In the aftermath of Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre, the thinking of Israel’s political and military leadership has undergone a sea change, Israel’s National Security Council Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said on Tuesday.
Speaking at a press conference, Hanegbi reiterated Israel’s goal of destroying Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad as military and political entities.
“These monstrous terrorist organizations must never again be allowed to control the Gaza Strip,” he said, adding that the decision had been reached unanimously following long hours of discussion by the country’s war and security cabinets.
“I believe that this is also the view of a decisive majority of the Israeli public,” he said. No Israeli would now say that the price of a campaign against Hamas is too high, said Hanegbi, adding that it was inconceivable to return to a situation in which Israel’s border communities are under mortal threat.
The entire leadership, from the cabinet to the heads of the security services, have undergone “a mental change,” said Hanegbi. The conceptions under which the cabinet and security services had operated since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip 16 years ago have vanished, he added.
For example, he continued, the government has jettisoned the idea of “rounds” and “operations,” referring to the periodic outbursts of fighting in which the Israel Defense Forces would seek to suppress, but not destroy, Hamas in order to achieve periods of calm.
“The massacre on October 7 dispelled the illusion that the enemy would not dare to risk its complete destruction,” he said.
Referring to the possibility of a second front opening up in the north with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hanegbi said that a large number of reserve forces are deployed and ready on the Lebanese border, and that civilians near the border had been evacuated to ensure their safety.
Asked by a reporter if Israel can live with the Hezbollah threat in the north, particularly given the change in strategic vision he had just described, the NSC adviser admitted it was an excellent question, and “one we are all asking.”
Opening up a second front with Hezbollah at this time would play into the enemy’s hands, he said. Israel’s enemies wish to disperse its forces and shake its focus, so while Israel is prepared for a campaign in the north, it’s attempting “not to be dragged into one,” he continued.
However, the day after Hamas is destroyed, Israel will be obligated to take action in the north as well, he said.
The NSC adviser described as a “supreme goal” of the prime minister the return of the more than 240 hostages still in Hamas’s hands.
Addressing concerns that the military’s push into Gaza endangers the hostages, Hanegbi pointed to the rescue by the IDF of Pvt. Ori Megidish, (a female soldier, who served as a spotter at an army base near the Gaza border, and was captured on Oct. 7).
He said there were no negotiations going on at this time and the mass freeing of the hostages isn’t “on the horizon.” He noted that Hamas now seems less interested in the freeing of its members held in Israeli prisons as part of an exchange than in its own “survival and immunity from our continued activities.”
Hanegbi thanked the United States for its support, which he described as of “enormous value” to Israel in carrying out its “unprecedentedly powerful campaign against terrorism.”
To maintain that support, he said, it was important that Israel continue to distinguish between terrorists and civilians and allow noncombatants to reach safe zones in the south of the Gaza Strip where foreign aid can reach them.
“This is our commitment as a country that operates in accordance with the rules of war. This is also the way to add to and preserve legitimacy, without which it will be very, very difficult to sustain the military campaign until the goal is achieved,” he said.
To a question concerning U.S. media reports that international support for Israel may already be eroding, Hanegbi said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden speak at least once a day and are in full agreement on the goal—to eradicate Hamas.
“Not to damage it 20%, nor by 30%, nor by 90%, but to erase it,” he said. “As long as there is unanimity and unity of purpose between us and the United States, I think it will serve the war effort in a very, very significant way.”
To a final question regarding how Israel can deal with the millions of antisemites in the world who would themselves carry out massacres if given the chance, Hanegbi said: “Read the Bible. Read the history books. We are a nation that faced this hatred for thousands of years. Most of these haters have disappeared from the map of history.”
Referring to the Talmudic injunction “He who comes to kill you, rise up and kill him beforehand,” Hanegbi concluded, “Unfortunately, in this matter of Hamas, we did not rise to kill him in time, but now we have risen.”