HomeWorldIsraeli hostages create obstacles for retaliatory action against Hamas

Israeli hostages create obstacles for retaliatory action against Hamas

Analysis: Israeli Hostages Complicate Response to Hamas Incursion

Introduction: The recent deadly incursion by Hamas into Israel has presented Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a challenging dilemma. While he has vowed “mighty vengeance” against Hamas, the fate of the many Israelis taken hostage complicates the situation. This article explores the difficulties faced by Israel in delivering a strong response while upholding the principle of leaving no one behind.

Concern for Hostages Hinders Retaliatory Options

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s options for retaliating against Hamas are limited by the presence of Israeli hostages. The raid carried out by Hamas in Israeli towns resulted in the deaths of over 600 Israelis and the capture of several hostages. This incident marks the deadliest day for Israel since the 1973 war, adding to the complexity of the situation.

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Netanyahu’s promise of “mighty vengeance” is constrained by the need to ensure the safety of the Israeli soldiers, elderly individuals, women, and children held captive in Gaza. Israel faces the challenge of delivering a swift and forceful response while adhering to its longstanding principle of not leaving anyone behind.

The images of fellow citizens being taken hostage have deeply impacted Israelis, intensifying the emotional toll of the assault. A video shared by Ambassador David Saranga from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs captures the heart-wrenching grief of a young Israeli girl who lost her sister in the attack.

Israel’s past experiences with hostage crises complicate the situation further. In 2011, Israel exchanged hundreds of Palestinian prisoners for the release of one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who had been held captive for five years. However, with potentially dozens of hostages this time, such a lopsided exchange seems unlikely.

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The Challenge of Determining the Next Steps

“The cruel reality is Hamas took hostages as an insurance policy against Israeli retaliatory action,” explains Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The large number of hostages presents a significant constraint on how Israel can respond effectively.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry has expressed its commitment to freeing the hostages, damaging Hamas’s infrastructure, and preventing future harm to Israeli citizens. However, there are no easy choices. Attempting to rescue hostages held in different locations may put their lives at risk. On the other hand, engaging in protracted negotiations with Hamas for a prisoner swap would grant a significant victory to Israel’s arch-foe.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, recognizing the need for broader support, has invited opposition leaders to join a unity government. In doing so, he aims to strengthen the country’s response to the crisis.

The Personal Significance for Netanyahu

For Netanyahu, securing the freedom of hostages evokes painful personal memories. In 1976, his older brother, Lt Col Yonatan “Yoni” Netanyahu, was killed while leading a rescue mission at Entebbe airport in Uganda. This tragic event profoundly impacted the younger Netanyahu and shaped his future life.

The Entebbe incident followed another hostage crisis in 1972, when Israeli Olympic team members were taken captive at the athletes’ village in Munich. The subsequent rescue attempt resulted in the loss of several lives. In response, Israel carried out covert operations to eliminate those responsible for the attack.

The Scale of the Challenge in Gaza

Gaza presents a unique and complex challenge. Prime Minister Netanyahu has historically shown little inclination for ground campaigns. Moreover, Gaza’s densely populated nature, with over two million people living in a small strip of land under Hamas control, makes it a challenging environment for military operations.

While past Israeli operations targeted Hamas leaders through airstrikes and bombings, these actions have not dislodged the organization. Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri claims that they currently hold a significant number of Israeli captives, potentially enough to secure the release of all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

However, agreeing to such a prisoner exchange would be a politically difficult decision for Netanyahu or any Israeli leader. It would grant a significant victory to Hamas and other militant groups, raising concerns about future security.

The Path Forward: Negotiations as a Solution

According to Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center, negotiations appear to be the clearest way forward. He argues that the pain inflicted on the Palestinians through bombings or assassinations will not diminish the suffering Hamas has caused Israel.

Conclusion: The situation in Israel following the Hamas incursion poses significant challenges for Prime Minister Netanyahu. The presence of hostages complicates retaliatory options, forcing Israel to carefully consider its response. Negotiations and the delicate balance between securing the hostages and maintaining national security remain key considerations in the path forward.

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