be by Israel. Israel has exchanged fire. Obviously, Israel is conducting military operations in Gaza. They’ve exchanged fire with Hezbollah in the north. And they have taken some military action in the east with respect to Syria. And I think those are all good things because I think Israel is walking on eggshells and has to manage lots. It has to deter and has to sort of reset the table for itself. I think Israel is doing a good job. I think the U.S. is doing a decent job. But remember, managing the risk of escalation doesn’t only belong to Israel, even the United States, it belongs to Hamas, it belongs to Hezbollah, it belongs to Iran. And clearly, those parties are still trying to instigate a larger conflict. And that’s —that was the very rationale. And I hesitate to call what happened Oct. 7 an attack. It was a massacre. And that’s how I will choose to refer to it. And that was — that escalation was actually, you know, the rationale for the massacre on the seventh.

Luke Lukert: And President Biden addressed the nation last week. How has it been received across the globe?

Mario Mancuso: You know, I think President Biden’s speech has been well received, certainly by many Israelis, by our allies in Europe, by U.S. security partners. But I think what really matters more than anything — our actions. I think the shifting of U.S. military assets is a good move by the administration. But remember, it’s not what we — what we say, it’s what we do that matters over time. The one thing I would say, and I commend the president for the address from the Oval Office this week, about connecting, you know, the challenges in Ukraine and Israel. That can be overdone. They are different challenges. But they are both incredibly important to the United States and they are existential for the countries in each case — Ukraine and Israel. That’s, you know, sort of in the primary firing line. So, I think it was a good speech. I think the words were powerful. I think it was smart, but actions matter more. And this will become important because we need to continue to support Ukraine smartly. We can’t give them a blank check. On the other hand, Ukraine’s fight is our fight and we need to stick with them and support them. Similarly, with Israel, public opinion has already started to turn against Israel, yet it is important for the United States to stand by Israel and its struggle for peace and security.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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