October 30, 2023

ICYMI: Gallego Talks Urban Combat, Israel-Hamas War on CNN

PHOENIX, AZ – This weekend, Rep. Ruben Gallego (AZ-03), an Iraq war combat veteran and leader on the House Armed Services Committee, joined CNN’s Jim Acosta to discuss the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.

Watch the full interview and see the transcript below.

Jim Acosta

Let’s discuss more now with Democratic Congressman Ruben Gallego of Arizona. He's a Marine Corps veteran who serves on the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for being here. As you... as you can see and as we've been reporting all day, the Israeli military says it's expanding its ground operations in Gaza. What does that do? How does that complicate matters when it comes to getting these hostages out?

Ruben Gallego

Well, we don't know actually what the calculation is to this. Nobody ever wants to do urban combat. I did nearly seven months of urban combat, and it was hellish. And even then, we had a very much... an overmatch compared to the insurgents and terrorists we were fighting. And so my interpretation of why we're doing this is that they really had no other option as is, and this is the only option they really had to get those hostages out, unfortunately.


Yeah. And we'll have to see what the outcome of all this is in the coming days. But you served in Iraq, correct? What can you tell us about the challenges of fighting in an urban environment like this? That is what the Israeli soldiers are going to be up against in these weeks ahead.


The thing about urban combat, and this is just the unfortunate truth and something that I found out the hard way, is that you could be the most sophisticated military in the world with the best technology, but when you're getting into a city... it basically becomes equal. And why does it become equal? Because, you know, especially countries like the United States and other countries, you know, listen to the rule of war and we have to search houses by houses and look for insurgents and or what supports them.

And that's where it gets very deadly, especially when you're fighting terrorists, because they will hide behind civilians. They will hide in areas that they are supposed to be off limits to hiding. They will booby trap their own people. There’ll booby trap buildings and take them down while you're in them. There's just so many things that I saw over there that... that they did that, you know, will still, unfortunately, haunt me to this day.

And it's a very slow process. But you have to go slow because everywhere is a threat. You know, it is a 360-degree threat environment. And now you have the added... added things such as drones, that I didn't really have back in my day, that could be extremely dangerous, too.


And so, do you think this is the best way of going about things for the Israelis? If they say that their mission is to root out Hamas, crush its leadership, take them out, is getting into this kind of an urban combat environment the way to go about it do you think, based on your experience? … Or do they not have a choice?


Well, look, I think you have to... yeah, I think it's more they didn't have a choice and here's why. Your country was... had a very sophisticated invasion by this organization that is more of a regular military than a terrorist organization. They were able to penetrate, kill 1,400 of your citizens. Actually hold off your professional IDF for a while and then kidnap 200 of your citizens and take them hostage going back. This is a very different threat than the normal just fire rockets and or, you know, occasional incursion. We certainly wouldn't stand for something like this at this point. And I think they have no choice but to actually try to eliminate Hamas as a military, an existential threat to Israel, or else they're going to find themselves, again, dealing with this in a couple... potentially in a couple of years or even sooner. And it could be other countries, I mean, other elements get involved like Hezbollah, for example, and other organizations like Islamic Jihad or something else like that.


Yeah. And some of your fellow Democrats are at odds with the President on his support of Israel. They're in the progressive wing of the Democratic caucus, as you know. They're calling, some of them are calling, for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. What are your thoughts on that?


Look, I think that number one calling for a ceasefire when Israel, we know, will not take it, is probably not the best idea. We need to be calling for Israel to do its best to reduce civilian casualties, to open up humanitarian pathways for... for people to move and for people to actually bring in, you know, food aid and things of that nature.

And the other... at the other end of it we have to remind the people that we're not dealing with a civilian government. We are dealing with a terrorist organization that is using civilians, using hostages as human shields. And unfortunately, in this scenario, the best we can do is to make sure that we give support to Israel, we give them the intelligence that they need so they target terrorists, and that we encourage them to reduce civilian harm.

This is something I did on the Armed Services Committee. I led a civilian harm task force to try to reduce that, along with other actual veterans because recognition of what happens during urban combat. And, you know, the best we can do is to protect these Palestinians, to make sure that, you know, we work with Israel and we try encourage our other partners to... to try to get the hostages out and other ways to get humanitarian in.


All right, Congressman Ruben Gallego, our time is tight tonight, but we appreciate you coming in and discussing all of this with us. We appreciate it. We'll have you back again soon. Thanks for your time.


Thank you.