UPDATES

After the Israel-Hamas ceasefire for hostages deal

Nov 29, 2023 | AIJAC staff

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Update 11/23 #02

 

We are now in the second day of a two day extension to the ceasefire for hostages deal between Israel and Hamas that went into effect last Friday, in which more than 70 hostages have been released in exchange for almost 200 female and minor Palestinian prisoners. While there is some discussion that the deal may be further extended, this Update looks at the national mood in Israel during the ceasefire, and what is likely to follow it.

We lead with Times of Israel Editor David Horovitz explaining how Hamas is seeking to exploit Israel’s love of life and solidarity with the families of the hostages to obtain a variety of advantages. He particularly focuses on some manipulation that occurred on Saturday, when Hamas repeatedly delayed the scheduled hostage release, insisting Israel was not keeping to the deal, in an apparent attempt at either psychological warfare or to obtain additional concessions. Horovitz notes that Israel believes it is still less than half-done with its mission to uproot Hamas’ military capabilities from Gaza, but that resuming attacks becomes more difficult the longer the ceasefire continues. For his analysis of how the current ceasefire will likely end, CLICK HERE.

Next up, veteran Israeli political writer Herb Keinon attempts to explain the bittersweet and complex feelings of Israelis as hostages are being released – as epitomised by the story of four-year-old Avigail Idan, who has now been released, but whose mother and father were both murdered on October 7. Keinon notes that Hamas head Yahya Sinwar is doubtless trying to play on the emotions stirred up inside Israel by the hostage releases – but Sinwar is wrong to think anything will change Israeli determination to see Hamas defeated. For this moving portrait of what Israelis are experiencing this week, CLICK HERE.

Finally, US-based analyst and commentator Seth Mandel reviews evidence indicating that Hamas is lying about its lack of control over many of the hostages in Gaza to maximise the benefits it can reap from them. He notes several facts that show Hamas is simply playing a shell game – including its ability to suddenly come up with new hostages when it wanted to extend the ceasefire, and also complete success in preventing other Gaza factions from breaching it. He urges the US not to draw the incorrect conclusion that Hamas has become trustworthy because the letter of the current agreement has largely been adhered to. For Mandel’s complete argument, CLICK HERE.

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Hamas’ hostage manipulations show how much control it continues to hold over Gaza

The amoral, barbaric terror-government plays cynical games with the families, with Israel, and even forces Biden to get involved. Of course it does. And it must be dismantled

By DAVID HOROVITZ 

Times of Israel, 27 November 2023


The aftermath of the October 7 attack on Kibbutz Beeri – Doing deals with an amoral, savage terrorist regime is a dangerous and difficult thing to do (Photo: Shutterstock, Roman Yanushevsky). 

 

The trouble with trying to do deals with an amoral, savage terrorist regime that has just slaughtered over 1,000 of your people, abducted over 200 to its underground hell, and is trying to destroy your country, is, well, precisely that you are dealing with an amoral, savage terrorist regime that has just slaughtered over 1,000 of your people, abducted over 200 to its underground hell, and is trying to destroy your country.

Israel’s political leaders gradually internalized that doing everything possible to achieve the return of as many of those hostages as possible was the most urgent priority of its fightback against Hamas after October 7. They realized that there could be no victory, no matter how successful the IDF’s assault on Hamas, without the return of all of the hostages or at least without the government being recognized by the people of Israel as having done everything in its power to get all the hostages back. Otherwise, even the demolition of Hamas and the deterring of Israel’s other enemies would not be sufficient to restore public faith in the political and military leadership that so failed them on October 7 by ignoring Hamas’s open preparations for its monstrous assault on our people.

But as expected, Hamas is exploiting Israelis’ love of life to extract every possible advantage from the current four-day lull in the IDF’s war on its Gaza killing machine. The first day’s scheduled release of hostages, on Thursday, didn’t happen at all. Postponed to Friday, it only went ahead amid further delays. Saturday’s phase two was an exercise in orchestrated psychological terror, with Hamas first stating that it had transferred the hostages to the Red Cross, immediately saying it hadn’t, and then issuing spurious accusations against Israel for not supplying as much fuel and humanitarian aid as promised and releasing the wrong Palestinian security prisoners.

Toying not just with Israel, and especially the families of those who had been told to expect their loved ones’ releases, Hamas also made fools of the Qatari and Egyptian interlocutors, and even compelled the leader of the free world to get directly involved, with US President Joe Biden working the phones to get the process back on track. With Israel reportedly threatening to resume the ground offensive if the hostages were not in Israeli hands by midnight, Hamas deigned to go through with Saturday’s phase, while breaching a reported commitment not to release hostage children without their hostage mothers.

As of this writing, there’s no knowing how Sunday’s phase three of the releases will play out, if at all. As IDF Spokesman Daniel Hagari said on Saturday night, “nothing is final until it actually happens.” Or to quote Biden on Friday, “I don’t trust Hamas to do anything right. I only trust Hamas to respond to pressure.”

Not halfway done
For now, it would seem, seven weeks into the Israeli effort to tear it apart, Hamas seems to be holding together quite effectively. The best estimate is that perhaps 4,000-5,000 of its gunmen are dead; that leaves another 20,000-25,000 who are not.

Israel controls much of northern Gaza, and has destroyed much of Hamas’s infrastructure there, but most of the Hamas tunnel network in the north may well still be intact. According to former generals including Amos Yadlin, Yisrael Ziv and Giora Eiland, the ground operation is certainly not even half-completed, with central and southern Gaza yet to be tackled, notably including Hamas strongholds such as Khan Younis. And the logistics of fighting in southern Gaza, now unprecedentedly populated with its own residents and hundreds of thousands of evacuees from the north, will present immense challenges to the IDF, even as almost all of the international community steps up pressure for a permanent ceasefire.

Yahya Sinwar, the presumed orchestrator of both October 7 and Hamas’s viciously cynical self-preservation tactics since — including the sacrifice of any and all Gazan noncombatants to the cause of his Jew-killing, Israel-destroying, Islamist death cult — would appear to remain in highly effective control of much of the Strip. And if it’s not him, then it’s others in the leadership.


The hostages for ceasefire arrangement seems to confirm that Hamas leader Yayha Sinwar – a key architect of the October 7 attacks – continues to have highly effective control over most of Gaza. (Photo: Shutterstock, Anas-Mohammed). 

Since the truce went into effect, and as of this writing, it has been near-impeccably maintained — by Hamas and every other terrorist outfit in the Strip — belying widely cited assessments in Israel that Hamas might prove unable to impose the halt in fighting on all the armed Israel-haters in Gaza.

Saturday night’s grim theatrics also suggested a leadership managing events, pushing psychological terror to the limits, and knowing when to climb down.

And the mechanics of the deal itself show tactical and strategic cunning. There is an emphasis on fuel entering the Strip — fuel that Israel knows will be subverted for the Hamas war machine — as part of a wider humanitarian aid influx that the US has been pressuring Israel to allow throughout the war.

Meanwhile, the daily releases of West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinian security prisoners — albeit not convicted murderers, but many would-be murderers, several of them notorious figures — have seen scenes of celebration that point to rising popularity for Hamas, at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, as the liberator of freedom fighters.

Unfathomably, unconscionably and catastrophically surprised by Hamas on October 7, the IDF says it has held the upper hand in every confrontation with the terrorist army since the ground operation began, and appears to have anticipated at least some of Hamas’s planned deadly surprises.

Troops have been astounded by the sheer quantity of deadly weaponry used and prepared for use against them — the endless rows of booby-trapped homes, the huge quantities of anti-tank rockets, the vast tunnel network — but they have tackled it resolutely.

The ruins left behind as they have proceeded through the north of the Strip will take years to rebuild, the IDF acknowledges. Given the high stakes — the imperative to dismantle a terrorist army that fully intends to regroup and massacre Israelis again and again if allowed to — the military is ordering airstrikes in circumstances it would not have done in the past, with consequent noncombatant casualties, while insisting it is acting within the laws of war and the framework of proportionality.

Back to the war
Hamas is widely expected to seek to string out the current pause in fighting, under a four-day deal for 50 hostages that can be extended an extra day for every 10 more hostages that it releases. The longer the pause, the more complicated for the IDF to resume the ground offensive — especially if Hamas can encourage and force large numbers of northern Gazan evacuees to return to that part of the war zone — and the greater the international pressure for a full ceasefire.

Israelis are not united behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but they are near universally supportive of the war’s mission to dismantle Hamas and get back the hostages. That certainly remains the plan: As IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said on Saturday, “We will return immediately, at the end of the ceasefire, to attacking Gaza, to maneuver in Gaza. We will do it to dismantle Hamas and also to create great pressure to return as quickly as possible and as many hostages as possible, down to the last one of them… We have an obligation to fight and also to risk our lives so that [Israeli citizens] can return to live in safety.”


IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi: “We will return immediately, at the end of the ceasefire, to attacking Gaza, to maneuver in Gaza. We will do it to dismantle Hamas and also to create great pressure to return as quickly as possible and as many hostages as possible” (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

To put it in the starkest terms, Israelis know this country has no future if the fighting ends with Hamas still a threat, Sinwar still standing, Hezbollah laughing from across the northern border with 10 times the military muscle, and Iran arming, training and inspiring its proxies while proceeding toward the bomb.

“Dismantling” Hamas, to Halevi, is understood to include neutralizing as many of those gunmen as possible, neutralizing Hamas’s commanders, and destroying Hamas’s weaponry, control systems and infrastructure. It is no small task, and even if achieved, is not the end of the challenge.

Support for the antisemitic, anti-infidel ideology predates Israel, and will not be destroyed even if Hamas is defanged as a fighting force. But a post-war Gaza would be one in which terror groups do not rule and cannot rearm — as Hamas was able to do these past years, including with truckloads of materials for weapons manufacture from across the Egyptian border — and in which those many regional players who detest Hamas and fear Iran should be encouraged to play a role.

But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Right now, there’s a lull in fighting that Hamas is determined to exploit. An Israel yearning for its hostages to be home —  with the families whose loved ones have not been freed, and may not be for a long time, showing astounding nobility and solidarity. International pressure for a permanent ceasefire. A wide, essential determination in Israel to ensure the campaign indeed demolishes Hamas. And a key figure, amid pressures of his own, providing moral clarity and support.

In his remarks on Friday, Biden said he saw a “real chance” that the current pause could be extended — not into a long-term ceasefire but to enable more hostages to be released. He was explicit in supporting Israel’s effort, under Netanyahu, to destroy Hamas: “I’ve encouraged the prime minister to focus on trying to reduce the number of casualties while he is attempting to eliminate Hamas, which is a legitimate objective he has,” said the president. “That’s a difficult task, and I don’t know how long it will take.”

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of “Still Life with Bombers” (2004) and “A Little Too Close to God” (2000), and co-author of “Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin” (1996).

 


Israel’s emotional odyssey: Joy, sorrow, and the will to survive

Over the last four days, there have been several tear-inducing images that will forever be engraved in this country’s collective memory.

By HERB KEINON
Jerusalem Post, NOVEMBER 27, 2023
The return of 4-year-old Avigail Idan on Sunday – seen here with her aunt and uncle in hospital – whose parents were both murdered in the October 7 attacks, has become a symbol of the bittersweet nature of the hostage releases for Israelis (Photo: Courtesy of Schneider Children’s Hospital)
 

A headline on the front page of Monday’s Yediot Aharonot, under a picture of four-year-old Avigail Idan, who returned from Hamas captivity on Sunday, encapsulates the emotional whiplash Israelis are experiencing.

“Avigal is home, without mom or dad,” the headline read.

The first part of that headline elicits a tremendous sense of joy and gladness: Thank God, after 51 days in the hands of brutal terrorists, little Avigail is home and safe.

But then comes the headline’s dependent clause: “without mom and dad,” and all that joy melts away because of the realization that Avigail is an orphan, her parents murdered by Hamas on October 7 at Kfar Aza.

From the heights of joy to the depths of sorrow in five Hebrew words.

And that sums up what the country has been going through since Friday when some of the hostages started to come home: tremendous happiness at lives reborn; tremendous sadness as some of the hostages, like Avigail, are returning to shattered families and homes.

Tremendous joy for the relatives of those returning; immense sorrow for those whose own relatives continue to languish in Hamas captivity.

Tremendous pride that we live in a land that sanctifies life and is willing to make great sacrifices to ensure it; immense concern that the terrorists Israel released and will be releasing to win the hostages’ return will lead to even more terrorism.

Tremendous relief that the country has—because of the truce—gone a couple of days without the horrid morning ritual of waiting to hear whether any more names of fallen soldiers from the day before have been “cleared for publication”; gut-wrenching anxiety that this ritual will begin again when the fighting restarts.

A typographic poster is making the rounds on Facebook that, quoting from Ecclesiastes, sums up Israel’s emotional landscape right now so well: “‘A time to weep, and a time to laugh … a time to embrace…’ And sometimes, it’s all at once.”

There are tears of joy, and there are tears of sorrow. Generally, however, they are not shed simultaneously by the same person. That is not the case today. Now, the two are commingling: warring sentiments, opposing emotions.

The survivors of Kfar Aza gathered on Sunday in an events hall at Kibbutz Shefayim, where they are staying, to watch together the release Sunday of the 14 hostages, including Avigail and nine others from Kfar Aza.

One woman, a neighbor of both the Brodutch and Almog-Goldstein families – each a family where the mother and three children were returning   – could hardly breathe during a Channel 12 interview during which she shed tears of joy that her neighbors were being released while weeping in sorrow for those of her neighbors either not coming home or killed during the Simchat Torah massacre. Then she let out an emotional cry of “Shema Yisrael” and collapsed into her husband’s chest.

The emotional events over the last several days

Over the last four days, there have been several tear-inducing images that will forever be engraved in this country’s collective memory.


Israelis have witnessed many scenes that will forever be engraved in the country’s collective memory over the last few days – including the reunification of 9-year-old Emily Hand, who was initially thought to have been murdered, with her father. (Photo: IDF). 

There was nine-year-old Emily Hand running into the arms of her weeping father when reunited at the hospital. There was the image of three-year-old Yael Shoham sitting on a van in the dead of night, her little feet nowhere near touching the ground, waiting to be brought back to freedom.

And then there were hundreds of residents from Ofakim, a community that had experienced its own harrowing trauma and lost approximately 50 residents in the October 7 massacres, lining the route that the vans with the released hostages traversed on Sunday night, heading to Hatzerim Air Force Base and then to hospitals. They waved flags, cheered, and, in some instances, literally jumped for joy as the vehicles passed carrying the released hostages – people they’ve never met before but with whom they feel an intense bond of solidarity.

If all had gone as planned over the last four days – if all the hostages had been released as agreed in good time without any tricks, delays or manufactured drama –  it would still have been a tumultuous emotional journey.But all things did not run like clockwork, something to be expected when dealing with a terrorist organization for whom nothing is sacred, least of all its word.

So the built-in emotional upheaval of the moment was compounded by not knowing for sure when and if the hostage releases would even take place until – as was the case on Saturday and to a lesser degree on Monday – much later than expected. The anxiety born of that uncertainty gripped the nation and frayed its nerves.

Hamas head Yahya Sinwar is obviously aware of the flood of emotions this has unleashed. Sinwar is trying to play on those emotions, and capitalize on them. His hope is that in this emotional whirlwind, Israel will lose its compass, be blinded by the emotional upheaval, perhaps crippled by it and give in or give up, saying enough is enough, it’s time to end the war and pay any price, including the price of ending the war, to win the release of the remaining 166 hostages.

But he misreads the mood in Israel. Sinwar thinks that the emotions engendered by the hostage release, together with international pressure, will turn this temporary pause in the war into a complete stop. But he overestimates the power of emotions, because beyond emotions, Israelis – like everyone – are driven by a will to survive, an instinct that compels them to take actions aimed at ensuring that survival.

And most Israelis, even amid the emotional tempest they are currently experiencing, understand now better than ever that to survive in this cruel region, Hamas must be roundly defeated – a goal that has yet to be achieved.

Herb Keinon is a senior contributing editor and analyst at the Jerusalem Post. 

 


Hamas Is Lying About the Hostages

by Seth Mandel

Commentary, November 28. 2023


The ten women released on Tuesday, Nov. 28 as part of the two-day ceasefire extension. Their release shows that Hamas claims if does not have control over more female and minor hostages than the 50 it initially agreed to release was a deception. 

 

The news that Israel and Hamas/Qatar have agreed in principle to a two-day extension of the ceasefire means about 20 more Israeli hostages might come home in the coming days. It also shows Hamas’s ability to manipulate everyone else involved in the conflict’s diplomatic element. The ceasefire flips the power dynamic in a way that lets the one non-state actor here tell everyone else what to do. That is because, simply, Israel values life and Hamas cherishes death—anyone’s death.

It is also because Hamas is in a position to lie effectively, so President Biden should pay close attention to how much he can trust the terrorists across the border while absorbing mounting pressure to tie Israel’s hands before the Jewish state can ensure its own safety and security going forward.

Most debriefing of the newly freed Israeli hostages will have to wait until they receive medical care and are integrated back into daily life. But one piece of important information has already come out: 13-year-old Hila Rotem Shoshani was, according to the girl herself, held together with her mother until Hamas separated the two a couple weeks ago. Hila’s 54-year-old mother, Raya, is still in captivity.

Hamas lied when it agreed to release mothers with their daughters. But there’s a more distressing lie here: Hamas’s claim not to know Raya’s whereabouts.

The exposure of this lie pairs nicely with yet another.

Hamas’s strategy for prolonging the ceasefire, and thus the terror group’s time in power and ability to prepare for another round of war with Israel, requires a specific level of ambiguity. Hamas cannot refuse to return more captives without triggering the end of the ceasefire. It also cannot gain an extension without a list of names that it believes it could return to Israel. So the solution, from Hamas’s standpoint, is to claim it needs more time to locate the other hostages and secure their custody.

Why wouldn’t Hamas know where some of the captives are being held? Because, the Financial Times reports, “Hamas has told Qatar that its fighters did not capture civilians, blaming it on other militant groups and Palestinians who rampaged through southern Israel after fighters broke through the Israeli security barriers around Gaza, [Qatari Prime Minister] Sheikh Mohammed said. When the hostage deal was brokered, it was agreed 50 women and children would be released because that was the number Hamas said it had been able to secure, Sheikh Mohammed said.”

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani may or may not believe his own statement, but it doesn’t really matter. Two paragraphs later the Financial Times makes clear: “Video posted on social media on the day of the October 7 attacks, as well as footage collected by the Israeli military in subsequent weeks, showed Hamas fighters, some in uniform, and other Palestinians going through Israeli houses killing civilians and taking others captive.”

The fact that anyone would pretend to need video proof to believe Hamas harms civilians in the year 2023 shows us the level of intellectual dishonesty we’re dealing with. According to the IDF, Hamas seems to have kidnapped some of the hostages and transferred them into a different faction’s custody. If true, that goes even further toward exposing what a sick and farcical shell game this whole hostage negotiation is. And one of those believed to be in that group of hostages is a ten-month-old child. A baby.


The Bibas family, including 10-month-old Kfir and four-year-old Ariel, was reportedly taken hostage by Hamas and then transferred to another Gaza terror group – exposing the shell game being played with the hostages (Photo: Courtesy of family members)

It’s also worth noting, as Seth Frantzman did last night, that whatever lack of communication Hamas has with “other groups” in Gaza didn’t get in the way of a relatively clean ceasefire. The agreement was with Hamas, but everyone stopped shooting at Israelis. Either Hamas has tight control of Gaza… or Iran does.

You know who doesn’t have control of Gaza? Qatar. The filthy rich middleman. Good work if you can get it.

Hamas is lying in order to stay in power and continue murdering and torturing innocents. It cannot be allowed to succeed. That’s the whole ballgame. Everything else is noise, and Biden should filter it out.

Seth Mandel is senior editor of Commentary.

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