U.S. officials expect Israel’s Gaza ground operation to last several weeks
The United States is closely monitoring the conflict between Israel and Hamas, expressing deep concern about the impact and duration of Israel’s current ground operation in Gaza, according to several senior government officials speaking to CNN.
As the war shifts from high-intensity operations to a more targeted phase, the White House has warned Israel to do more to limit civilian casualties. The United States has conveyed to Israel that maintaining international support for the operation is dependent upon measures to prevent civilian deaths.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin publicly warned Israel that it must prioritize the protection of civilians to avoid risking a strategic defeat. Nearly 16,000 Palestinians and “several thousand” Hamas militants have been killed since the conflict began in October, as reported by the Gaza Health Ministry and Israeli officials, respectively.
While senior officials in the Biden administration have urged Israel to minimize civilian casualties, they have been careful to avoid directly criticizing Israel’s tactics, opting instead for more discreet advisory measures. The United States hopes that Israel will adopt a more targeted strategy by January, transitioning from high-intensity operations to more localized strikes against terrorist leaders, similar to the U.S. approach in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to a source familiar with intelligence assessments, Israel cannot sustain high-intensity operations indefinitely. The U.S. hopes that Israel will adapt its approach to mirror how the U.S. has shifted strategies in the past in order to conduct more deliberate and surgical operations.
In response to the conflict, Hezbollah has conducted almost daily attacks on Israel’s northern border, posing an additional security challenge. The U.S. expects that Israel will need to transition to more targeted strikes once they have eliminated as many Hamas militants in Gaza as possible.
Amidst the escalating conflict, U.S. officials are encouraged by Israel’s use of an online map of Gaza in an apparent effort to warn residents about areas to evacuate due to military operations. The United States sees the development of this tactic as a step in the right direction; however, access to the map requires electricity and internet connectivity, which have been cut off in Gaza several times.
U.S. officials have also highlighted Israel’s use of warnings to the population about specific military activities. They argue that Israel has heeded advice from the United States on how to conduct urban warfare, noting that Israel’s original plan for Gaza would have been much broader in scope if not for input from the U.S.
Both the United States and Israel expect that the current ground operation will shift to a lower-intensity, hyperlocalized strategy in January as part of a longer-term campaign to weaken Hamas. The ultimate goal is to ensure that Hamas cannot repeat the attack that triggered the conflict in October. Israeli officials also anticipate a transition to lower-intensity operations in the coming weeks, emphasizing that a high-intensity operation is not sustainable in the long term.
As the conflict persists, the U.S. and Israel are working behind the scenes to ensure that Israel’s operations are more targeted, surgical, and strategic. Both the United States and Israel are hopeful that this new strategy, combined with the continued advice and support from the U.S., will lead to a more sustainable and successful approach in the coming months.
CNN has reached out to the National Security Council and the Government of Israel for comment on this latest development in the conflict.