Israel's aim of destroying Hamas incompatible with saving hostages: Israeli generals

Israel's aim of destroying Hamas incompatible with saving hostages: Israeli generals
With Israel not meeting its stated objectives in its war on Gaza, military leaders are saying diplomacy is the only way to free hostages.
3 min read
21 January, 2024
There is an increasing consensus that Israel's war aims of eliminating Hamas and freeing hostages are incompatible [Gaza]

Israel’s stated objectives of eradicating Hamas and freeing hostages in its war on Gaza are considered mutually incompatible by some within the Israeli military high command, according to a New York Times report on Saturday.

At this stage of the war, Israel's control over Gaza is more limited than initially anticipated in Israel's initial battle plans, as per documents reviewed by the US newspaper.

The slow progress has caused some commanders to privately voice their frustrations regarding the far-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strategy for Gaza. They have come to believe that securing the release of over 100 Israeli hostages in Gaza is achievable only through diplomatic channels, rather than military action.

According to discussions between the NYT and four senior Israeli generals, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, the twin goals of rescuing the hostages and dismantling Hamas are now seen as fundamentally conflicting objectives.

The generals believe that a drawn-out battle intended to fully dismantle Hamas would most likely cost the lives of the Israeli hostages held in Gaza since October 7.

The generals highlight a conflict between the time required for Israel to completely dismantle Hamas, which involves a prolonged and challenging battle in the group’s extensive network of underground tunnels, and the mounting pressure from Israel’s allies to conclude the war swiftly due to the massive civilian death toll.

The civilian death toll has now surpassed 25,000, with even the US, which is Tel Aviv’s major ally, saying that this is too high. Israel also faces charges of genocide brought against it by South Africa at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) amid increasing international alarm at the level of death and destruction in Gaza.

In November, Hamas released over 100 hostages but stated it would not free the remaining captives unless Israel fully halts its military actions. It is believed that most of the remaining hostages are held by Hamas cells within the vast underground tunnel network that stretches beneath Gaza.

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This situation was highlighted by Gadi Eisenkot, a former army chief serving in the war cabinet, who openly stated that Israel has simply failed to meet its war aims, while emphasising his view on prioritising civilian rescue.

“For me, there’s no dilemma. The mission is to rescue civilians, ahead of killing an enemy.” Eisenkot said.

Families of the hostages are also increasingly losing faith in the Netanyahu government and calling for it to seek diplomacy over what seems like a never-ending war.

The situation, however, is made worse by pressure from Netanyahu's far-right coalition partners to expand military operations and completely defy the objections of the US and other allies to the high death toll in Gaza, as well as the fears expressed by military commanders.

This, along with Netanyahu’s failure to annunciate a viable post-war plan for Gaza, has led to battlefield indecision and confusion throughout the ranks of the military.

Despite the doubts of military commanders, Netanyahu has dismissed the idea of stopping the war and has insisted that Israel can achieve its war aims.

“Halting the war before the goals are achieved will broadcast a message of weakness,” he said in a speech on Thursday.