The Israeli military needs another three to four weeks to complete its current offensive in southern Gaza’s Khan Younis and a similar amount of time after that to wrap up the first stage of the war against Hamas, according to a senior Israeli defense official.
The official told Axios in a report on Friday that while the US has not given Israel a deadline on ending its military operations in Gaza following Hamas’s October 7 massacres, Washington has expressed that time was running out.
Israel is just over two months into a war with Hamas in Gaza, after the terror group launched an unprecedented attack on Israel on October 7, when thousands of terrorists burst through the borders into southern Israeli communities, killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took about 240 hostages.
Israel declared war and has vowed to destroy Hamas following the shock terror onslaught, and to exercise caution to protect Gazan civilians who, according to defense officials, are used as human shields by Hamas terrorists deeply entrenched inside Gaza’s civilian fabric.
The defense official who spoke to Axios said the US and Israel disagreed by about a month on how long the war should continue, without further specifying.
According to the official, the Biden administration would be happy for Israel to finish intensive operations by the end of the month, but Jerusalem believes it needs until at least the end of January.
“The American message is that they would like to see us finish the fighting sooner, with less harm to Palestinian civilians and more humanitarian assistance for Gaza. We would also like this to happen, but the enemy does not always agree,” the official was quoted as saying.
“The Americans understand this and we are working together. We need them and they need us,” the official added.
A spokesperson for the US National Security Council told Axios in a statement that this was Israel’s war against Hamas and “the Israelis will decide their course.”
“We will continue to support Israel’s efforts to defend itself from Hamas terrorists,” the spokesperson said.
According to a separate report Friday, in Politico, which cited three anonymous Israeli officials, Biden administration officials have told Israel it has until the end of 2023 to conclude the war in Gaza against Hamas.
The news outlet noted US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s reported warning last week that Israel likely has “weeks,” not months, to wrap up the fighting.
Blinken reportedly sat down with Israel’s war cabinet last Thursday to warn that time was of the essence to draw an end to the fighting amid mounting domestic and international pressure. When the Israelis laid out their plans for more months of fighting in Gaza as the military shifted focus to the south, Blinken said “You don’t have that much credit,” Politico reported.
A senior Israeli official who spoke to Politico appeared unfazed by the prospect of a US deadline.
“They advised us not to go into Gaza, but we did,” the official said. “We went into Gaza because that was the only way we could destroy Hamas and free our hostages. They told us, don’t go into the terror tunnels. But if we don’t go into the terror tunnels, there’s no way we can destroy Hamas. They told us not to go into the hospitals despite them being used by Hamas as command and control centers, but we went into those hospitals, and we did what we needed to do.”
“And we’ll do what we need to do to reach decisive victory,” the official added.
Responding to the Politico report late Friday, an NSC spokesperson indicated it was inaccurate: “These are Israeli military operations, and the Israelis will decide their course. We will continue to support Israel’s efforts to defend itself from Hamas terrorists,” the spokesperson said.
On Thursday, another top US official expressed strong backing for Israel’s objectives in the war to destroy Hamas and said Washington had given no “firm deadline” on ending the war.
US Deputy National Security Adviser Jon Finer said during an on-stage interview at the Aspen Security Conference that Israel “has said that Hamas can no longer govern, can no longer be in charge of Gaza. We think that is a very legitimate objective, given what has happened on October 7 and since.”
Israel’s second main objective is that Hamas will no longer be allowed to pose the type of threat that it posed to Israel on October 7. “Frankly, if the war were stopped today, it would continue to pose [such a threat], which is why we’re not in place yet of asking Israel to stop or for a ceasefire,” Finer said.
The US on Friday vetoed a United Nations resolution backed by almost all other Security Council members and many other nations demanding an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, where Palestinian civilians are facing what the UN chief calls a “humanitarian nightmare.”
Washington has been pressing Israel to increase humanitarian aid to the Strip and the urgent need for maximum efforts to protect civilian life in Gaza amid a mounting death toll in the Hamas-ruled territory.
Blinken on Thursday issued the strongest warning to date on civilian losses, describing “a gap” between what Israel had pledged to do to protect Palestinian non-combatants and the results on the ground so far since military operations expanded into the south of the Strip last week.
Blinken said it remains “imperative” that Israel do more to prevent harm to civilians and that he had received assurances on this issue from Israeli officials during his visit last week.
“There does remain a gap between exactly what I said when I was there, between the intent to protect civilians and the actual results that we’re seeing on the ground,” he said Thursday at a joint news conference in Washington with visiting British Foreign Secretary David Cameron.
The defense official who spoke to Axios said Israeli forces “have made significant progress” in the northern part of the Gaza Strip since late October when Israel launched its ground campaign, but that maneuvering in the southern city of Khan Younis, where Israel believes much of the Hamas leadership is located, “has just started.”
The IDF has been pushing into Hamas strongholds across Gaza and forces have encircled the Strip’s major urban centers as they seek to destroy Hamas over its unprecedented assault on Israel on October 7.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Friday that there were signs the terror group’s defenses were cracking.