Israelis Praise Hostage Release But Still Determined to Uproot Hamas – Mideast Experts
16:48 GMT 25.11.2023 (Updated: 10:27 GMT 30.01.2024)
Hamas released thirteen Israeli hostages on Friday and 14 more are due to be freed on Saturday as part of a deal with Tel Aviv. What do Israelis think of the agreement?
The four-day truce in the Gaza Strip kicked off on Friday at 8:00 am (GMT+2). As part of the agreement, Hamas will have to return 50 hostages taken during the October 7 attack in exchange for 150 Palestinian women and minors held in Israeli prisons.
On Friday, Hamas freed over two dozen hostages, including 13 Israelis, 10 Thai farm workers and a Filipino. Israel, for its part, freed 39 Palestinians while over 130 humanitarian aid trucks entered the Gaza Strip.
"The whole issue is on the Israeli hostages," Avi Melamed, a Middle East strategic intelligence analyst, told Sputnik. "The kidnapping, of course, is enormously significant for Israel or its government, for the people of Israel. Obviously, the commitment of the government is to bring back its citizens as well as soldiers who have been abducted. So obviously every return of hostages is a source of joy for their families."
Per Melamed, "we are looking at a long, agonizing process" given that Hamas is on the ropes due to the Israeli ground operation. According to him, Hamas is trying to "exhaust as much as possible discount of the hostages, because this is one of the few command cards Hamas has in its position to try to save its role in the Gaza Strip."
"Basically, what Hamas likes to do is to prolong as much as possible the whole process, like hoping that it will conflict with almost an endless chain of like short ceasefires," the strategic analyst explained. "In each one of them it will really release a couple of hostages and hope that through that never-ending process of constant ceasefire to these two days, four days, five days a week, it will actually dissolve or evaporate, if you wish, the Israeli military campaign. And so this is roughly speaking, Hamas' tactics."
22 November 2023, 16:05 GMT
'Battle of Nerves' Between Israel and Hamas
On October 7, Hamas and a number of other Palestinian Islamist groups launched a surprise attack from the Gaza Strip by shooting thousands of rockets against Israel and penetrating the nation's settlements, killing many civilians and soldiers and taking hostages.
On November 13, the Washington Post released information of the apparent plans of the attackers, claiming that Hamas considered a longer and deeper attack inside Israeli territory in the expectation that it would provoke an overwhelming response from Tel Aviv. According to the newspaper, Hamas was ready for sacrifices among the civilian population to trigger a giant wave of Palestinian resistance in the region, involving the West Bank, and thus bringing attention to the Palestinian cause and ending the ongoing Israel-Arab normalization.
"Hamas knows the sensitivity of Israeli public opinion, the sensitivity of the Israeli government," said Melamed. "It knows this is a nerve that he could pressure hard and he's pushing hard, hoping that there will be a constant and increasing pressure of the families of the hostages to force the Israeli government or to put pressure on the Israeli government to comply with Hamas' game of ceasefires just in order to see their beloved ones back home, which is, of course, very illegitimate."
"Israel on its end will use its cards, namely the military pressure, to push Hamas more and more to the wall and actually to shorten the process of chain of ceasefire that Hamas would like to do. It's a battle of nerves. And in that regard, Hamas has an advantage because of the fact that the Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip simply don't care about the people of Gaza. In their calculations, the agony or the misery or the software of the Gaza people is not something that has any relevance in their calculation. So in that way, Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip have an advantage, quote unquote, in conclusion to Israeli governments that at the end of the day, obviously put the well-being of the civilians and the citizens on top of priorities. So this is just another significant point that we have to be aware of with all the ramifications that comes along with that", continued the expert.
24 November 2023, 04:51 GMT
A 'Truce' or Just a Pause in Fighting?
The unfolding pause in fighting is not actually a "truce", per retired Brig. Gen. Dr. Meir Elran, a senior research fellow and head of three security programs at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
"This is how we see it here in Israel," Elran told Sputnik. "It's not a truce that might lead to some kind of negotiations between the fighting sides. This is not the situation anyway."
Per The Israel Defense Force (IDF) spokesman Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military will remain at their positions for the next few days, preparing to resume fighting when the truce ends.
"There is a concern about what's happening," the retired brigadier general said. "People are totally mistrustful of Hamas because of their conduct. And people are concerned and worried that it will not be carried out properly and we will not be able to see our hostages back."
24 November 2023, 18:05 GMT
Do All Israeli Political Parties Support the Truce?
Commenting on Tel Aviv's Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir's opposition to what he called a "disaster" hostage deal, the Israeli experts highlighted that only a small group of right-wing hardliners is against the development, while the majority of Israeli policy-makers hailed the agreement.
"There was a very small minority within the government, the party that belongs to the extreme right who voted against it. So this is as far as the government is concerned; with regard to the people at large, people are very, very supportive of this move," explained Elran.
"The very notion of a release of our hostages is being accepted overwhelmingly by Israeli citizens all over the political spectrum," he added.
Meanwhile, Ben-Gvir has threatened to resign from the Netanyahu cabinet if the Israeli ground operation against Hamas does not resume after the end of the four-day humanitarian pause.
"In his position, Ben Gvir also aims to send a message to the government," explained Melamed. "And this is in the context of the objective of the war from the Israeli side. And the objective of the war on the Israeli side was defined by the government to topple Hamas in the Gaza Strip. So he kind of makes a signal or a statement to the government that the objective has to be achieved with no way to compromise whatever the price is. So I think this is yet another thing that can explain his position."
Melamed pointed out that the Israeli government agrees on the necessity to eradicate Hamas – designated as a terrorist organization by Tel Aviv – in the Gaza Strip. Since the IDF withdrawal from the strip in 2005, Hamas and Israel have repeatedly waged military actions against each other.
In contrast to the Palestinian Authority (PA) that governs the West Bank and acknowledges Israel's right to exist, backing the two-state solution, Hamas sticks to its updated Chart (2017) which stands for non-recognition of Israel; liberating Palestine – the geographical area covering the state of Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – from "Zionists"; and justification of the "resistance against Zionist occupation" by all means possible.