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US seeks delay in Gaza ground invasion to put air defences in place

The Biden administration has asked Israel to delay a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip for a few days to give the United States more time to put air defence batteries, fighter planes and other military assets in place to protect American troops, US officials said.

US officials have been pushing Israel for a delay for multiple reasons. They include giving more time to negotiate the release of hostages held in Gaza, allowing more aid into the region and providing the Israeli military with time to refine its military objectives and potentially move away from a grinding urban fight that would incur large casualties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has held off on a land invasion in the nearly three weeks since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7. The Israeli government says more than 1,400 civilians and soldiers were killed, and 200 hostages were taken back to Gaza.

The prime minister’s office declined to comment. Earlier on Wednesday, Netanyahu said the Israeli military was still preparing for a ground operation in the Gaza Strip. “I will not spell out when, how, how much,” he said. “I also won’t detail all the considerations we’re taking into account, most of them totally unknown to the public.”

US officials say it will take them a few more days to get many of those new anti-missile batteries in place. Another US official said the United States already had some air defense assets in the region that have been protecting troops from attacks in Syria.

The Biden administration has rushed two aircraft carriers and additional troops to the eastern Mediterranean near Israel to deter Iran and its proxies in the region from engaging in a regional war. A US Navy warship in the northern Red Sea last Thursday shot down at least three cruise missiles and several drones launched from Yemen that the Pentagon said might have been headed toward Israel.

“I believe there is concern that our bases in Syria and Iraq, especially Syria, could be attacked by a wave of drones and it could overwhelm the defenses currently there,” said Mick Mulroy, a former defense official and retired CIA officer.

US officials have repeatedly raised with Israelis their concerns that Iran or Hezbollah, the Lebanese political and militia group backed by Tehran, might open a second front after Israel commits much of its military to eliminating Hamas in Gaza.

(Published 26 October 2023, 04:09 IST)

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