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OpinionIsrael at War

Seizing defeat from the jaws of victory

Why do we negotiate as if we were losing?

Israeli soldiers secure an area on the seashore in the northern Gaza Strip, Nov. 21, 2023. Photo by Matanya Tausig/Flash90.
Israeli soldiers secure an area on the seashore in the northern Gaza Strip, Nov. 21, 2023. Photo by Matanya Tausig/Flash90.
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef
Douglas Altabef is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at: dougaltabef@gmail.com.    

The war in Gaza, “Operation Swords of Iron,” is a tale of two battles. The battle on the ground is going very well, with IDF units slowly, deliberately and successfully dismantling Hamas’s command and control in northern Gaza, while simultaneously laying bare the shameful hypocrisy of an organization that is content to utilize human shields however and wherever they can be found.

We have killed thousands of terrorists, captured almost 1,000, seized vital intelligence and control assets located in previously thought-to-be impregnable locations.

We have surprised and shocked Hamas not only with the vehemence of our engagement but also with a game plan that thankfully does not repeat past practice. We have confused and confounded our enemy with deftness, agility, and above all, breathtaking coordination among our military forces. And we have achieved this great success with far fewer casualties than many had feared.

What other than our success on the ground could send Hamas to seek relief, using the hostages they have taken as bait and leverage? Fair enough, it’s what one would expect.

But what we should never expect, yet are seeing playing out before our eyes, is a response by our leaders that seems far less reflective of the reality on the ground.

Our leadership is prepared to accept a paltry return of hostages, a return obviously crafted so as to elongate the hiatus in the fighting, disrupt the momentum and morale of our soldiers, and above all, endanger our soldiers and their efforts.

A confident government, leveraging off a successful army, would be demanding, not asking, for the following conditions in order to effect any kind of a hiatus in the fighting:

1. First and foremost, we must be talking about releasing all hostages, not 50 or 70 or some time-release formula that might produce 100. If there is to be a deal, it is for everyone. And at once. Otherwise, the Israel Defense Forces just keeps going.

2. The status of the hostages must be verified before we agree to release any terrorists from our prisons (The leadership’s insistence that the releasees are not murderers is a bit disingenuous. This is only the case because their plans were thwarted.). For lack of a better alternative, this might have to be done in conjunction with the Red Cross.

3. The swapping of hostages for terrorists takes place over one day, during which there will be no shooting by either side, and aerial surveillance will continue.

4. The bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul must be returned as part of this swap, as well as civilian Avera Mengistu, who may or may not still be alive.

Why is this seen to be unachievable, even naive? We are strong, we are willing to fight on and on, and the people of Israel are unrelenting. The calls for releasing hostages now are understandable and searing. Any of us caught in the hell of waiting and worrying about loved ones would likely do the same.

But we also have to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice so that Israel could survive, and survive without existential threats on our borders.

The souls of these magnificent soldiers, as well as the 1,200 brutally murdered on Oct. 7, cry out, not for vengeance but for justice and for the protection of Israelis too numerous to count against continued terror, horror and barbarism.

As I write this, on Thanksgiving Day no less, the deal has been announced and approved by our government, but somehow not yet fully approved by Hamas. Shockingly, that which had previously been agreed to by Hamas, such as visitation by the Red Cross to all abductees is being reneged upon.

Have we no experience in trying to negotiate with these murderous slimeballs? Do we really think that even the terrible deal that was negotiated will be honored?

Wait until, inevitably, Hamas starts shooting during the truce. Will we turn the other cheek or downplay the violations? You can set your watch by all these things happening.

I say: Stop the music! No Red Cross, no deal. Thanks, it was a good effort, but we too have reneged and changed our minds.

The real risk of the deal that our leaders have made is that it will inevitably sap us of the drive, desire and determination to proceed with the dismantling of Hamas. This of course is Hamas’s game plan, which it will implement with a long-term schedule of hostage releases, the last of which will be scheduled for a week and a half before Moshiach comes.

The whole idea is brilliantly cynical, but why should we be party to it? Why should play into the hands of our despicable enemy and its fellow travelers around the world?

The great irony of the war is that our success has brought us predictable condemnation, but also immense respect in the Arab world. Why else would Hezbollah be so tepid in its efforts to be part of the “resistance?” Any Lebanese watching the footage of the ruination of Gaza City has to think more than twice about the prospect of that happening close to home.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is justifiably proud of his standing up to and resisting the entreaties of foreign leaders, particularly American presidents, to acquiesce in the appeasement of Iran.

But the situation Israel now confronts is of a more intense and imminent order, and the presence of that same degree of steadfastness is certainly questionable.

Yes, there has been a lot of contact and jaw-boning, but what we really need is a digging in of our leadership’s heels that says, yes, we want hostages returned, of course, we do, but we must absolutely do that in the context of achieving the cleansing of the toxicity that exists along our border.

Removing Hamas is our preeminent and nonnegotiable goal. Any machinations that could threaten achieving that goal must be thwarted.

I shudder to think what this country will feel like if we wake up one day to the realization that the great sacrifices made by us to eliminate the evil at our border have been in vain.

May we show the same clarity, commitment and courage that our soldiers have. We owe that to them, to the murdered, and yes, to the hostages as well.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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