Photo Credit: Israel Defense Ministry
Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) meets with his US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Tel Aviv, Dec. 18, 2023.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel on Monday, where he was expected to pressure Jerusalem to scale back the war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

His first meeting upon arriving in the Jewish state was with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. Austin was also expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the third member of the War Cabinet, Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz.


The New York Times, citing U.S. officials, reported that the Pentagon chief will discuss with his Israeli counterparts a transition to the next phase of the war, which the Americans envision as “smaller groups of elite forces that would move in and out of population centers in Gaza, conducting more precise, intelligence-driven missions to find and kill Hamas leaders, rescue hostages and destroy tunnels.”

Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Austin in the Jewish state.

Jerusalem has made it clear, however, that the current aerial, naval and ground campaign in Gaza could take several more months to complete, potentially setting up a clash with the Biden administration. Israel has previously stated its war goal as nothing less than the elimination of Hamas in Gaza.

Gallant told visiting U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan during discussions held at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv last week that the war against Hamas will continue for several months.

The minister told Sullivan that Hamas “is a terrorist organization that built itself [up] over a decade to fight Israel, and built infrastructure under the ground and above the ground, and it is not easy to destroy them. It will require a long period of time; it will last more than several months, but we will win, and we will destroy them [Hamas]. So thank you once again for coming to Israel, for helping us and for supporting us.”

Monday’s visit is Austin’s second to Israel since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack, in which thousands of Arab terrorists broke across the border, murdering some 1,200 people, wounding over 5,000 others and taking around 240 hostages back to Gaza. Terrorists in Gaza have fired more than 11,500 rockets at Israel since the start of the war.

On Sunday, Austin traveled to Bahrain, home of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, where he discussed maritime security and freedom of navigation in the region in light of continued attacks by the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen.

The Guardian reported on Sunday that during his Middle East visit, Austin will announce the launch of a maritime protection force with the participation of Arab states to counter the Houthi threat to commercial shipping in the Red Sea. It will be provisionally called “Operation Prosperity Guardian.”

The U.S. military leader also made an unscheduled visit on Sunday to Kuwait to pay respects to the country’s emir, Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah, whose death was announced on Saturday. Austin met with the Kuwaiti deputy prime minister and minister of defense, Sheikh Ahmad Fahad Al-Ahmad Al Sabah.

Austin is also scheduled to visit Qatar and meet with the crew of the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. The vessel, the largest warship ever built, was positioned in the Eastern Mediterranean after the Oct. 7 attack as a measure of deterrence against the Israel-Hamas war expanding into a wider regional conflict.


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