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Peace and Conflict

Government faces pressure as Gaza operation continues | Update 22 January 2024

Government faces pressure as Gaza operation continues via BICom

What’s happened: The IDF continue to operate deep in Khan Yunis, and have made advances in the south and west of the city. 

  • Defence Minister Gallant met with the families of hostages on Sunday and told them that as they advance in Khan Yunis, there are initial signs that reaching Hamas’s most sensitive areas is moving Israel closer to accomplishing the two supreme missions of the war.
  • On Sunday, the IDF released footage of a tunnel where hostages had been held underneath Khan Yunis.
  • In parallel, family members of the hostages set up a tent encampment outside the prime minister’s private home in Jerusalem. Gabriela Leimberg, who spent 53 days in captivity to Hamas, told the gathering, “Mr. Prime Minister, every day in captivity is hell. The soldiers and the hostages were abandoned on your watch. They are out of time. I ask you, rescue them and bring back all the bodies.”
  • On Sunday Prime Minister Netanyahu said, "We are continuing the war on all fronts and in all sectors. We are not giving immunity to any terrorist: Not in Gaza, not in Lebanon, not in Syria and not anywhere. Whoever tries to harm us, we will harm him.”
  • “Regarding our hostages, we have returned home – as of today – 110 of our hostages and we are obligated to returning all of them. This is one of the goals of the war and the military pressure is a necessary condition to achieving it.”
  • “Hamas is demanding, in exchange for the release of our hostages, the end of the war, the withdrawal of our forces from Gaza, the release of the murders and rapists of the Nukhba and leaving Hamas in place. Were we to agree to this – our soldiers would have fallen in vain. Were we to agree to this – we would not be able to ensure the security of our citizens. We would be unable to safely restore the evacuees to their homes and the next October 7 would be only a question of time. I am not prepared to accept such a mortal blow to the security of Israel; therefore, we will not agree to this.”

Context: The Israeli government continues to insist that military pressure is the best way to secure the release of more hostages, but faces increased pressure from the family of the hostages, from the US, and from the political opposition.  

  • The tents erected in Jerusalem are the latest efforts to ratchet up the pressure by the families of the hostages. After over 100 days the campaign is evolving. Over the weekend around 2,000 people protested outside the prime minister’s home in Caesaria.
  • On Thursday evening, seven protestors were detained after they blocked the main Tel Aviv highway – a tactic used by those campaigning against judicial reform last year.
  • Netanyahu and his government are also facing growing pressure from the US to present a diplomatic vision for the ‘day after’.
  • After three weeks of not speaking directly, Netanyahu said that he told President Biden over the weekend, “after we eliminate Hamas, there will no entity in Gaza that finances terrorism, educates for terrorism or sends terrorists. Gaza must be demilitarised, under Israel's full security control. I will not compromise on full Israeli security control of all territory west of the Jordan River.”
  • Netanyahu also declared, “My insistence is what has prevented, over the years, the establishment of a Palestinian state that would have constituted an existential danger to Israel. As long as I am Prime Minister, I will continue to strongly insist on this.”
  • In the past, going back to his Bar Ilan speech in 2009, through to the Trump Peace Plan Netanyahu has cautiously accepted the principle of a demilitarised Palestinian State. Articulating such an acceptance now is harder due to the constraints of his hard right coalition partners.      
  • Behind the scenes, it is thought that Israel could be prepared to make a deal that entails a diplomatic arrangement and the release of terrorists from prison, but not members of Hamas’s elite Nukhba force, members of which committed the October 7 massacre.
  • Despite international pressure, the IDF is not yet expected to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and will not let residents return to the northern Gaza Strip as long as the hostages are not returned.
  • Only then can reconstruction efforts begin, Israel says, led by the pro-stability Arab states.
  • Netanyahu’s reference to Lebanon and Syria comes as further attacks have been reported. According to Arab media sources, over the weekend five Iranian military officials from the IRGC  were killed in Damascus, alongside six Syrians. One of the Iranians, nicknamed Haji Sadek, had served as senior intelligence officer and in the past had been involved in targeting US assets in Syria.
  • In addition, Lebanese sources reported a strike on a car near Tyre. The targets were also thought to be connected to the IRGC.
  • Meanwhile, attacks from Lebanon into northern Israel have also continued, including an anti-tank missile that struck an empty home in Moshav Avivim, causing significant damage.  
  • To date, approximately 80,000 Israelis from northern communities are internally displaced due to Hezbollah’s rocket, mortar, drone, and anti-tank missile attacks from Lebanon since 7th October. These attacks have killed six civilians and nine soldiers.   
  • Similarly, the IDF have continued to attack Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, taking their overall casualties to 165 combatants.
  • Meanwhile, the Israeli government acquiesced to another US demand and approved releasing tax funds to the Palestinian Authority (PA).
  • However the security cabinet approved measures to ensure none of the money would reach Gaza. Instead, a new mechanism would see the money assigned to Gaza deposited in trust with a third country, Norway.  Both the US and Norway have committed not to pass it onto Gaza, nor via a loan. If the clause is broken, Finance Minister Smotrich has insisted that all money to the PA will be frozen.
  • The Shin Bet and Defence Ministry supported the release of the funds in order to maintain stability in the West Bank and ensure the PA can survive.
  • Despite last week’s agreement to allow medicine into Gaza, there is still no indication that the medicine reached the hostages.
  • At Israel’s request, at least 45 hostages who suffer from chronic diseases were supposed to receive various medicines, including insulin, asthma inhalers, medicine for high blood pressure and heart conditions. The French Foreign Ministry who facilitated the deal said yesterday that it had no information about where the medicines were, aside from the fact that they are in Gaza.
  • For the first time since the war began, the Labour Party will present a vote of no-confidence in the Knesset. Whilst it does not currently have the support even from all members of the opposition, it is a declaratory move indicating that, from the Labour Party’s perspective, the period of political grace is over.        

Looking ahead: Mounting pressure from the US, Egypt and Qatar could result in a return to negotiations for a hostage release deal. However, it is difficult to see Israel accepting Hamas’s terms.

  • According to the New York Times the US, the UK, and European officials are pressuring Israel to send humanitarian aid to Gaza via Israeli ports in order to alleviate the humanitarian crisis.

via BICom