Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser, sought on Friday to play down differences between the United States and Israel over the war against Hamas in Gaza, emphasizing that both allies expected the pace of the fighting to ultimately slow down.
Israel “was clear from the beginning that this war would proceed in phases,” Mr. Sulivan told reporters in Tel Aviv, describing the current fighting as high intensity. “But there will be a transition to another phase of this war: one that is focused on targeting the leadership, on intelligence operations,” he said.
Mr. Sullivan said he had discussed the conditions and timing for Israel to wind down the current phase of its operations with Israeli leaders on Thursday, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But he declined to specify a time frame, saying that neither wanted to “telegraph for the enemy what the plan is.”
Mr. Sullivan was speaking on the second day of a visit to Israel, after American officials said that Washington would like to see Israel end its large-scale air and ground assault in Gaza and move to a more targeted phase of war within weeks. This week, President Biden gave some of his most critical statements about the war, saying that Israel’s “indiscriminate bombing” was costing it international support.
Mr. Netanyahu and members of Israel’s war cabinet have given no indication that Israel plans to end its large-scale air and ground assault anytime soon.
After meeting with Mr. Sullivan on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu thanked the United States for its supply of munitions and for its veto of the United Nations resolution for an immediate cease-fire. But he did not mention a timeline for moving to a new phase of the war, or the U.S. insistence on more targeted strikes, saying only: “We are more determined than ever to continue fighting until Hamas is eliminated — until absolute victory.”
Yoav Gallant, Israel’s defense minister, said before meeting with Mr. Sullivan on Thursday that achieving Israel’s stated aim of eliminating Hamas in Gaza “will require a period of time — it will last more than several months.”
A displaced Palestinian in a makeshift camp in Rafah on Wednesday.Credit…Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images
Political pressure has been building in the United States for the Biden administration to do more to alleviate a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza that is reaching a breaking point for the territory’s 2.2 million civilians. On Thursday, the head of the United Nations agency aiding Palestinians said after visiting southern Gaza that hunger and desperation were driving people to raid trucks with relief supplies and devour the food on the spot.
The war has displaced more than 85 percent of Gaza’s population. Many people there have been pushed to the border region with Egypt and have endured extreme shortages of food, water and fuel while living under the constant threat of Israeli bombardment.
Mr. Netanyahu on Thursday met with Mirjana Spoljaric, the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, who said after a recent visit to Gaza that the situation there was “evidently a moral failure in the face of the international community.” Mr. Netanyahu’s office said in a statement about the meeting that he had sought to distinguish between Israel’s actions and the atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct 7.
American and Israeli leaders have also publicly been at odds on a postwar plan for Gaza. Biden administration officials have repeatedly said they believe the Palestinian Authority needs to be involved, something that top Israeli officials have dismissed.
Mr. Sullivan said that he would visit the Israeli-occupied West Bank later on Friday to meet with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas. They will “discuss ongoing efforts to promote stability in the West Bank, including through efforts to confront terrorism, to support the Palestinian Authority security forces” as well as “revamp and revitalize the Palestinian Authority and through initiatives to hold extremist settlers accountable for violence against Palestinians,” Mr. Sullivan said.
Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, said in an interview with The Associated Press before meeting with Mr. Sullivan on Friday that it was too early to discuss a two-state solution, which he and his party have backed in the past. In a statement after the meeting, Mr. Herzog, who serves in a mostly ceremonial post, said he and Mr. Sullivan had discussed efforts to release the roughly 130 hostages who Israeli officials say remain in captivity in Gaza.