Home News Israeli defense minister holds talks in Washington on next phase of war

Israeli defense minister holds talks in Washington on next phase of war


Israeli soldiers repaired the tracks of a tank near the Gaza border in southern Israel last week.Credit…Jack Gertz/AFP—Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an interview with Israeli television on Sunday evening that the intensive phase of Israel’s war with Hamas “is coming to an end,” but he stressed that this does not mean the conflict is about to end.

The prime minister said Israel would continue to “mow the lawn” — a term long used in Israeli security circles to refer to the use of force to curb the resurgence of militant groups — following a military operation against Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, the latest focus of Israel’s ground offensive.

Netanyahu’s comments were the latest indication from top Israeli officials that the war could soon enter a period of change.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who is meeting with Biden administration officials in Washington, said the talks will include discussion of “Gaza’s transition to ‘Phase C.'”

Although the Israeli military says it is close to dismantling or severely weakening Hamas’ military infrastructure, the Israeli government has yet to put forward any clear plan for post-war Gaza management.

Netanyahu said in the interview that a post-war democratically elected government would involve local Palestinians and hope for help from moderate Arab countries. He said the Israeli military must maintain full security control over the area.

The prime minister continued to rule out a proposal pushed by the Biden administration: handing Gaza over to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority, which would have limited self-rule in parts of the occupied West Bank.

Khan Yunis in southern Gaza last week. The Israeli government has yet to come up with a clear plan for governing Gaza after the war. Credit…Iyad Baba/AFP – Getty Images

Netanyahu said that to achieve the “end of Hamas,” “Hamas must first be eliminated,” reiterating his long-standing position that Hamas must be completely eliminated. Many experts believe this goal is unattainable.

The prime minister made the comments during a 44-minute interview with The Patriot, a populist and often controversial evening talk show. Channel 14is an Israeli right-wing television station that caters to Netanyahu’s voter base.

Netanyahu has given very few interviews in Hebrew to Israeli audiences since the war began. He has been criticized at home for giving frequent interviews to American television stations, while engaging with Israelis mainly through sporadic televised statements and press conferences or video clips.

Netanyahu also addressed the stalled ceasefire talks in the interview, at one point suggesting he would be willing to reach a “partial” deal that would allow only the return of some of the 120 hostages being held in Gaza – but his office quickly walked that back.

The prime minister said he was willing to agree to a temporary ceasefire and release some hostages before resuming the war. The proposal appeared to contradict an Israeli proposal approved last month for a phased deal to release all hostages and achieve a permanent ceasefire – a proposal endorsed by President Biden and the UN Security Council.

But at another point in the interview on Sunday, Netanyahu said he was committed to bringing back all remaining hostages, at least a third of whom Israel says have died in captivity.

After the interview, Netanyahu’s office issued a brief statement saying it was Hamas, not Israel, that opposed the deal. “Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it clear that we will not leave Gaza until we repatriate all 120 deceased hostages,” the statement said.

The Families of Hostages and Missing Persons Forum, which speaks for the hostages, condemned Netanyahu’s remarks in an interview, saying that failure to move forward with the ceasefire proposal “is tantamount to abandoning 120 hostages and violating the state’s moral obligations to its citizens.”

“The families of the hostages will not allow the government and its leaders to abandon their fundamental commitment to the fate of our loved ones. The responsibility and obligation to return all hostages lies with the prime minister,” the group said in a statement.

Johnson Rice and Adam Rasgon Contributed reporting.

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