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Israeli press review: Official warns 'absolute defeat' of Hamas not possible

Meanwhile, several members of the government believe Netanyahu is prolonging the war for political survival
An Israeli tank manoeuvres near the Israel-Gaza border on 16 January, 2024 (Reuters/Amir Cohen)
An Israeli tank manoeuvres near the Israel-Gaza border on 16 January 2024 (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

‘Absolute defeat’ of Hamas not possible

In a televised interview for Israel’s Channel 12, Israeli war cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot said that an “absolute defeat” of Hamas was not a realistic objective, putting him at odds with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“That is why we should not tell stories,” Eisenkot said. “Today, the situation already in the Gaza Strip is such that the goals of the war have not yet been achieved.”

Eisenkot’s remarks come after Netanyahu reportedly rejected the idea of holding elections during the war, which as reported by the Times of Israel, “could well continue into 2025”.

Netanyahu has reiterated his determination to “bring complete victory” over Hamas as a response to the 7 October attack. He and his government have, however, come under criticism for not having a “post-war” plan for Gaza.

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“The goals of the war have not yet been achieved, but the [number of soldiers on the ground] is now more limited… You have to think about what’s next,” Eisenkot said.

He also told Channel 12 that he does not believe the Israeli leadership is being honest with the public and hinted at starker criticism of Netanyahu.

“I am already at the stage and at an age where I do not trust this or that leader with my eyes closed, and I judge a man by his decisions and the way he leads the country,” he added.

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Eisenkot expressed his support for a deal that would return the Israeli hostages still held captive by Hamas.

“It needs to be said, bravely, that… it’s not possible to return the hostages, alive, in the near term, without a deal,” he said.

Most prominently, Eisenkot said he and National Unity party leader Benny Gantz were the ones who intervened to prevent Israel from preemptively attacking Lebanese armed group Hezbollah, which has been clashing with the Israeli army on the Lebanon-Israel border for the past three months.

According to him, Israel was about to strike the group on 11 October, but he and Gantz convinced officials to hold off.

“I think our presence there prevented Israel from making a grave strategic mistake,” he said.

War has ‘no purpose and no future’

Meanwhile, an anonymous person participating in Israeli war cabinet meetings told Haaretz that Israel’s current war in Gaza had “no purpose and no future, but prolonging it is [Netanyahu's] way of postponing engagement with the question of responsibility".

“In every meeting he emphasises that the war will continue for a long time, until its two goals – the collapse of Hamas and the return of the hostages – are achieved,” the source added.

“In terms of experience and intelligence, he surpasses everyone there, and in my opinion he knows there is a reasonable chance that the goals will not be reached and is simply stalling for time.”

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The source further claimed that the Israeli prime minister had no interest in the hostages due to the little time he gives to the topic during meetings.

According to the source, Israeli protests focusing on the hostages' return are a good sign, as they put a pause on the previous protest movement against Netanyahu's government.

This all makes it unlikely there will be a new deal to trade hostages for Palestinian security prisoners, as it would anger members of his government, such as Itamar Ben-Gvir, and risk a potential government collapse.

“This is also why he flees from the necessary discussion about ‘the day after,’” they added. “More than 100 days have gone by, and he has dedicated about half an hour to the most burning issue.

“Regarding bringing down Hamas, it is already obvious that there are areas [in Gaza] we will not enter, and the gains in the northern Strip are also disappearing. Everyone is waiting for the great fortune of finding [Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya] Sinwar in some tunnel, assassinating him and presenting the assassination as an image of victory.”

Haaretz also reports that several people in Israel’s government seem to believe the war’s prolongation has more to do with Netanyahu’s political survival than any stated military objectives.

Israel is 'stuck' in Gaza

On Thursday, prominent Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea wrote a column for Yedioth Ahronoth where he claimed that Israel cannot dismantle Hamas as long as the “Philadelphia Axis,” or the narrow corridor between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, remains “the lifeline of Hamas”.

Barnea argued that Israel needs Egypt in order to properly block this corridor, but that the latter’s commitment rests on Israeli agreement to involve the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, which Netanyahu refuses.

According to Barnea, Netanyahu has gone as far as repeatedly postponing discussing the matter.

Wondering if the prime minister simply wishes to keep his reputation as the man who blocked the creation of a Palestinian state, or that he simply fears losing radical supporters such as Ben-Gvir or Smotrich, Barnea concludes that Israel is “stuck” regardless of the motivations.

“The refusal to discuss and decide about the day after is gnawing at the goals achieved by the fighting forces with a lot of courage and a lot of blood. Not only gnawing - it endangers the achievements,” he wrote.

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