Israel’s apparent decision to delay a full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip and instead carry out more limited ground incursions, at least initially, aligns with suggestions made recently by the US defense secretary , Lloyd J. Austin III, to his Israeli counterparts. days, U.S. officials said Saturday.
Biden administration officials warned that it was difficult to predict what Israel would ultimately do, as increased airstrikes and intensified ground incursions over the past three days indicated a more aggressive posture. agressive.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday evening that Israeli forces entered the Gaza Strip on Friday to begin “the second stage of the war,” without calling the move an invasion. Military officials said earlier Saturday that Israeli troops entered the northern part of the enclave and remained there Saturday evening.
Israeli ground forces’ incursions into Gaza so far are smaller and more narrowly targeted than Israeli military officials initially described to Mr. Austin and other senior U.S. military officials, U.S. officials said Saturday. .
Indeed, Israel’s initial invasion plans alarmed U.S. officials, who expressed concern that the Israeli military was not yet ready to launch a ground invasion.
In telephone conversations with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, Austin stressed the need to carefully consider how Israeli forces could carry out a ground invasion of Gaza, where Hamas maintains a military presence. complex network of tunnels in densely populated areas.
The Israelis improved and refined their plan through a concerted effort by Mr. Austin and other officials, a U.S. official said Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe war planning among the allies. However, Biden administration officials insisted that the United States had not told Israel what to do and still supported a ground invasion.
Other factors that most likely influenced Israel’s war planning, according to U.S. officials, are the possible impact on hostage negotiations and the fact that Israeli political and military leaders are divided over how, when and even the opportunity to invade.
But current and former Pentagon officials, as well as former U.S. commanders who have conducted urban military operations, said Saturday that Israel appeared to be conducting a phased operation, with smaller reconnaissance units advancing into Gaza to locate the Hamas fighters, confront them and identify them. their vulnerabilities.
“Once the weaknesses and seams and gaps are discovered, they bring in the main assault force,” said Mick Mulroy, a former senior Middle East policy official at the Pentagon and retired CIA officer.
Frederick B. Hodges, a retired three-star general who served in Iraq, said the tactic also appeared to be a way for Israeli forces to “reduce or limit casualties as well as collateral damage” to buildings.