The Biden administration has suggested that more time is needed for hostage negotiations, the delivery of aid to Palestinians and mapping out ways to avoid more civilian casualties, according to several US officials, the NY Times reports.
Based on the same source, American officials also want more time to prepare for attacks on US interests in the region from Iran-backed groups, which officials said are likely to intensify once Israel moves its forces fully into Gaza.
The administration is not making a demand of Israel and still supports the ground invasion and Israel’s goal of eradicating Hamas, the group controlling Gaza that killed more about 1,400 people in terrorist attacks on Oct. 7, the officials said.
But fast-moving events since Hamas released two American women on Friday have spurred the administration to more urgently suggest that the Israelis allow time to negotiate the release of 212 other hostages, the officials said.
President Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday afternoon to discuss the latest developments, the White House said. Mr. Biden also spoke to the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Britain.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Netanyahu agreed that after the entry of the first two convoys of humanitarian aid into Gaza on Saturday, there “will now be continued flow of this critical assistance,” a White House summary of the call said. The leaders also “discussed ongoing efforts to secure the release of all the remaining hostages taken by Hamas — including US citizens — and to provide for safe passage for US citizens and other civilians in Gaza who wish to depart,” the White House said.
Two US officials said the advice to the Israelis to hold off on the land war was being conveyed through Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III because the Pentagon is helping advise Israel on military actions, including the ground invasion.
Mr. Austin has had near daily calls with his Israeli counterpart, Yoav Gallant, to discuss operational matters, American arms shipments to Israel and US military deployments to the region. He has also talked about recovering the hostages as a priority, one US official said.
A diplomat from the Israeli Embassy in Washington denied that the US government was advising the Israelis to delay the ground invasion and said: “We have a close dialogue and consultations with the US administration. The US is not pressing Israel in regards to the ground operation.”
An official with knowledge of the hostage negotiations, which are taking place mainly through Qatar, said Hamas had warned that a ground invasion would make hostage releases much less likely. Qatar has close ties to the political leaders of Hamas.
US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken avoided answering directly when asked on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday whether the United States was asking Israel to delay a ground invasion to allow time for hostage negotiations. He noted, though, that the United States was giving advice to the Israelis on the invasion.
There have already been a flurry of drone attacks targeting US forces in the region. US officials said that leaving the impression that Biden administration officials are the ones pulling the strings in Israel could drag the United States into a direct conflict with Iran or pro-Iran groups in the region.
Michael Herzog, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, said on CNN that the United States had frequently raised important questions about Israel’s war plans but had not tried to dictate decision making.
“There is really no pressure,” he said. “They give us advice, but they are not telling us what to do or what not to do.”
The ground invasion has been repeatedly delayed, according to four senior Israeli defense officials, who added that they did not know the reason for the postponement. Two of the officials said it was possibly related to the negotiations.