update deskIsrael at War

Blinken questions Israel’s war plans, suggests clock running out

The main focus of the leaked, unverified conversation was Israel's war plans for the southern Gaza Strip.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Amos Ben Gershom/GPO.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, attending a meeting of Israel’s War Cabinet on Thursday, questioned Israel’s strategy for resuming war against Hamas and suggested that Israel was running out of time.

In a leaked, though unverified, conversation reported by Channel 12, Blinken focused on Israel’s plans to fight Hamas in the southern Gaza Strip (fighting resumed on Friday when Hamas fired rockets into Israel).

Blinken said Israel couldn’t carry out the attack the same way it did in the northern Gaza Strip, which the IDF now largely controls, as the population density in the south has increased since Israel told Gazans to move away from the conflict zone in the north.

“There are two million Palestinians there,” Blinken reportedly said. “You need to evacuate fewer people from their homes, be more precise in your attacks, not damage U.N. facilities, and make sure there are enough safe areas. And if not, then don’t attack where there is a civilian population. What will be your method of operation?”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi replied that the Israel Defense Force makes sure to act on the basis of “proportionality, judgment and international law.” He added: “There were times when we attacked based on these principles, and there were times when we decided not to attack because we were waiting for a better opportunity.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant asserted: “All of Israeli society is united around the goal of dismantling Hamas—even if it takes months.”

Blinken suggested that Israel doesn’t have that kind of time: “I don’t think you will have the credit for that.”

Blinken also addressed Israel’s plans post-Hamas, noting that Israel didn’t want the Palestinian Authority to take over, but didn’t offer another idea.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “As long as I sit in this chair, the Palestinian Authority that supports terrorism, teaches terrorism and finances, it will not control Gaza the day after Hamas.”

In a Thursday afternoon press conference, Blinken appeared to confirm part of the War Cabinet discussion, saying: “In my meetings today with the prime minister and senior Israeli officials, I made clear that before Israel resumes major military operations, it must put in place humanitarian civilian protection plans that minimize further casualties of innocent Palestinians.

“That means taking more effective steps to protect the lives of civilians, including by clearly and precisely designating areas and places in southern and central Gaza where they can be safe and out of the line of fire,” he said.

However, Blinken did not appear to confirm that the U.S. had placed a time limit on its support for Israeli operations.

To a reporter’s question whether a deadline had been set for Israel’s war effort, Blinken said: “The U.S. will continue to support Israel’s efforts to do everything possible to ensure that Hamas cannot repeat the horrors of Oct. 7. 

“And that means, among other things, that Hamas cannot remain responsible for governance in Gaza and it cannot retain the capacity to repeat those attacks.”

In an official Israeli statement released after a meeting between Gallant and Blinken, Gallant said: “We are going to fight Hamas until we prevail—no matter how long it takes. This is a just war against Hamas—the ISIS of Gaza, and it’s a war to bring the hostages back home—as long as it takes.”

Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Nov. 30, 2023. Photo by Elad Malka/GPO.
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