US Defence Secretary to press Israel on next phase of Gaza war

Lloyd Austin’s trip to Middle East follows one by security adviser Jake Sullivan

US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin travels to Israel. Reuters
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The US is continuing to press Israel on the next phase of its war on Gaza, with Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin travelling to meet Israeli leaders.

It is the second trip by a high-ranking US official in days, after National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan met Israeli and Palestinians leaders last week.

While in Israel, Mr Austin is expected to discuss the “next steps” in the conflict in which Israel has killed nearly 19,000 Palestinians.

Mr Austin will be joined in Israel on Monday by Gen Charles Q Brown, who became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on October 1.

“[Secretary Austin] has been having discussions with his Israeli counterparts the entire time about the different phases of their campaign, how they assess the different phases of their campaign, and what their operational milestones are in order to feel that their population can be secure enough given their stated objective of the military dismantlement of Hamas,” a defence official said.

“He wants to talk to them about how you move through those different phases.”

While the official said that it was up to Israel to decide “when” it has dealt Hamas a significant enough blow that it can “shift to the next phase of their campaign”, the official added that Mr Austin and his team have “incredibly valuable perspectives on this and that's what he wants to consult with them about”.

Mr Austin’s trip comes amid increased concern over the actions of the Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

On Saturday, the Houthis launched a wave of 14 one-way attack drones, all of which were “shot down with no damage to ships in the area or reported injuries”, the US military's Central Command claimed.

The latest barrage prompted the US to send yet another missile destroyer to the Mediterranean on Sunday.

The US now has about 20 warships throughout the region.

Before visiting Israel, Mr Austin headed a presidential delegation to Kuwait to pay respects to the late Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah.

Sheikh Nawaf was laid to rest on Sunday, the day after he died at the age of 86.

The delegation could also include the US ambassador to Kuwait, Karen Hideko Sasahara, and the Acting Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland.

Mr Austin is also expected to travel to Bahrain and Qatar.

In Bahrain, he is expected to discuss the threat presented by the Houthis.

“We will talk with them in a multinational framework about the work we're doing, particularly in light of increasing Houthi aggression in the Red Sea,” the official said.

Updated: December 18, 2023, 10:00 AM