By Adam Entous
The Biden administration has told the Israeli government that it wants Israel to end its large-scale ground campaign in the Gaza Strip around the end of the year and transition to a more targeted phase in its war against Hamas, four senior U.S. officials said.
As the Biden administration envisions, this new phase would involve the use of smaller groups of elite Israeli forces that would move in and out of population centers in Gaza, carrying out more precise missions to find and kill Hamas leaders, rescue hostages and destroy tunnels.
During meetings in Israel that began Thursday, U.S. officials said Jake Sullivan, President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, discussed the timeline for a transition to lower-intensity operations supported by the U.S. administration.
The U.S.’ calls for a change in tactics came as Israel’s defense minister said Thursday that the war against Hamas “will last more than several months,” signaling determination to continue carrying out strikes in Gaza.
Before meeting with Sullivan, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant repeated Israel’s arguments that destroying Hamas, the armed group that carried out the devastating Oct. 7 attacks in Israel, was essential to Israel’s security and was difficult because Hamas has built an extensive underground infrastructure in Gaza.
U.S. officials said the Biden administration understands and accepts that Israel’s efforts to hunt down Hamas leaders will continue for months, even after the transition from higher- to lower-intensity operations takes place.
Still, differences between the United States and Israel have widened in recent weeks over Israel’s conduct of its war against Hamas and a postwar settlement for Gaza.
U.S. officials said Biden wants Israel to end the large-scale ground campaign in Gaza within three weeks, or soon thereafter. They asked for anonymity to discuss the president’s thinking.
The officials emphasized that Sullivan did not direct or order Israeli leaders to make the transition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has, in the past, acquiesced to advice from the Biden administration — for Israel to allow humanitarian supplies into Gaza and to take steps to reduce civilian casualties — after initially rejecting them outright.