U.S. Presses Israel to Begin Winding Down Gaza War

T. Belman. As a result of Israel doing what the US demanded,  Israel is taking more casualties. Ten soldiers were killed Tuesday. That follows five Monday and seven Sunday.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan meets with Israeli leaders

By Gordon Lubold, Andrew Restuccia and Dov Lieber, WSJ DEC 14/23

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told Israeli leaders in Tel Aviv on Thursday their campaign needed to transition to more precise, target military operations in Gaza, according to U.S. officials. Photo: Israeli Government Press Office/Anadolu/Getty Images

WASHINGTON—National security adviser Jake Sullivan pressed Israeli leaders to shift from a reliance on airstrikes and ground assaults in Gaza toward targeted military operations and warned that a protracted conflict would make the Palestinian territory harder to govern after the war, U.S. officials said.

Sullivan’s meetings with Israeli political and military leaders Thursday seemed to have made little headway addressing the growing rift between the U.S. and Israel over civilian casualties, the length of the conflict, flagging international support for Israel’s campaign, and the future governance of the Gaza Strip.

The U.S. is undertaking a full-court press in the region for the Israelis to begin to wrap up the conflict. U.S. officials have said privately the U.S. wants to see the fight end in weeks, not months, though the Biden administration continues to support Israel’s campaign to destroy Hamas’s ability to wage military operations or govern Gaza.

“I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives,” Biden said Thursday afternoon, “not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful.”

U.S. officials on Thursday were keen to cast the visit as an opportunity to discuss the next phase of Israel’s fight with Hamas, with the hope that it moves quickly into a lower-intensity conflict. But U.S. officials were eager to avoid appearing as though Sullivan had presented the Israelis with an ultimatum. Just two weeks ago, Secretary of State Antony Blinken told the Israelis that the conflict’s high-intensity operations should end in weeks not months, according to U.S. officials. Then this week, Sullivan’s visit appeared to show that the U.S. continues to stand by Israel without pressing it on timelines.

Returning Israeli soldiers gathered Thursday at a staging point in southern Israel near the Gaza border. PHOTO: ALEXI J. ROSENFELD/GETTY IMAGES

In an interview on Israel’s Channel 12 Thursday night, Sullivan said he had “a constructive conversation” with Israel’s war cabinet on “how to shift from a high intensity to a different phase of the war.”

That, he said, would “look different and operate differently on the ground and have different impacts on the civilian population of Gaza.”

“I felt the conversation landed in a good place,” he said.

In a video statement after meeting with Sullivan Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the U.S. for continuing to supply Israel with munitions, support Israel in the United Nations and assist in the return of hostages taken in Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

He said efforts to release remaining hostages are ongoing, “even at this moment.”

“We are more determined than ever to continue fighting until Hamas is eliminated—until absolute victory,” he said. In another statement later, his office said he had made clear, “Israel will continue the war until we achieve all of its goals.”

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, in statements standing alongside Sullivan, said Israel’s war with Hamas would persist longer than several months.

“It will require a long period of time,” he said. “Hamas is a terrorist organization that built itself over a decade to fight Israel, and they built infrastructure under the ground and above the ground, and it is not easy to destroy them.”

U.S. National security adviser Jake Sullivan met with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Tel Aviv on Thursday PHOTO: ARIEL HERMONI/XINHUA/ZUMA PRESS

The trip by Biden’s top foreign-policy adviser comes just days after the U.S. president offered his most pointed criticism of the Israeli government since the Israel-Hamas war started in October. Describing Israel’s government as the most conservative in the state’s history, the president warned that the country was losing support on the world stage and appeared to take issue with what he called its “indiscriminate bombing” of Gaza.

U.S. officials, including Sullivan, are in Israel to encourage the Israel Defense Forces to refine their approach inside Gaza and begin to move to operations that lean more on intelligence, special operations forces and smaller bombs. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Air Force Gen. CQ Brown are expected there over the weekend.

For weeks, the U.S. has been eager to see the Israelis wind up the active combat that has resulted in the high rate of innocent casualties. Sullivan told The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Tuesday that he would talk to the Israelis about its “timetable.”

On Thursday, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said he didn’t want to put a time frame on when that would happen, and U.S. officials said Sullivan didn’t present the Israelis with ultimatums.

“The last thing we would want to do is telegraph to Hamas what they’re likely to face in coming weeks and months,” he said.Kirby wouldn’t elaborate on what other advice the U.S. has provided to the Israelis, but other officials have described the kind of operations the U.S. has been persuading the Israel Defense Forces to pursue: More intelligence-driven, small-unit operations going after Hamas leaders and fighters, fewer of the intense airstrikes that have been a hallmark of the Israeli campaign since it launched operations following the Oct. 7 massacre by Hamas.

U.S. officials privately concede that the Israeli government is often reluctant to accept Washington’s advice about its operations. But they said Israel has come around on a number of issues, including the need to reshape its military operations to avoid civilian casualties and destruction of civilian infrastructure, to permit a greater flow of humanitarian aid into the country, to pause the fighting for the release of Hamas’s hostages, and more.

“We have seen them be receptive to those messages,” Kirby said Thursday. “They are taking steps. Jake’s message to them is obviously gratitude for the steps they’ve taken, but also to continue to urge them to take more because we want to see them be more precise, more surgical, more deliberate, more cautious going forward.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. president is facing a backlash at home for his support of Israel’s government, with young voters, progressives and some in the U.S. government putting pressure on Biden to endorse a cease-fire. Some leaders on the left have gone as far as to say Biden’s backing of Israel threatens his re-election. The president has rejected calls for a general cease-fire, though he has advocated for “pauses” to facilitate the release of hostages and allow humanitarian aid into Gaza.

People calling for a cease-fire in Gaza gathered in Philadelphia on Thursday. PHOTO: JOE LAMBERTI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Some of the administration’s own employees have pushed for a cease-fire in Gaza, gathering outside the White House for a vigil this week. And Biden’s vice president, Kamala Harrishas voiced her own concerns to Biden privately, that the U.S. should be tougher on Israel for its execution of the conflict inside Gaza and show more empathy for Palestinians caught in the conflict.

Despite Biden’s repeated insistence that the U.S. would back Israel unconditionally, the two countries are at odds over the region’s future. The U.S. has said that postwar Gaza should be run by the Palestinian Authority, which controls parts of the West Bank, and that discussions should resume on a comprehensive peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has rejected the U.S. plan, and is betting his political survival on opposing the Authority’s role in postwar Gaza and blocking the emergence of any Palestinian state.

“A two-state solution may seem elusive right now,” Kirby said. “We’re not fooling ourselves. We know that everybody is focused right now on the fight against Hamas.…The president is an optimist, and he still believes that it’s the right answer to the right solution, and he still believes it’s achievable.”

Beyond the disagreement over who should run postwar Gaza, the U.S. and Israel are aligned on Israel’s goal to uproot Hamas from Gaza and return Israeli hostages.

Even on the issue of postwar Gaza, some analysts think Biden and Netanyahu could find a middle ground. Both sides agree the Palestinian Authority in its current form cannot govern the enclave. The U.S. is pushing the Palestinian Authority—which has long been viewed as corrupt and inept by Palestinians and Israelis alike—to reform. Analysts say there could be a scenario in which the reform is significant enough that it could satisfy Netanyahu.

The civilian death toll and devastation in Gaza have led to protests over the proportionality of Israel’s response to the Hamas attacks of October. PHOTO: HATEM ALI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The U.S. has provided billions of dollars in arms to Israel over the years, including roughly 15,000 bombs and 57,000 artillery shells since shortly after the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks that kicked off the war. Washington has also supplied diplomatic cover in the face of overwhelming international condemnation of Israel’s conduct of the war, notably by vetoing a United Nations Security Council resolution that would have demanded an immediate cease-fire.

It could prove difficult for the U.S. to exert pressure on Israel.

The Biden administration has said it places no special conditions on Israel’s use of U.S. arms and has given no indication that it would use future sales as leverage to force a change in Israel’s conduct of the war or diplomatic policies. However, Nimrod Novik, a fellow with the Israel Policy Forum, a think tank that advocates for a two-state solution, said that the U.S. could more subtly pressure Israel by delaying the shipment of munitions it has approved.

Israeli government officials are taking notice of the criticism from progressive Democrats over the soaring civilian death toll and fear they are losing the once-overwhelming support of the American public. One official also said that Israeli leaders had for weeks expressed fears that the Biden administration would break from it publicly.

William Mauldin and Vivian Salama contributed to this article.

Write to Gordon Lubold at gordon.lubold@wsj.com, Andrew Restuccia at andrew.restuccia@wsj.com and Dov Lieber at dov.lieber@wsj.com

December 15, 2023 | 25 Comments »

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25 Comments / 25 Comments

  1. @eddavid317 Unfortunately, I never met a liberal who didn’t condemn America for the way we won WWII. But, I’d be curious to see whether they’d condemn Bill Clinton’s indiscriminate carpet bombing of Serbia on behalf of Muslims. I recall speaking with a Serbian violinist who told me we bombed the automobile factory where her father worked. I once pointed out the inconsistency of a liberal’s arguments and called accused of “gaslighting.” 😀

  2. Imagine the progressives running WW2 or calls for restraint on the part of the US war effort in WW2? Yes Hiroshima. We performed the firebombing of Dresden and the low level bombing of Japan that actually killed more civilians than the two atomic bombs dropped. Gen. Curtis LeMay, the architect of the bombing campaign of Japan remarked, after cessation of the war, that he would have been tried as a war criminal if we lost the war.

    The expectation that Israel can win this war with only low level surgical strikes is absurd. The only thing more absurd is the demand that they actually do so.

    That demand is driven by progressives, often the same people who supported Hamas in the first place. The influence of the progressives on the Democrat Party is at an all time high and the Biden Administration loaded with leftists.

    Israel is very capable militarily. It’s weakness, for decades, has been an inability to fight the propaganda war.

  3. “What does a crushing handshake mean?
    The meaning of a bad handshake may depend on the type it was. A dominant or bone-crusher handshake can indicate that the other person is trying to take charge of the conversation. A handshake that is limp, clammy, or that is not accompanied by eye contact might indicate that the other person is anxious.Nov 6, 2023

    Handshakes: How, When and Why You Should Shake Hands”

    https://www.verywellmind.com › top-bad-handshakes-30…

  4. U.S. officials have said privately the U.S. wants to see the fight end in weeks, not months,

    I think even Americans know that months are made up of weeks. It will take weeks to finished the war to Israeli satisfaction and it is only a matter of cost if the number of weeks becomes unwieldy.
    As I have mentioned before on this site, Israel should require of all those who send money to Gaza to pad Hamas pockets to continue to send those funds to Israel since they will be in control afterwards. Then the Palestinians may even benefit from them!

  5. @FelixQuigley

    I am sorry, it will probably sound like useless hairsplitting to you but what if Biden is playing the game to replace Netanyahu precisely to invoke the reaction of the electorate and others to DEFEND Netanyahu and close ranks behind him in order to keep Netanyahu around since Netanyahu happens to be Biden’s best investment?

    I don’t think Netanyahu would have lasted as long as he has as PM and in politics in general if the US wasn’t happy with him in spite of all their assurances to the contrary.

  6. Reader

    As I said

    “Netanyahu will have to be defended against traitorous leaders like Gantz in league with America as described by Glick

    But he indeed is a security risk because he is a weak and predictable leader”

    I think Biden is playing that game. Aim to replace Netanyahu

    So we defend Netanyahu.

    But we watch him very carefully. I think you agree.

    Leon Trotsky
    Fascism: What it is and how to fight it

    An Aesop Fable

    A cattle dealer once drove some bulls to the slaughterhouse. And the butcher came at night with his sharp knife.

    “Let us close ranks and jack up this executioner on our horns,” suggested one of the bulls. 

    “If you please, in what way is the butcher any worse than the dealer who drove us hither with his cudgel?” replied the bulls, who had received their political education in Manuilsky’s institute [The Comintern].

    “But we shall be able to attend to the dealer as well afterwards!”

    “Nothing doing,” replied the bulls, firm in their principles, to the counselor. “You are trying, from the left, to shield our enemies—you are a social-butcher yourself.”

    And they refused to close ranks. 

  7. @peloni

    Abraham Accords and sovereignty on 30% of J&S:

    Both are poisoned baits – as you recall, the settlers came out strongly against the sovereignty ploy.

    30% to Israel, 70% to the PA/Hamas (no one reads the small print), Netanyahu displayed a misleading map.

    Abraham Accords:
    Had a clause about the two-state solution, now Saudi Arabia says openly that any normalization with Israel will require this.

  8. @FelixQuigley

    Netanyahu will have to be defended against traitorous leaders like Gantz in league with America

    What if N. himself is in league with America?

    The real problem is the absence of real leadership.

    I hope we are not looking as a result of all this at the TSFS in pre-1967 borders followed by an attack from all sides which will be way harder and bloodier to repel.

    I am really worried about possible land giveaways preceded by “humanitarian” evacuations to protect the residents from the falling bombs.

  9. Why do you think these American officials have to fly all the way to Israel to have a talk with the Israeli government, it seems like somebody is going over every other day?

    Could it be that the real behind the scenes talk is something the US government never wants to get out. We do have telephone, Internet and a Zoom calls.

  10. This is a VERY tough enemy and Israel is in a fight for its survival!! Israel CANNOT wind down the operation right now!! Defeating an enemy of this magnitude is going to take time. Of course as I have pointed out to family and friends Isael should not expect any help from the US government.

  11. Kellie

    “Do we still need to remind the world (including the US) of the US’ nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII?’

    Yes we do continually

    But to do that in the manner that is necessary a different type of Jewish leadership is necessary.one which puts itself on the path of revolution which sees no hope from any part of Imperial powers

    Imperial powers is not the.place, with their history, for Jews

    First step is demolish this.war cabinet

    Second clear Gaza of Arabs and make sure aid be parked only in sinai

    Third reply any hostility from the air

    And Jews never again give up Gaza

    Lastly make UN pay in money to Jews and same to BidenIran

    Not one more Jewish life lost

  12. @Felix

    What use was the whole Trump thing enticing Netanyahu into friends with these Arabs

    Bibi was very much in the lead of the Abraham Accords, so there was no enticement involved. In fact, Bibi demanded four peace treaties in order to set aside the J&S sovereignty deal which Gantz had treacherously undermined by suggesting to Trump that Bibi would never make peace with the Pals.

    The UAE also brought Israel before the UNSC for condemnation after Ben Gvir went to the Temple Mount, not even having prayed there. The context of the benefits of the UAE deal have meant a substantial increase in commerce and trade, but as to them being an ally with Israel they very much act the part of being an independent actor. We will see what comes from this alliance in the coming weeks and months, but the role which they played in condemning Israel, as Israel’s ally, has lent itself quite well to coalescing multiple condemnations of Israel on the world stage, this outrage noted in the article you shared being only the most recent of these.

  13. Do we still need to remind the world (including the US) of the US’ nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during WWII?

  14. Reader

    Netanyahu will have to be defended against traitorous leaders like Gantz in league with America as described by Glick

    But he indeed is a security risk because he is a weak and predictable leader

  15. Israel cannot be held hostage to Biden’s electioneering. It is irrelevant that American Muslims, BLM members and others support the Palestinians instead of Israel. Biden – somewhere in his wandering mind – knows the truth: Israel must inflict a painful and lasting defeat on Hamas, whatever the cost, otherwise the Land will never know peace. And surely those who advise Biden realize three things; first, that Hamas lies about the total casualties in Gaza, second, that at least a third of those claiming to be civilians are terrorists, and third, that Hamas uses human shields. It may be that Biden knows this and has forgotten, but the world must not be allowed to forget.

  16. @peloni

    The Isreali people must stand with Bibi against the demands of the Americans

    I hate to say this but Netanyahu’s sloganeering, if you look at it closely, really doesn’t mean anything – they are just general statements “Rah, rah we will win!”

    When he thanked Sullivan, however, he thanked him for the three specific things and this told Sullivan exactly what Israel’s tender spots are thus letting him know what the US should use to blackmail Israel with.

    Why doesn’t Netanyhu protest Amos Hochstein’s unbelievable attempt to trade Israel’s sovereign territory for Hamas’ (impossible) goodwill toward Israel.

    In Israel they force their university professors to retire at 69 years old with no exceptions, I think the same must be done with the politicians, in addition, a PM under indictment is a national security risk, especially Netanyahu who will not stop at anything to remain Prime Minister as long as he lives and to end his court proceedings.

  17. In short the war cabinet has been the problem and is the problem. Netanyahu constructed it and must now deconstruct it ruling with the majority the election gave him.

    Above all a revolutionary party must be fast created in Israel because these issues need a revolution in every respect.

    The break against the whole American ruling elites demand that.

  18. Peloni writes

    “A punishing defeat is what is needed to restore any sense of deterrence against the Arabs, and Washington is specifically turning the tables about by providing Israel with a punishing cost for any victory. This policy is both unseemly for Israel to pursue and revealing of the true interests of their American ‘ally’. Israel needs to restore her national perspective, release the dogs of war, and let the costs of this war be laid upon those who began the conflict with the slaughtering of the innocents of the Otef.”

    And you are tied by your apron strings to Washington as is editor Belman because Trump is also a part

  19. Israpundit sat aside while attacks were made on Marx and Engels the worst being the vomit from Peloni in backing up the Fascist posturing about socialism coming from Sebastien Zorn

    With that existing in the centre of Israpundit how to create a leadership to preserve the Jews?

    Ted Belman was passive to this poison.

    Whether we like it or not Israel has to go in only one road…the road to revolution.

    While Peloni and possibly others are eager for war any war the focus needs to be on how to deal with America.

    It is very clear that Israel entered this war with a bankrupt and very questionable leadership. On that leadership hung the lives of Israeli IDF fighting the worst Fascists since Hitler. That is not fair to Jewish youth.

    First step now is for Netanyahu to break with this war cabinet which must be sent to hell.

    Bold decisions now must be taken which includes to discuss how to conduct wars such as this. I am leaning towards one warning to get out and then aerial bombardment of locations which fired upon Jews such a short time after the Nazi Holocaust.

  20. Since this war started the number of times Israpundit has referred to the issue of Ukrainian Fascism has dwindled to nearly nothing. The only time it was mentioned mainly by communism haters was in relation to why all Jews should now be lovers of the Fascists. A remarkable change. Yet they are even more closely intertwined

    ““I want them to be focused on how to save civilian lives,” Biden said Thursday afternoon, “not stop going after Hamas, but be more careful.” ”

    Yes America is hiding behind Fascism. The Palestine thing, and the Ukraine thing.

    All of this driving by America and all other capitalist powers to preserving capitalism

    Israpundit is very far from the truth about what is happening

    Most are agents of the Republican Party

    Some are so extreme they quote and would compete with Hitler in hatred of the real actual left.

    We can see America is not with Israel.

    We know that very well.

    The issue what do you do about it? I know the answer.

  21. Infamous. If the U.S genuinely wanted to reduce civilian casualties, they would encourage Israel to use maximum force, so as to end the war as quickly as possible. Civilians suffer the most when a war is dragged on for a long time. Wars in which one side wins quickly result in far fewer casualties. “Humanitarian pauses,” by prolonging the war, result in far more civilian casualties than a war fought without pauses and interruptions.

  22. Great analysis by Erez Tadmor

    If you watch Jake Sullivan’s interview with Yonit Levy, you will understand that the USA is now exerting pressures that contradict the Israeli interest in two strategic issues:
    1. End the “high intensity” attack within a few weeks and move to targeted threats and limited operations.
    2. The unification of Yosh and Gaza under one leadership of a “renewable Palestinian Authority”.
    Gantz’s attack on Netanyahu this evening as if he is “creating fake divisions in the nation” and “harming the important relations with the USA” shows that he is completely aligned with the American position.
    They will pressure us from the outside and he will pressure the cabinet and add criticism that Netanyahu is “ruining relations with America”.
    The top of the military, which is completely enslaved to the Americans, will also push to surrender to Biden and Sullivan.
    The only question mark is where Gallant stands in this story. Not a bad chance that he will align himself with the guys from the army and will also side with the folding.
    And what if he goes with Netanyahu?
    You can always separate him and Netanyahu too. Like the night before the attack.
    good luck to us.

    The Isreali people must stand with Bibi against the demands of the Americans just as Bibi must stand with Israeli people against the demands of the Americans. This is the only path towards victory.

  23. It is sickening to see these soldiers being sacrificed needlessly as they are. This is absolutely immoral, and produces a strategic counterbalance to offset the public support for pursuing the war aims to their needed end. It also sets up a precedent under which Israel will be held to act in future contests such as will hopefully take place in Lebanon. As Ettinger explains, the Pals are indistinguishable from their Hamas masters in their support for the slaughter and dehumanization of the Jews. They are not our responsibility, but rather they are our stated enemies. A punishing defeat is what is needed to restore any sense of deterrence against the Arabs, and Washington is specifically turning the tables about by providing Israel with a punishing cost for any victory. This policy is both unseemly for Israel to pursue and revealing of the true interests of their American ‘ally’. Israel needs to restore her national perspective, release the dogs of war, and let the costs of this war be laid upon those who began the conflict with the slaughtering of the innocents of the Otef.