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Top House Democrat raises concerns about Biden’s likely defense secretary pick

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A Democratic member of the House Armed Services Committee expressed concerns on Tuesday about President-elect Joe Biden‘s likely pick for Secretary of Defense, retired General Lloyd Austin. Fox News reported Monday night that Biden is set to make the announcement this week.

In a Twitter thread, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) wrote that picking Gen. Austin, a retired four-star general, “just feels off,” saying that the cabinet position is traditionally reserved for civilians. Slotkin is a former CIA analyst who served three tours of duty in the Iraq War during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

“I have deep respect for Gen. Lloyd Austin. We worked together when he commanded U.S. forces in Iraq, when he was vice chief of the Army, and when he was the CENTCOM commander,” Slotkin said in a Twitter statement. “But choosing another recently retired general to serve in a role designed for a civilian just feels off.”

“The job of secretary of defense is purpose-built to ensure civilian oversight of the military,” Slotkin stressed. “That is why it requires a waiver from the House and Senate to put a recently retired military officer in the job.”

“And after the last 4 years, civil-military relations at the Pentagon definitely need to be rebalanced,” she added. “Gen. Austin has had an incredible career––but I’ll need to understand what he and the Biden Administration plan to do to address these concerns before I can vote for his waiver.”

Previously during the Trump administration, retired four-star Gen. Jim Mattis served for a period of time as Secretary of Defense. President Trump also appointed former Marines Corps Gen. John Kelly to be his Secretary of Homeland Security and then his White House chief of staff, as well as retired Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as his national security advisor. Significantly, Mattis was the first retired military officer to serve as defense secretary in seven decades.

This public statement comes from a member of Biden’s moderate wing of the Democratic Party, a congresswoman who is also a military veteran and member of the intelligence community,.

If Austin is in fact appointed, he will need a special waiver approved by both chambers of Congress because of a federal law that bans retired officers from serving as secretary of defense for at least seven years after they retire from the military. After this approval, Austin would then need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He would be the first Black American to serve in this cabinet position.

You can follow Douglas Braff on Twitter @Douglas_P_Braff.

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Israel

Military was prepared to deploy to Gaza to rescue U.S. hostages

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The Washington Post released an in-depth report on the intelligence support the United States has provided Israel during its war with Hamas. The assistance has not only helped to find and rescue hostages, but the Post writes it has “also raised concerns about the use of sensitive information.”

The United States provided some of the intelligence used to locate and eventually rescue four Israeli hostages last week, The Post has reported. The information, which included overhead imagery, appears to have been secondary to what Israel collected on its own ahead of the operation, which resulted in the deaths of more than 270 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials, making it one of the deadliest single events in the eight-month-old war.

Sullivan, the White House national security adviser, stressed that U.S. forces did not participate in the mission to rescue the four hostages. “There were no U.S. forces, no U.S. boots on the ground involved in this operation. We did not participate militarily in this operation,” Sullivan told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. He noted that “we have generally provided support to the [Israel Defense Forces] so that we can try to get all of the hostages home, including the American hostages who are still being held.”

One critical piece of information from The Post involves a “canceled” U.S. mission to rescue eight Americans:

In October, JSOC forces in the region were prepared to deploy in Gaza to rescue U.S. citizens that Hamas was holding, said current and former U.S. officials familiar with planning for what would have been an exceptionally dangerous mission.

“If we managed to unilaterally get information that we could act on, and we thought we could actually get U.S. people out alive, we could act, but there was genuinely very little information specifically about U.S. hostages,” one official said.

However, the intelligence-sharing relationship between the United States and Israel is not without scrutiny and concern. The Post reports:

In interviews, Israeli officials said they were grateful for the U.S. assistance, which in some cases has given the Israelis unique capabilities they lacked before Hamas’s surprise cross-border attacks. But they also were defensive about their own spying prowess, insisting that the United States was, for the most part, not giving them anything they couldn’t obtain themselves. That position can be hard to square with the obvious failures of the Israeli intelligence apparatus to detect and respond to the warning signs of Hamas’s planning.

The U.S.-Israel partnership is, at times, tense. Some U.S. officials have been frustrated by Israel’s demand for more intelligence, which they said is insatiable and occasionally relies on flawed assumptions that the United States might be holding back some information.

In a briefing with reporters at the White House last month, national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington “has provided an intense range of assets and capabilities and expertise.” Responding to a May 11 Washington Post report, Sullivan said that the intelligence is “not tied or conditioned on anything else. It is not limited. We are not holding anything back. We are providing every asset, every tool, every capability,” Sullivan said.

Other officials, including lawmakers on Capitol Hill, worry that intelligence the United States provides could be making its way into the repositories of data that Israeli military forces use to conduct airstrikes or other military operations, and that Washington has no effective means of monitoring how Israel uses the U.S. information.

The Biden administration has forbidden Israel from using any U.S.-supplied intelligence to target regular Hamas fighters in military operations. The intelligence is only to be used for locating the hostages, eight of whom have U.S. citizenship, as well as the top leadership of Hamas — including Yehiya Sinwar, the alleged architect of the Oct. 7 attacks, and Mohammed Deif, the commander of Hamas’s military wing. The State Department in 2015 designated both men as terrorists. Three of the eight U.S. hostages have been confirmed dead, and their bodies are still being held in Gaza, according to Israeli officials.

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