Israel said to delay Gaza invasion to allow US to bolster air defenses in region

US rushing to protect bases from attack by Iranian proxies since war erupted; efforts to free hostages, transfer aid also reportedly factors in delay

IDF troops train in a military exercise in the Golan Heights on October 23, 2023 (Michael Giladi/Flash90)
IDF troops train in a military exercise in the Golan Heights on October 23, 2023 (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

Israel has agreed to a request from the United States to temporarily delay its planned Gaza ground incursion to give Washington more time to deploy additional air defense systems to protect its troops in the region, according to a Wednesday report.

The Pentagon is rushing to deploy roughly a dozen air defense systems to protect troops in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates from missile fire. Iran-backed proxies have carried out at least 13 attacks since the outbreak of the Gaza war, injuring at least two dozen troops in Syria in one attack and 10 US soldiers in Iraq in another attack. All of the injuries were minor, US officials said.

The US has managed to convince Israel to hold off on invading Gaza until those systems are in place, which could be as soon as later this week, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing US officials and sources with knowledge of Israel’s plans.

But the US request is not the only factor Israel is taking into account as it readies for a ground incursion, though it is the most pressing concern, the report said.

It is also factoring in efforts to supply humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza as well as diplomatic efforts to release more hostages, the officials were quoted as saying.

Along with its military campaign, Israel has imposed a near-total blockade of Gaza, though some humanitarian aid has been permitted to enter from Egypt in recent days under a US-brokered deal.

A truck carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip crosses the Rafah border gate in Rafah, Egypt, October 22, 2023. (AP Photo/ Mohammed Asad)

So far, four of the hostages have been freed out of more than 220 who were abducted by terrorists and taken to the Gaza Strip during Hamas’s murderous onslaught on Israel on October 7, in which some 1,400 people were killed, the vast majority of them civilians.

Addressing the apparent delay, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted Wednesday evening that the ground incursion is looming, but added he would not share when or how. He also said he would not share the range of considerations involved.

The prime minister said that the offensive’s aims are to destroy Hamas and to return the hostages, casting members of the terror group as “dead men walking.”

“We are preparing for a ground incursion. I won’t specify when, how, how many. I also won’t detail the range of considerations, most of which the public is not aware of. And that’s the way it is supposed to be. This is the way so that we protect our soldiers’ lives,” Netanyahu said, adding that there was a unanimous decision about the timing of the ground operation.

“We will exact the full price for those murderers… from Hamas-ISIS,” in the ground invasion, he added, and again called on Gazan civilians to head to southern Gaza.

Washington has provided unprecedented support following Hamas’s devastating onslaught, sending two carrier groups to the eastern Mediterranean, as well as military advisers.

File: USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier refuels from the underway replenishment oiler USNS Laramie in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Oct. 11, 2023. (US Navy photo via AP)

But the Biden administration is reportedly concerned that Israel lacks achievable military goals for its operations in Gaza, leading US officials to believe that the IDF is not yet ready for a ground incursion.

Washington has also urged Jerusalem to think about the broader endgame for its operation. Israeli officials have said publicly that they are currently focused on eradicating Hamas and are not thinking about what might come afterward.

In the 19 days since the October 7 massacre, Israel has responded with an air offensive on the coastal enclave it says is aimed at destroying Hamas’s infrastructure and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates while trying to minimize civilian casualties.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry says the strikes have killed 6,546 people, mostly civilians and many of them children. The figures issued by the terror group cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include its own terrorists and gunmen, killed in Israel and in Gaza, and the victims of a blast at a Gaza City hospital on October 17 caused by an Islamic Jihad missile misfire that Hamas has blamed on Israel. Israel says it killed 1,500 Hamas terrorists inside Israel on and after October 7.

Jacob Magid contributed to this report.

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