After three years as President Biden’s quiet man at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III stepped off his plane at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on Monday and into the limelight.
Mr. Austin is scheduled to meet with Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. U.S. officials said the meetings would discuss in detail when and how Israeli forces will carry out a new phase of the war that American officials envision would involve smaller groups of elite forces that would move in and out of population centers in Gaza, conducting more precise, intelligence-driven missions to find and kill Hamas leaders, rescue hostages and destroy tunnels.
It is Mr. Austin’s second visit to the region since Israel launched the war in Gaza in retaliation for the Hamas-led terrorist attack on Oct. 7. During previous meetings and conversations with Israeli officials, Mr. Austin has stressed both the Biden administration’s support for Israel and concerns about the rising Palestinian death toll.
Pentagon officials say Mr. Austin is well equipped to deliver the message about the need to protect civilians. The retired four-star general brings a wealth of military experience in combat, including urban warfare. Early U.S. efforts to target the Taliban and insurgents in Afghanistan in 2004. The troop “surge” in Iraq in 2007. The planning to pry Mosul, Iraq, from the hands of the Islamic State in 2016. Mr. Austin was involved in all of that.