US expects next phase of Gaza war to involve precise targeting of Hamas leaders

In Tel Aviv, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the new stage will be driven by intelligence operations

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Tel Aviv after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Reuters
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The Israel-Gaza war, now in its third month, will move to a new phase that is focused on precise operations against the leadership of Hamas, and on intelligence-driven options, a top White House official said on Friday after talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking from Tel Aviv, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan did not offer a timetable as to when this shift would begin.

“We are now in the middle of a high-intensity phase with ongoing ground military operations in both the northern half and the southern half of Gaza,” Mr Sullivan said.

“But there will be a transition to another phase of this war, one that is focused in more precise ways on targeting the leadership and an intelligence-driven operation that continues to deal with the ongoing threat that Hamas poses,” he said.

His comments come as Washington shows increased concern over the mounting civilian death toll in Gaza – currently more than 18,700 – in a war that is now in its third month, with no apparent end in sight.

Israel's bombardment of the Gaza Strip, which was triggered by the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, has displaced most of the coastal enclave's population and reduced many of its neighbourhoods to rubble.

A humanitarian crisis is quickly worsening in southern Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people are crowded into shelters, tent camps and in the streets with little access to food, water or medical services.

Mr Sullivan met Mr Netanyahu on Thursday and discussed a wide range of issues including “shifts in emphasis” in the next phase of the war.

They also discussed allowing humanitarian aid to enter the territory through one of Israel's border crossings with Gaza.

In a statement after the meeting, Mr Sullivan's said that his counterpart, Tzachi Hanegbi had informed him that Israel had decided to open Kerem Shalom for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people in Gaza - a "significant step" that the Biden administration welcomed.

Despite pressure on the US to rein in Israel's punishing strikes on Gaza, by air, land and sea, the administration of President Joe Biden has stressed that it supports Israel's right to defend itself and eradicate Hamas.

Fielding questions about who would govern the enclave after the defeat of Gaza's rulers, Mr Sullivan said that the US did not support an Israeli occupation of Gaza “over the long term”.

Mr Sullivan who met Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Friday, said that they would discuss ways to “revamp and revitalise” the Palestinian Authority, and increase support for its security forces.

The comments come amid growing concerns over post-war arrangements in Gaza.

In 2007, Palestinian Authority security forces were driven out of Gaza by Hamas. Israel responded by imposing a blockade on Gaza.

“We do believe that the Palestinian Authority needs to be revamped and revitalised and needs to be updated in terms of its method of governance [and] its representation of the Palestinian people,” Mr Sullivan said.

Mr Abbas told Mr Sullivan during their meeting that Israeli attacks on Palestinian people, especially in Gaza, must stop, and called for an immediate ceasefire, Wafa news agency reported.

Mr Abbas also said that the US must "intervene and compel Israel to stop its aggression against our people in the West Bank, including occupied Jerusalem," according to Wafa.

A plan that includes the return of Palestinian Authority security forces in Gaza as part of a precursor to a two-state solution to the conflict, is unlikely to be accepted by Israel, which last year elected its most extremist, nationalist government that opposes the creation of a Palestinian state.

Updated: December 15, 2023, 3:42 PM