Israel’s Defense Minister Holds Talks in Washington on War’s Next Phase


Israeli soldiers fixing the tracks of a tank near the border with Gaza, in southern Israel, last week.Credit…Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The intensive phase of Israel’s war against Hamas is “about to end,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Sunday night interview on Israeli television, although he emphasized that did not mean the conflict was coming to a close.

After the operation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city and the latest focus of Israel’s ground offensive, the prime minister said, Israel would keep “mowing the lawn” — a term long used in Israeli security circles to denote the use of force aimed at curtailing the regrowth of militant organizations.

Mr. Netanyahu’s remarks were the latest suggestion by senior Israeli officials that the war could soon enter a period of change.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, was in Washington for meetings with Biden administration officials, which he said would include discussion of “the transition to ‘Phase C’ in Gaza.”

While Israel’s military says it is close to dismantling or seriously degrading Hamas’s military infrastructure, the government has not proposed any clear plan for the administration of Gaza after the war.

Mr. Netanyahu suggested in the interview that a postwar civilian administration would involve local Palestinians, hopefully with the help of moderate Arab nations. The Israeli military would have to maintain overall security control of the enclave, he said.

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

Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, last week. The Israeli government has not proposed a clear plan for the administration of Gaza after the war ends. Credit…Eyad Baba/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

To get to the “day after Hamas,” Mr. Netanyahu said, “first you have to eliminate Hamas” — reiterating his longstanding position that the armed group be fully eradicated, a goal that many experts say is unattainable.

The prime minister’s remarks came in a 44-minute interview he granted to “The Patriots,” a populist and often divisive nightly talk show on Channel 14, a right-wing Israeli television station that caters to Mr. Netanyahu’s voter base.

Mr. Netanyahu has rarely been interviewed in Hebrew for an Israeli audience since the start of the war. He has faced criticism domestically for granting frequent interviews to American networks while engaging with Israelis mainly through sporadic televised statements and news conferences or via video clips.

Mr. Netanyahu also addressed the stalled cease-fire negotiations during the interview, suggesting at one point that he was willing to strike a “partial” deal for the return of only some of the 120 hostages being held in Gaza — a statement that his office quickly walked back.

The prime minister said he was ready to agree to a temporary truce and the release of some of the hostages, then subsequently resuming the war. That proposition appeared to contradict an Israeli proposal that was approved last month by Mr. Netanyahu and his war cabinet for a phased deal that would release all the hostages and usher in a permanent cease-fire — a proposal that was endorsed by President Biden and the United Nations Security Council.

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

In a brief statement issued after the interview, Mr. Netanyahu’s office said it was Hamas that opposed a deal, not Israel, adding: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has made it clear that we will not leave Gaza until we return all 120 of our hostages, living and deceased.”

The Hostages and Missing Persons Families Forum, which advocates for the hostages, condemned Mr. Netanyahu’s comments in the interview, saying that failing to advance the cease-fire proposal “abandons 120 hostages and violates the state’s moral obligation to its citizens.”

“The families of the hostages will not allow the government and its leader to back away from their fundamental commitments to our loved ones’ fate,” the group said in a statement. “The responsibility and duty to return all hostages lies with the prime minister.”

Johnatan Reiss and Adam Rasgon contributed reporting.



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