Lloyd Austin
Lloyd AustinREUTERS/Pascal Rossignol/File Photo

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will push Israeli officials to define milestones for its war against Hamas in Gaza when he visits Israel on Monday, a senior US defense official told CNN.

The senior defense official said Austin will “receive specific updates on how the war cabinet Minister of Defense (Yoav) Gallant and the Israel Defense Forces assess their progress in the current phase of the campaign in Gaza to dismantle the military infrastructure of Hamas.”

Austin, the official added, will press Israeli officials on “what metrics they're looking at in order to transition to the next phase of their campaign in Gaza,” noting that he will work to “drill down” on efforts to increase humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza and also work to mitigate harm to civilians.

The Secretary of Defense becomes the latest US official to visit Israel, and he follows National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan who was in Israel for a two-day visit this past week.

Austin will specifically press Israeli leaders on how to move through the different phases of its campaign in Gaza, the official told CNN.

“Their security establishment, I think, is assessing those conditions and their progress against those conditions on an hourly — if not daily — basis. And Secretary Austin will want to hear a very clear articulation of their self-assessment when he's there on Monday,” the official said, adding that the US is there “to consult and ensure that there is planning taking place” for a transition to a phase when major ground operations cease.”

Last week, four senior US officials confirmed that the Biden administration has asked Israel to end the large-scale campaign against Hamas and move to a more targeted operation by the end of 2023.

The US plan for the second stage of the operation involves extensive use of special forces to conduct precise raids inside Gaza and at locating and eliminating Hamas leaders, rescuing hostages, and continuing to destroy the prolific network of terror tunnels the organization has built.

The calls for a change in tactics came on the background of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant's announcement, during a meeting with Sullivan, that the war would take several more months.

Despite the reports, President Joe Biden last week insisted he did not set a timetable for Israel to end the war in Gaza.

Asked by reporters if he wanted Israel to scale back or tone down its attacks on Gaza by the end of the year, the President replied, "I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives, not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful."