WASHINGTON – Israel has agreed to delay its invasion of Gaza until the United States can position missile defenses to protect against a predicted uptick in Iran-backed terror attacks on American troops in the region.
The air defense systems could be in place by the latter part of this week, defense officials say. The Israeli delay was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The outlet also reported that the Jewish state is weighing factors such as deliveries of humanitarian aid to the southern part of the Gaza Strip as well as efforts to secure the release of approximately 200 hostages held by Hamas.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not confirm the reasons for holding off on the long-expected attack in an address to the nation Wednesday, but did say that his country’s military is “preparing for a ground entry.”
“I will not elaborate on when, how or how many,” Netanyahu said. “I will also not elaborate on the various calculations we are making, which the public is mostly unaware of and that is how things should be.”
The prime minister added that “the timing of the operation was determined unanimously by the war cabinet and the chief of staff” and vowed to “extract the full price from those murderers, those perpetrators of atrocities… from Hamas-Daesh,” using the Arabic acronym for ISIS.
The US is racing to deploy more than 10 air-defense systems to protect service members stationed in Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates from missile and rocket attacks, defense officials have said.
Israel has repeatedly announced its intention to crush Hamas since its terror attack on Oct. 7 killed more than 1,400 people, including at least 33 Americans.
At the White House Wednesday, President Biden insisted he “did not demand” that Israel delay its ground offensive.
However, administration officials have said the US relayed concerns about the Tel Aviv government launching an attack too soon, citing the need for missile cover and the safety of hostages.
Follow along with The Post’s live blog for the latest on Hamas’ attack on Israel
“Obviously they are in jeopardy,” Biden said of the captives during a joint press conference with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese. “The question is whether or not there’s any way of getting them out. If you [can] get them out, we should get them out.”
The US has already deployed a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense battery in the Middle East as well as Patriot missile system batteries in response to repeated attacks on American and coalition forces, Pentagon spokesman Air Force Gen. Patrick Ryder said Tuesday.
Additionally, an F-16 fighter jet squadron has arrived in the region “to further enhance the ability of US forces to defend themselves,” according to a Pentagon statement.
“The aircraft will work alongside an array of capabilities the Defense Department has sent to the region in recent days to further enhance the ability of US. forces to defend themselves.”
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Since Oct. 17, roughly two dozen US troops have suffered minor injuries in at least 10 drone and rocket attacks across Iraq and three in Syria by Tehran’s proxies, Ryder said.
The strikes are expected to become more frequent once Israel makes its incursion into Gaza, US defense officials predict.
On Tuesday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told The Post that while a ground invasion is “imminent,” Israel is planning to begin the offensive “in a way that maximizes the ability to predetermine the areas to hit and to minimize the loss of life.”
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is supplying Israel with two additional Iron Dome air-defense systems, officials said, along with “precision-guided munitions, small-diameter bombs, artillery, ammunition … interceptors and other critical equipment,” according to Ryder.
US forces in the region have not been tasked with directly fighting Hamas alongside Israel. Rather, the troops deployed there are on anti-ISIS missions.
However, some American special forces have been deployed to Israel to advise and assist with hostage recovery.