(Bloomberg) -- Israel probably won’t be able to defeat Hamas before the end of the year, its national security adviser said, underscoring the difficulty the country faces in achieving its stated aim of crushing the Islamist group in Gaza.

“We have another seven months of fighting to deepen the achievement and attain what we define as the destruction of the governmental and military capabilities of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad,” Tzachi Hanegbi said Wednesday in an interview with state broadcaster Kan. Islamic Jihad is a separate anti-Israel militant organization that also has fighters in Gaza. 

The comments will do little to raise the spirits of mediators like the US and Qatar, who want Israel and Hamas to hammer out a cease-fire deal but have seen talks stalled for months. The White House said Wednesday that a “fresh” proposal — that comes with a sign-off from Israel — has been offered in hopes of prompting additional negotiations between the two sides.

“Where President Biden’s head is trying to get this hostage deal done,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters when asked about Hanegbi’s remarks. “The time is now to do it, to get that temporary cease-fire and to end this conflict as soon as possible,” he said.

But Hanegbi reiterated Israel’s position that the near eight-month war in the Palestinian territory is “justified” and “necessary” to preserve national security after the attacks by Hamas militants on Oct. 7, which killed about 1,200 people and abducted 250 others. The resulting conflict amounts to a battle with Iran, he said, which supports Hamas among other Islamist groups around the Middle East. 

Read More: How Iran-Backed Groups Provoke Wider Mideast Conflict: QuickTake

“Iran is a superpower that has sent its proxies to surround us in a sort of chokehold, in order to exhaust us,” Hanegbi said. “They know they are not going to conquer Tel Aviv, but they want to break us, they want us to lose our way of life. They want people to stop moving to Israel and want others to leave the country.”


More than 35,000 Palestinians have died since the war began, according to health officials in the Hamas-run Gaza, while much of the enclave has been devastated by aerial and ground bombardments.

Israel says it has eliminated about 15,000 Hamas fighters during the campaign, but as many as 8,000 remain in the city of Rafah. Israeli tanks entered the center of the southern Gazan town this week, part of a long-planned incursion. Troops have achieved tactical control of the “Philadelphi Corridor,” the route that runs along the Gaza-Egypt border, and have located about 20 tunnels running under the border, a military official said on Wednesday. 

“Big news,” Naftali Bennett, a former Israeli prime minister, tweeted after the announcement. “This means we can block the influx of weapons and ammunition from the Sinai into Hamas hands.” 

The White House said the operation in the corridor didn’t come as a surprise and was in keeping with plans described by Israel to US officials.

Hamas’s most senior figures — including its leader, Yahya Sinwar, and his military chief, Mohammed Deif — are at large, and fighters have managed to regroup in parts of Gaza that the Israel Defense Forces cleared months ago.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has never set a timeline for what he calls “total victory,” and Hanegbi said the army always stated 2024 would be a year of fighting, many analysts believe Hamas has been more resilient than the Israeli army expected.

Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the US and European Union, operates in a vast tunnel network that Israeli forces have struggled to destroy and is able to fire rockets into Israel, albeit with far less frequency than in the early days of the conflict.

The war has inflamed the region and led to widespread criticism of Israel. The International Court of Justice published a ruling last week that many countries interpreted as ordering a halt to military activities in Rafah. And the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court is seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, as well as leaders of Hamas.

--With assistance from Josh Wingrove.

(Updates starting in third paragraph with White House comments)

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