4 Scenarios for Next Phase in Gaza War, With ‘Intense’ Fighting Set to End

Israel’s prime minister says the war in the Gaza Strip will soon enter a new phase.

“The intense stage of the war with Hamas is about to end,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a television interview on Sunday. “This does not mean that the war is about to end, but the war in its intense phase is about to end.”

But whatever relief those comments may bring after more than half a year of horrific bloodshed, Mr. Netanyahu quickly made two things clear: A cease-fire in Gaza is not at hand. And the next fight might be in Lebanon, with the forces of a Hamas ally, Hezbollah.

After drawing down troops in Gaza, he said, “We will be able to move part of our forces to the north.”

Mr. Netanyahu stopped well short of announcing an invasion of Lebanon, a move that would likely result in heavy Israeli and Lebanese losses, and instead left open the door for a diplomatic resolution with Hezbollah.

Any diplomatic resolution in Gaza remains uncertain, in part because Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition would likely collapse if Israel stopped fighting in Gaza without having removed Hamas from power.

Still, the prime minister appeared to be signaling that Israel, after finishing its current military operation in Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, will not seek to mount major ground invasions of cities in central Gaza, the only area of the territory where the Israeli military has not carried out such attacks.

While Israeli leaders have said since January that they were transitioning to a lower-intensity war, the end of the Rafah operation might allow for the completion of that process.

The remarks from Mr. Netanyahu, and recent comments by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who was in Washington on Monday, indicated that the focus of Israel’s political discourse and strategic planning is shifting to its northern border with Lebanon.

In a statement on Monday, Mr. Gallant’s office said that he had discussed with American officials “the transition to ‘Phase C’ in Gaza and its impact on the region, including vis-à-vis Lebanon and other areas.”

Early in the war, Mr. Gallant outlined a three-phase battle plan that included intense airstrikes against Hamas targets and infrastructure; a period of ground operations aimed at “eliminating pockets of resistance”; and a third phase, or Phase C, that would create “a new security reality for the citizens of Israel.”

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