Israel's Netanyahu signals 'intense' stage of Gaza fighting is close to end

A boy carries salvaged items from the rubble of a building destroyed during Israeli bombardment at al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City on June 22, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Omar Al-qattaa | Afp | Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled that the “intense” phase of fighting in the war-torn Gaza enclosure is close to ending, while stressing the broader war against Hamas wages on.

In a rare live interview with an Israeli news outlet, Netanyahu told Channel 14 that the Jewish state would be able to shift more of its troops near the northern border with Lebanon, where hostilities against the Iran-backed Hezbollah have surged over the past two weeks.

“After the intense phase is finished, we will have the possibility to move part of the forces north. And we will do this. First and foremost for defensive purposes. And secondly, to bring our [evacuated] residents home,” Netanyahu said, according to a Reuters translation.

“If we can, we will do this diplomatically. If not, we will do it another way. But we will bring [the residents] home.”

Thousands of Israeli and Lebanese civilians have been displaced from their border-facing settlements amid fire exchanged since the October start of the Jewish state’s war campaign against Palestinian militant group Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah claim solidarity with the Palestinian plight and have intensified bombardment since the Israeli Defense Forces on June 12 reported killing a senior commander of the Lebanese faction.

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Asked when the intense stage of combat against Hamas will finalize, Netanyahu on Sunday said, “Very soon,” according to a Google translation of the Channel 14 report.

He did not provide an explicit timeline, stressing that the Israeli military will not “stop in the middle” of its campaign in Rafah, which had offered refuge to over half of the 2.3 million Palestinian people of the Gaza enclave prior to last month.

Once more broaching the topic of a “day after” the Gaza conflict, Netanyahu underlined that Israel must first eliminate Hamas capabilities, allowing an IDF assumption of military control in the Gaza enclave and the “establishment of a government in the strip under the management of moderate countries in the region.” This would effectively eliminate the possibility of creating a separate, independent Palestinian state — which several Western states support, but Netanyahu has vocally opposed so far — or the transfer of regional governance to the Palestinian Authority, which oversees most Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank.

“I think that military control is needed in the Strip, and it is not realistic to settle in the Strip,” the Israeli prime minister said, in a likely blow to a share of his right-wing support-base that seeks the re-establishment of settlements in the Gaza enclave, from which Israel withdrew in 2005.

Despite floating a shift to a lower-intensity campaign, Netanyahu said he is unwilling to “stop the war and leave Hamas intact” and emphasized that Israel is prepared to fight on several fronts, if it is “required to take on this challenge” and engage Hezbollah. Rhetoric between the Israeli and Lebanese sides has heated in recent days, with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz warning over the prospect of “all-out war,” while Hezbollah’s leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah threatened a conflict with “no rules and with no red lines.”

U.S. special envoy Amos Hochstein traveled to the region to speak with Israeli and Lebanese leadership in a bid to abate tensions, and German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Monday announced plans to head to Lebanon over the “more than worrying” border situation, according to Reuters.

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Washington has staunchly backed Israel after the Hamas terror attack of Oct. 7, but has increasingly faced pressures over its military support to the Jewish state and expressed concerns over the proportionality of the Gaza conflict and the Palestinian toll. More than 37,000 people have perished in the Gaza Strip since October, according to the latest figures of the local Ministry of Health. The White House has been pressing a peace framework for the Gaza hostilities, which has so far languished without mutual endorsement from Israel and Hamas.

Cracks in the U.S.-Israeli relation have showed signs of deepening, with Netanyahu on Sunday doubling down on claims that Washington has been reducing weapons shipments.

“About four months ago, there was a dramatic drop in the supply of armaments arriving from the U.S. to Israel. For weeks we asked our American friends to speed up the shipments. We did it time and time again,” Netanyahu told a weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, according to a Google translation of comments released by his office. “We got all sorts of explanations, but one thing we didn’t get: the basic situation didn’t change.”

CNBC has reached out to the U.S. State Department.

Netanyahu’s comments come as Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant headed to Washington on Sunday for meetings with U.S. officials, stressing on social media that “the United States is the most important ally of Israel – and more central than ever before.”

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