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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Despite international calls for a humanitarian pause, Israel has been bombing Gaza for 24 days straight now, and the assault is intensifying.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Yeah, there's no sign the bombardments, in response to a Hamas attack that killed at least 1,400 people in Israel and saw fighters take upward of 200 hostages, will end anytime soon. Here's Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking to the foreign press.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Calls for a cease-fire are calls for Israel to surrender to Hamas, to surrender to terrorism. That will not happen.

FADEL: In Gaza, more than 8,300 people have been killed. Some 70% of the dead are women and children, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry. Entire neighborhood blocks have been reduced to rubble, and people are trapped with no way out. Meanwhile, the overall strategy of this war or how the expanding operation will unfold is still unclear.

MARTÍNEZ: But some clues may actually lie in U.S. military thinking. For more on this, we're joined by Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, we've seen some tanks moving into Gaza. Doesn't look like a full-scale invasion, so what would it be then? What is it?

TOM BOWMAN, BYLINE: Well, you know, at this point it looks more surgical. The Israelis first mounted, of course, massive air and missile strikes, then moved into Gaza with small numbers of infantry troops supported by tanks and bulldozers. We've seen the Israeli videos of all of this. They grabbed a foothold, then moved on from there. And, of course, the Israelis got some advice from an American Marine, Lieutenant General Jim Glynn, who's well acquainted with urban warfare from his days in Iraq.

MARTÍNEZ: So what does Israel's strategy, what we've seen so far of it, compare to past examples of urban warfare?

BOWMAN: Well, it does kind of mirror past examples. Since General Glynn was in the mix, I thumbed through the Marines' manual - it's called Military Operations in Urbanized Terrain - over the weekend - little light reading. And that manual kind of mirrors, again, what we've seen so far in Gaza - the element of surprise, so you roll in at night as they did, special assault teams with tanks and combat engineers to destroy obstacles or booby traps. Also, we've seen the bulldozers to clear away debris. You want to isolate your enemy and then move on to your objectives.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, Israel claimed it's making targeted strikes on Hamas in Gaza, but it's unclear what their strategy is. So, Tom, what have you heard about what Israel's objectives are?

BOWMAN: Well, I spoke with retired Marine General Frank McKenzie about all that. He commanded the U.S. forces in the Middle East, and he said the objectives would likely be Hamas command posts, ammunition dumps and, of course, the hostages who are likely being kept in that web of tunnels. The Israelis have said there are even more hostages than they initially thought. Now the number is 240, with as many as 10 Americans among them. He said the Israeli foothold will only expand and multiply using overwhelming firepower from tanks, attack helicopters, other arms.

Now, the Marine Urban Warfare Manual says it's, quote, "desirable" to have media with them on these urban operations as long as they don't disclose future operations, which is kind of standard. The Israelis apparently see it differently. They're not taking press along and only releasing very limited information about its attacks. Now, NPR is lucky to have some very brave producers on the ground in Gaza. But what's troubling is the Arabic network, Al Jazeera, says the family of one of its reporters was told to flee by the Israelis. This comes after the family of another Al Jazeera reporter was killed in an Israeli airstrike. Since the start of the war in Gaza, 29 reporters have been killed.

MARTÍNEZ: And, Tom, this massive ground invasion that we keep hearing is going to happen - what have you heard about when it might happen? I mean, is that still possible at this point?

BOWMAN: No, most likely, you know, larger numbers of troops would move in maybe to secure the area, search buildings. Israeli officials say this war will be long and difficult. And in this type of fight, defenders oftentimes have the upper hand. They know the streets, the high-rise buildings, also the tunnels. They are dug in, and they can see the enemy coming. So Hamas could mount ambushes, delaying an Israeli advance, bog it down. Also, this fight is complicated by the presence not only of hostages, but hundreds of thousands of civilians who the Israelis told to flee south. But Hamas is trying to prevent that. Also, Israeli missiles have hit fleeing civilians. Now, in some urban fights, like the Marines battling insurgents in the Iraqi city of Fallujah back in 2004, they evacuated tens of thousands of civilians. We spoke with some of them last year, by the way. But in Gaza, civilians are trapped, including as many as 600 Americans.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman. Tom, thanks.

BOWMAN: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: House Republicans have a new bill that would send roughly $14 billion to Israel, but it would not provide any funding for Ukraine.

FADEL: Republicans have been very vocal in their support for Israel, but with Ukraine, it's more complicated. The new speaker, Mike Johnson, told Fox News that he believes a standalone aid package to Israel will pass the House.

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MIKE JOHNSON: There are lots of things going on around the world that we have to address, and we will. But right now, what's happening in Israel takes the immediate attention, and I think we've got to separate that and get it through.

FADEL: This is all happening as Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin are set to testify later today on the need for more money.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is following the story. He joins us now. Franco, so why is the House taking this approach?

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Well, A, I mean, you have a new speaker of the House, and this is one of the first examples of the direction he's trying to take his conference. I mean, the reality is his positions line up more with the right flank of his party. Those are Republicans who have been fighting to stop funding for the war in Ukraine. And Johnson says the focus needs to be on limiting spending. And that's really key here for Israel as well, because a big part of the plan is that $14 billion for Israel would be offset by $14 billion in spending cuts to the IRS. You know, just note that it's not common to offset emergency funding with spending cuts. Congress usually takes them up separately because emergencies are emergencies and treated as such.

MARTÍNEZ: We've known that it's President Biden's plan to take them up together. So how will the White House respond to that?

ORDOÑEZ: I mean, the White House is calling this already a nonstarter. They say Republicans are playing political games with national security. You know, Biden asked for $106 billion. More than half would have gone to Ukraine, and the rest would be split between Israel, the Indo-Pacific and the U.S. border. The White House sees Ukraine and Israel as a related fight against terrorists and dictators. And President Biden says if they're not stopped, it's only going to lead to greater threats to America and higher costs as well. And that's the case that Blinken and Austin are going to make to lawmakers when they testify.

MARTÍNEZ: So what does all this mean, then, to just get any of this funding to either Israel or Ukraine at some point?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah, I mean, it's going to be a really tough situation. I mean, Democrats and a lot of Republicans will oppose the measure simply on precedent, not wanting to tie emergency funding to spending cuts. And Democrats also say the IRS needs that money to operate ahead of tax season.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And Johnson also has more than just the White House or Democrats to deal with.

ORDOÑEZ: Right. He's at odds with some of his own party, including Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. McConnell has also tied the two causes together, and he's done so very publicly. I mean, listen to how he introduced the Ukrainian ambassador at a speech just yesterday at the University of Louisville.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: This is a moment for swift and decisive action to prevent further loss of life and to impose real consequences on the tyrants who terrorize the people of Ukraine and of Israel. And right now the Senate has a chance to produce supplemental assistance that will help us do exactly that.

ORDOÑEZ: Now, House Republicans aren't the only ones who disagree with McConnell. This is a big issue on the right flank of the party and in conservative media. I mean, this is really a fight over Ukraine funding. That is just another reflection of the broader shift of the Republican Party away from hawkish foreign policy.

MARTÍNEZ: That's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez. Thanks for keeping track of this for us.

ORDOÑEZ: Thanks, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: All right. We're a couple of months into a huge and complicated monopoly trial against Google.

FADEL: Yeah, the Justice Department has laid out its case. Now it's Google's turn. One of the first witnesses it called was its CEO.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's tech correspondent Dara Kerr was in the courtroom. Dara, so what did the Google CEO say?

DARA KERR, BYLINE: Hello. So Sundar Pichai has been at Google for nearly 20 years, and now he's the CEO of both Google and its parent company, Alphabet. He has a long history working with Google's search engine business, which was the meat of his testimony. What we've learned over the course of the trial is that Google has made deals with all sorts of companies to ensure that its search engine is the default on computers and phones. In his testimony, Pichai said this is critical for the company business. He said Google realized early on how important search is to bringing people online and increasing people's online activity. Of course, with more people online using Google Search, the company makes more money. So the government says the way Google does that is an abuse of its power as a monopoly. Google has around 90% share of the search market.

MARTÍNEZ: So how does it do that? How does it have such dominance in that market?

KERR: What's been really remarkable with this trial is hearing about how all of these massively powerful companies do business. At the center of this case are these deals where Google pays billions of dollars a year to device-makers and web browser companies. What we learned last week during trial - and it came up again yesterday - is that in 2021, Google paid $26 billion to enter these deals. Pichai said the central goal with these deals is to make Google's service better for users. During his testimony, he said, quote, "we want to make it very, very seamless and easy to use our services." But the Justice Department says the deals can actually degrade the search experience for people.

MARTÍNEZ: Why does the government say that what Google is doing is illegal?

KERR: The Justice Department alleges that because Google dominates the market and pays to stay there, other companies can't come in and compete. They're basically frozen out. Most people don't even know they're being directed to Google's search engine when they type something in their iPhone or Android phone. The government also says that when a company gets as big as Google and becomes a monopoly, it's no longer forced to innovate. So what that means for consumers is we're stuck with whatever Google creates. During the trial, we've heard testimony from smaller search engines like DuckDuckGo, which have said it's impossible to compete with Google when they have these default agreements. So theoretically, there could be a better search engine out there, but we wouldn't know since it's too difficult to enter the market.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. Now, there's a lot going on for Google in this trial, and it could have massive implications. How long is this trial expected to go?

KERR: Yeah, Google is planning to call at least 10 witnesses and is expected to wrap its defense within the next three weeks. Then the Justice Department will have a chance for rebuttal. So this is a bench trial. There's no jury, and the judge will make the final decision. If he sides with Google, the company carries on as usual. If the judge goes with the government, that could mean anything from fines to putting an end to those exclusive agreements. And that could have a huge impact on Google's bottom line.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Dara Kerr, thanks a lot.

KERR: Thank you. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.