Israel’s excitement over the hostage rescue may have been fleeting

For months, Israelis heard only about hostages being killed or declared dead in Gaza. The “lucky” families are those whose relatives’ remains were recovered by soldiers in dangerous circumstances and brought back to Israel for burial.

So Saturday’s daring rescue of the four surviving hostages immediately lifted morale in Israel and delivered at least a temporary victory for the country’s embattled prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

But by Sunday, the euphoria had given way to a harsher reality. According to Gaza health officials, the intense air and ground attack that accompanied the rescue killed dozens of Palestinians, including civilians, puncturing Israeli claims that the operation was a resounding success, at least internationally. According to analysts, this operation has failed to resolve any of the deep problems and challenges plaguing the Israeli government.

Eight months into the brutal war in Gaza, Israel still appears to be far from achieving its stated goals of eliminating Hamas’s military and administrative capabilities. And Israelis worry that time is running out for many hostages in Gaza. About a third of the remaining 120 people were declared dead by Israeli authorities.

At the same time, Israel’s leadership is grappling with escalating hostilities across its northern border with Lebanon and with growing international isolation and opposition to the war in Gaza, including chief accusations of genocide is being tried by the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

Nahum Barnea, a leading Israeli political columnist, wrote in the popular Yediot Ahronot newspaper on Sunday that the rescue mission “failed to solve one of the problems facing Israel since the 7th.” October”.

“It doesn’t solve the problem in the north; it does not solve the problem in Gaza; and it does not solve the host of other problems that threaten Israel on the international stage,” he added.

The stability of Netanyahu’s government is at stake.

Pressure is increasing on the Israeli government to reach an agreement with Hamas to release all remaining hostages. But the fate of Israel’s proposed ceasefire and exchange of hostages and prisoners, as well outlined by President Biden over a week ago, still not sure. The Biden administration and Israeli officials said they were still waiting for an official response from Hamas to determine whether negotiations could continue.

Israelis are currently debating whether the hostage rescue operation will help or hinder the prospects for such a deal – one that, if it goes ahead, could threaten Netanyahu’s hold on powerwith far-right members of his ruling coalition vowing to resign and overthrow his government.

The release of the four hostages could strengthen the arguments of those who believe that Israeli military pressure on Hamas and continued ground operations in Gaza are necessary to bring the remaining hostages home.

But for many Israelis and relatives of the dozens of remaining hostages, the return of only four made the obvious obvious – that such complex military operations could probably save only one. few of them and posed great risks to the army.

The Israeli media paid little attention heavy death toll reported by officials in Gaza as a result of rescue operations. Neither the Israeli military nor Palestinian health officials provided details about the civilians and fighters killed in the raid.

The military’s chief spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, spelled out the limits of what the military can do in a briefing with reporters Saturday, saying of the remaining hostages, “We I know that we cannot carry out operations to rescue everyone. among them because there are not always conditions that allow it.” The largest number of hostages released – more than a hundred – were released under a previous agreement on a temporary ceasefire and exchange of hostages and prisoners in November.

The operation also underscored Israel’s predicament: Without ground forces, the military would be unable to mount any such rescue operation or continue to destroy Hamas’s capabilities. But Hamas has made any progress on the hostage deal on the condition that Israel commit to a permanent ceasefire and withdraw all troops from Gaza.

For Hamas – which lost its four remaining negotiating advantages on Saturday – Israel’s deadly operation could strengthen its position. The group hinted that the rescue operation could make things worse for the remaining captives.

A spokesman for the group’s military wing, Abu Obeida, said in a statement Saturday: “This operation will pose great danger to enemy prisoners and will have a negative impact on conditions and their lives”.

Experts say some remaining hostages may now be moved from civilian apartment buildings, like those of the four rescued on Saturday, to harsher conditions in the tunnels underground, where they will be harder to reach.

“Hamas will try to learn lessons” from the operation, said Avi Kalo, an Israeli lieutenant colonel in the reserves and former head of a military intelligence department focused on soldiers missing in action. This and take extra precautions to keep the hostages out of reach.

“For Hamas, this is not a turning point,” he said, adding that the group still holds many hostages. “Four less is not something that changes reality significantly,” he added.

Some Israelis are comparing Saturday’s big betting operation to the legendary campaign Entebbe’s raid nearly 50 years ago, when Israeli commandos rescued more than a hundred hostages, mostly Israelis, who were being held by pro-Palestinian plane hijackers in Uganda. Netanyahu’s brother Yonatan, who commanded that raid, was killed in the mission.

Netanyahu himself sought to link the two on Sunday, announcing that like the Entebbe raid retroactively named Operation Yonatan, in memory of his brother, the government had accepted the military’s proposal. the team named Saturday’s raid “Operation Arnon,” in honor of Arnon. Zamora, an Israeli special police officer, was killed in a firefight while on duty in Gaza.

Many Israelis have accused Netanyahu, whose approval ratings plummeted after October 7, of trying to exploit the rescue by rushing to greet the freed hostages at a hospital near Tel Aviv, where they are recovering and reunited with their families.

His office later released a series of photos and video clips from the hospital, where Netanyahu also made a public statement, breaking with the Jewish practice of avoiding government operations on the Sabbath.

Relatives of the hostages who have not returned said they have not received any such personal attention from the prime minister. Avi Marciano, whose daughter Noa, a soldier, was kidnapped on October 7 and killed in Gaza, wrote on Facebook parcel on Saturday, in the six months since her death was announced, “The Prime Minister has not come. He hasn’t called yet.”

One of the highlights of the government’s evolving policy, or lack thereof, was the decision Sunday by Benny Gantz, a former army chief and Mr. Netanyahu’s main political rival, to withdraw the party. Unifying his centrist Nation out of the wartime emergency government.

Mr. Gantz joined the government shortly after Oct. 7 in what he said was a sense of national responsibility and became a key member of Mr. Netanyahu’s war cabinet. Three weeks ago, he issued an ultimatum, saying he would withdraw from the government by June 8 unless Netanyahu outlined a clear and strategic path forward, including making decisions and plans on how to release the remaining hostages in Gaza and manage the country after the war. territory, among many other issues.

Mr. Gantz had planned to address the nation on Saturday night, but because of the hostage rescue he postponed his highly anticipated announcement by 24 hours. His party’s departure will not immediately cause the government to collapse; Netanyahu and his remaining partners still have a majority in Parliament.

But Mr. Gantz accused Mr. Netanyahu of delaying key decisions for narrow political reasons, sending a clear signal that even after Saturday’s dramatic raid, not much has changed. .


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