Netanyahu and top US security official discuss 'shifts in emphasis' in Israel-Gaza war

Jake Sullivan is in Tel Aviv amid mounting concern in Washington over the war in Gaza

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at The Kirya in Tel Aviv. Photo: Israel Government Press Office
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to discuss a wide range of issues including “shifts in emphasis” in the next phase of the Israel-Gaza war.

The meeting came amid reports that Mr Sullivan had pressed Israel to wrap up its current military phase in a matter of weeks.

A senior administration told reporters that Washington was unwilling to put a timeline on the conflict at the moment.

“There was a discussion in these meetings ... on kind of shifts in emphasis from high-intensity clearance operations, which are ongoing now, to ultimately lower intensity, a focus on high-value targets, intelligence-driven raids and those sorts of more narrow surgical military objectives,” the official said.

The Biden administration has come under increasing pressure to try to rein in Israel, which is more than two months into a punishing aerial and ground assault in the Gaza Strip, where almost 19,000 Palestinians are reported to have been killed.

The official added that Mr Sullivan and Mr Netanyahu had a “very good discussion” covering a host of issues, including bringing more humanitarian aid into Gaza via the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and Gaza.

“Very soon we hope and anticipate the direct entry of aid from Israel into Gaza through Kerem Shalom for the first time since October 7,” the official said.

When asked if Israel could conclude the conflict without killing Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, the official said: "I think it's safe to say his days are numbered," adding that Mr Sinwar had "American blood" on his hands as well.

During their meeting, Mr Netanyahu told Mr Sullivan that Israel will pursue its war against Hamas “until absolute victory”, according to a statement from the Israeli Prime Minister's office.

The Prime Minister said he had spoken with Mr Sullivan about regional threats, including Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, as well as how to secure the return of hostages being held by Hamas and the continuation of humanitarian aid for Gaza's civilian population.

“I told our American friends – our heroic fighters have not fallen in vain. From the deep pain of their falling, we are more determined than ever to continue to fight until Hamas is eliminated – until absolute victory,” the statement said.

Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and US President Joe Biden's special envoy to the Middle East Brett McGurk also attended the meeting, Mr Netanyahu's office said on X, formerly Twitter.

Latest from the Israel-Gaza war – in pictures

Mr Sullivan met the Israeli war cabinet on the day Israel's parliament approved an additional 25.9 billion shekels ($7 billion) for the national budget to help cover the costs of the war in Gaza.

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that Mr Sullivan's “message was consistent” in his meetings with Israeli officials.

“The United States will continue to support Israel and its fight against Hamas and we will continue to do everything we can to help broker another pause so that the remaining hostages can be reunited with their families,” he told reporters in Washington.

He “also discussed the next phase of Israel's military campaign and he asked hard questions, as we have been doing, about what all that could look like”.

Mr Sullivan also discussed Israel's efforts to be “more surgical and precise in their targeting” as well as increasing the flow of aid to Gaza, Mr Kirby said.

So far, Israel has resisted US calls to do more to protect Palestinian civilians and consider a political endgame to the conflict. Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday warned Mr Sullivan that the war will last “months.”

US criticism has ranged from Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin advising Israel that civilian protection should be the “centre of gravity” of the war, to firmer comments from President Joe Biden, who told Mr Netanyahu to “change this government” earlier this week.

Many Israeli leaders, from far-right allies of the Prime Minister such as National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, to more moderate members of the war cabinet such as former defence minister Benny Gantz, insist the war will continue until Hamas is eliminated.

Defence Minister Yoav Gallant also met Mr Sullivan and told him the war would “last more than several months”, according to his office.

“Hamas is a terrorist organisation that built itself over a decade to fight Israel, and they built infrastructure under the ground and above the ground and it is not easy to destroy them,” his office said.

“It will require a period of time – it will last more than several months, but we will win and we will destroy them.”

Mr Sullivan is expected to travel to Ramallah on Friday to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Updated: December 15, 2023, 9:01 AM