The comments come amid the US official’s multi-day trip to the Middle East with stops in Qatar and Bahrain.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has said the U.S. won’t dictate to Israel as it wages its war on Gaza, in a joint press conference with his Israeli counterpart Yoav Gallant.
“Regarding timetable, this is Israel’s operation, and I’m not here to dictate timelines or terms,” Austin said on Monday during his visit to Israel, where he met senior leaders.
“Our support to Israel’s right to defend itself is ironclad.” At the same time, Austin called the protection of Palestinian civilians “a moral duty and a strategic imperative”.
Upon his fourth visit to Israel as defence chief and his second time since October 7th, Austin told his Israeli counterpart that limiting of civilian casualties is “crucial”.
“Secretary Austin, we both know the complexities of war,” Gallant responded.
“We both fought brutal terrorist organization. We know that it takes time. Unlike our enemies, we are defending our values, and we operate according to international law. The IDF is operating to minimize the harm to civilian population,” he added.
According to the Gaza health authorities, at least 19,453 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli attacks on the strip since October 7th.
Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qudra said at a press conference that 52,286 other people were also injured in the war.
The New York Times reported last week that Biden administration officials want Israel to end its large-scale ground and air operations in Gaza within weeks and transition to a more targeted phase in the war as pressure for a ceasefire mounts.
Gallant said the transition into the next phase will depend upon when strategic goals are achieved, noting events often change on the battlefield.
“All in all, there is no clock that is running that we have to obey a certain day,” he said.
“But we need to get to different performances on the ground before we move to the next phase,” Gallant added.
Austin is set to visit Qatar on his multi-day trip to the Middle East, with stops in Bahrain after Israel.
In Qatar, which has played a vital role in talks between Israel and Hamas, Austin will visit to Al Udeid Air Base stationed in the Gulf State, according to a statement by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).
“Since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas, the official said Qatar has played a critical role in helping the U.S. communicate with Hamas,” a statement by the DOD said.
“That effort was critical in securing the agreement for the release of some hostages. Qatar was also recently named a “major non-NATO ally” of the U.S. and plays host to U.S. forces at Al Udeid Air Base. The secretary will visit that installation.”
In Bahrain, Austin will visit the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in the country following several attacks by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Israel-bound cargo ships in the Red Sea.
Austin will call on Bahrain and other parties “to respond to aggression at sea that threatens shipping and the global economy”, the DOD said.