Dec 25, 2023 - World

Scoop: Top Bibi confidant expected in D.C. for talks on next phase of Gaza war

Ron Dermer on Nov. 6, 2021. Photo: Bridget Bennett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ron Dermer on Nov. 6, 2021. Photo: Bridget Bennett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer is expected in Washington on Tuesday for meetings at the White House and State Department about Israel's plans for eventually scaling down the war and transitioning to a low-intensity operation in Gaza, two Israeli and U.S. officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The meetings Dermer, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's closest confidant, is expected to have will take place amid growing tensions between the Biden administration and the Israeli government over when the high-intensity phase of the war should end and what will happen in Gaza after it does.

  • A senior U.S. official said the main issue of discussion between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government is "how to wrap things up and on what timeframe."

Driving the news: Dermer is set to meet with White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Tony Blinken and members of Congress, a senior Israeli official said.

  • Dermer is expected to discuss Israel's plans for the low-intensity phase in the war, which Israeli officials expect to start by the end of January, and how civilian affairs in Gaza will be managed in the long transition phase ahead, the Israeli official said.
  • The official added that Dermer will also discuss Netanyahu's thinking regarding what happens in Gaza when the war ends, including who governs the enclave in the long term.

The Biden administration has said publicly it wants the Palestinian Authority to have a role in governing Gaza in a post-Hamas reality. Netanyahu has previously rejected that idea but in recent weeks Dermer and other Israeli officials started speaking to their U.S. counterparts about what they called "R.P.A" — reformed Palestinian Authority, a U.S. official said.

  • Last week, an Israeli delegation headed by Defense Ministry policy chief Dror Shalom visited Washington for talks about the day after the war and used the "R.P.A." acronym, the official said.
  • The White House declined to comment. Dermer's office and the State Department didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Behind the scenes: Dermer is also expected to discuss the concern about Israel's munitions stockpile and the request that the U.S. expedite weapons shipments, an Israeli official said.

  • Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant spoke to Blinken last week and expressed concern about a delay in the delivery of munitions, Israeli and U.S. officials said.
  • Gallant asked if the holdup was politically motivated and Blinken reassured him it wasn't. Two U.S. officials said there has been no decision to slow-walk delivery of munitions to Israel. "It is a pure paperwork issue," they said.

State of play: Netanyahu made a rare visit to Gaza on Monday, telling soldiers: "Whoever talks about stopping, there is no such thing."

  • He later vowed to expand Israel's operation in Gaza, arguing military pressure is the only way to secure the release of the hostages being held by Hamas and other groups. Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas to create a reality in which an attack like the one carried out by the group on Oct. 7 cannot happen again.
  • More than 20,600 Palestinians have been killed in the more than two months of fighting, according to the Ministry of Health in Hamas-run Gaza. The already dire humanitarian conditions continue to worsen, with the UN warning more people could start to die from disease, dehydration and hunger if significantly more aid isn't allowed into Gaza.

The big picture: Dermer's visit will also come against the backdrop of growing tensions on Israel's northern border after an airstrike killed a senior Iranian general in Syria on Monday.

  • Tehran blamed Israel for the attack. Israel didn't claim responsibility but Israeli officials said the IDF was preparing for a retaliation from Syria and Lebanon.
  • The general killed, Reza Mousavi, was in charge of Iranian weapons shipment to the pro-Iranian militias in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, according to an Israeli official and Iranian press reports.
  • Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warned that Israel will pay a price for assassinating Mousavi. Hezbollah said the Israeli attack "crossed the line."
  • The Biden administration has been working on a diplomatic solution to cool down tensions on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

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