Jan 26, 2024 - World

Scoop: Biden tells Bibi he's not in it for a year of war in Gaza

xPresident Biden sits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alster/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden sits with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the Israeli war cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv on Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alster/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden last week pressed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to scale down the Israeli military operation in Gaza, stressing he is not in it for a year of war, two U.S. officials told Axios.

Why it matters: Biden's comments during the two leaders' call last Friday reflect the growing U.S. concern about the continuation of the war and the president's desire to see it end long before the November elections.

  • A Biden adviser told Axios the White House is very concerned about losing young voters, many of whom are opposed to the president's policy on the Gaza war.
  • A source close to the White House said Biden can't have the war and the growing death toll to continue dominating the news cycle as the elections get closer.
  • The White House and the Israeli Prime Minister's Office declined to comment.

Behind the scenes: At least a third of Biden's 40-minute call with Netanyahu on Jan. 19 focused on the Israeli timetable for moving to low-intensity operations across the Gaza Strip and Israel's war strategy as a whole, one U.S. official said.

  • Netanyahu a day earlier had said the war would continue for "many more months." Speaking to the Israeli leader about that comment, Biden urged Netanyahu to move faster to low-intensity operations that would decrease the number of civilian casualties, two U.S. officials said.

Zoom in: Biden asked Netanyahu several times for his plan and strategy in Gaza and said he doesn't understand the "end state" the Israeli leader is envisioning for the enclave, the U.S. officials said.

  • Netanyahu told Biden that the transition to low-intensity fighting took place in northern Gaza and will happen in the south, but Israel needs more time than it originally thought, the officials added.
  • Netanyahu also said that Hamas would return if the Israel Defense Forces left Gaza now.

Zoom out: During the call, Biden asked Netanyahu to allow a UN mission into northern Gaza to assess the conditions for a future return of Palestinian civilians, according to a source with direct knowledge of the conversation.

  • He also asked that flour be moved through Israel's Ashdod port to Gaza, and for Israel to help streamline the delivery of aid from Jordan through the Kerem Shalom border between Israel and the southern part of the Strip.
  • Netanyahu agreed to all three requests, the source said. It's unclear, however, when Israel may move on them.

The big picture: A significant portion of the call between Netanyahu and Biden was focused on the ongoing talks aimed at reaching a deal to secure the release of the more than 130 hostages still being held in Gaza, the source with direct knowledge of the call said.

  • U.S. officials have acknowledged that reaching a new hostage deal might be the only path that could lead to a ceasefire in Gaza.
  • Brett McGurk, Biden's senior Middle East adviser, was in Egypt and Qatar this week to discuss the hostage negotiations.

Between the lines: Biden has become increasingly frustrated with Netanyahu in recent weeks.

  • The Jan. 19 call was the first between the two leaders in nearly a month. During their previous call on Dec. 23, a frustrated Biden ended the call by saying the "conversation is over" and hanging up the phone.
  • In the first two months of the war that began Oct. 7, the two leaders had talked almost every other day.

What to watch: CIA director Bill Burns is expected to meet with the Qatari prime minister and the spy chiefs of Israel and Egypt in the coming days.

  • Those talks will be aimed at reaching a breakthrough on a deal that would include a two-month pause in the fighting in return for the release of all hostages held by Hamas.

Go deeper: U.S. post-war strategy links Saudi-Israel peace deal with a two-state solution

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