US officials expect the current phase of Israel’s ground operation of Gaza, targeting the southern end of the Strip to last several weeks, multiple senior administration officials told CNN on Tuesday.
The officials added that they believe Israel will transition, possibly by January, to a lower-intensity, hyper-localized strategy that narrowly targets specific Hamas terrorists and leaders.
But as the war enters this new ground, the White House is deeply concerned about how Israel’s operations will unfold over the next several weeks, a senior US administration official said.
The US has warned Israel firmly in “hard” and “direct” conversations, they said, that the IDF cannot replicate the kind of devastating tactics it used in the north and must do more to limit civilian casualties, according to CNN.
The US has conveyed to Israel that as global opinion has increasingly turned against its ground operation, which has killed thousands of civilians, the amount of time Israel has to continue the operation in its current form and still maintain meaningful international support is quickly waning.
Though senior Biden administration officials have publicly called on Israel to do more to minimize civilian deaths, they have been careful to avoid directly admonishing any of Israel’s tactics, as officials believe it is more effective to quietly counsel Israel behind the scenes rather than loudly shame them, according to the CNN report.
Both in public and in private, Israeli officials maintain that part of their end goal is to weaken Hamas to such an extent that the group can never repeat the attack that it unleashed on Israel on October 7.
That goal, one senior US official told CNN, is unlikely to be achieved by the end of the calendar year, and Israel is expected to continue pursuing that objective in the next phase of the conflict that US officials see as a “longer-term campaign.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during a press conference on Tuesday that Israel “is on the right path” in the war in Gaza, which was renewed last Friday after Hamas violated the terms of the pause which led to the release of some of the hostages it has been holding since October 7.
Speaking at the same press conference, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said, “Lately, I have been asked whether we have the legitimacy to continue fighting, and to that I answer: we do not have the legitimacy to stop. There is only one legitimate thing to do: to win against Hamas, to strike them and eliminate them – destroying their governing and military capabilities, and bringing the hostages home.”