U.S. President Joe Biden and top national security adviser Jake Sullivan have discussed with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scaling back Israel’s high-intensity operations in Gaza, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.
The focus on a “shift” in strategy is the latest in a weeks-long pressure campaign from Washington to do more to protect Gaza’s population of 2.3 million, where nearly 19,000 people have been killed, according to Palestinian health officials, in Israel’s retaliation to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas.
Sullivan told Israel’s Channel 12 television that he had “constructive” talks with Netanyahu about Israel shifting to a more precise and targeted phase of the operations, but declined to give details or a timeline for the change.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the U.S. was pushing for a shift to occur by the end of the year.
Asked about that time frame, Biden replied: “I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives, not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful.”
Israel pounded the 25-mile (40-km) length of Gaza on Thursday as the more than two-month-old conflict stretched on, unleashing a humanitarian catastrophe with little end in sight.
White House spokesperson John Kirby told reporters at a regular media briefing that Sullivan discussed a possible transition to lower-intensity operations in “the near future,” but declined to provide a specific timetable.
“Last thing we want to do is telegraph to Hamas what they’re likely to face in coming weeks and months,” he said.
The change could include “a shift in emphasis from high-tempo clearance operations, high-intensity clearance operations” to a lower-intensity focus on high-value targets, with more intelligence-driven raids and more “narrow, surgical military objectives,” a U.S. official told reporters later Thursday.
Such a shift would mark a major inflection point to a longer-term effort, the official said, adding that discussions were under way with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and other countries in the region about how to govern Gaza in the future.
Biden on Thursday urged Israel to “be more careful” in its attacks on Gaza and focus on saving civilian lives, a day after he warned Israel was starting to lose support over its “indiscriminate” bombing of the Palestinian enclave.
Sullivan this week told a Wall Street Journal event that he would discuss ways to scale back the conflict during his visit to Israel as well as Israel’s timetable for the war.