OpinionIsrael at War

The infernal choice behind the hostage deal

Israel is in this terrible situation principally because of America.

Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, at a rally in Gaza City, May 24, 2021. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, at a rally in Gaza City, May 24, 2021. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips
Melanie Phillips, a British journalist, broadcaster and author, writes a weekly column for JNS. Currently a columnist for The Times of London, her personal and political memoir, Guardian Angel, has been published by Bombardier, which also published her first novel, The Legacy, in 2018. To access her work, go to: melaniephillips.substack.com.

As if Israelis weren’t traumatized enough by the depraved Hamas pogrom on Oct. 7, the hostage deal concluded this week cruelly deepened their agony.

On Wednesday morning, the terms of the deal between Israel and Hamas were announced. Of the hostages, 30 children, eight of their mothers and 12 other women were to be released in exchange for a four-day “pause” in Israel’s ground and air military operations, more aid deliveries to Gaza and the release of 150 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. In addition, for every further 10 hostages released by Hamas, Israel would continue the ceasefire for another day.

Late on Wednesday night, Israel’s National Security Council director, Tzachi Hanegbi, announced a delay. The hostages wouldn’t be released until Friday at the earliest.

Late on Thursday, Qatar said the deal would go into effect at 7 a.m. on Friday. Various reports said that at the last minute, Hamas had imposed further conditions on the handover or ramped up its demands that Israel further curtail its military activities.

Who can be surprised by any of that? For Israel is no longer in control of events. At a stroke, it has yielded control of the war to Gaza’s Hamas leader, Yahya Sinwar.

The pressure from the hostages’ families for a deal has been enormous. No one in Israel can fail to share their anguish.

It is a sacred duty to redeem the hostages. But what if a deal prevents Israel from carrying out its no-less sacred duty to ensure that Hamas can never again subject Israelis to such a genocidal onslaught or worse?

And the terms of the deal are atrocious. At the very moment the IDF is poised to push into the south of Gaza, it has undertaken to stop all aerial surveillance there for four days and for six hours each day in the north.

As the former US National Security Advisor John Bolton declared: “It’s utterly inexplicable and indefensible to have agreed to a pause in aerial surveillance over Gaza for significant periods of time because Hamas will take advantage of that to reposition or extricate some of its leaders, move the hostages around and otherwise prepare for the next stage of combat.”

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the country that, according to the security agencies, the deal wouldn’t harm the war effort and that “the intelligence effort will be maintained in those days.”

From Israel’s prime minister down through the security agencies and IDF top brass, these are the people whose complacency, arrogance and fatally flawed analysis enabled the Oct. 7 pogrom to happen. How can anyone ever again believe anything they say?

Indeed, they have already gone back on their word. After Oct. 7, they vowed that they would never repeat their past policy of releasing terrorist prisoners for hostages. Yet they agreed in the deal to release 150 prisoners guilty of terrorist violence—at a ratio of three terrorists for every one hostage.

Some in Israel have said the idea of leaving the hostages in place should be unthinkable and that a deal to release them should have been concluded straight away.

Their emotion is entirely understandable. But they are ducking the fact that the hostages are Sinwar’s ultimate weapon.

Hamas is an enemy of mankind that the world has never seen before. Its principal weapon of war is the general population—of Gaza, Israel and the West.

It turns Gaza’s civilians into cannon fodder in order to deploy its legions of useful idiots in the West, who respond to Hamas’s manipulated casualty figures and images of Palestinian suffering by putting pressure on their governments to stop supporting Israel. And it uses its hostages to torture Israelis into pressurizing their own government to strike a disastrous deal.

The hostages are thus crucial to the survival of Hamas. As Col. (res.) Shai Shabtai wrote for Bar-Ilan University’s BESA Center: “Its continued hold on the hostages has one object: to use endless negotiation in order to undermine the dismantling of its political and military power.”

It follows that there is zero prospect of Sinwar voluntarily releasing the hostages. He may release a few to mess with Israeli minds even further. But holding the hostages is the way he wins the war.

The only realistic prospect of getting most of them back, therefore, is if the IDF destroys Hamas as fast as possible.

Instead, the deal makes an eventual victory for Hamas more likely. Having agreed to this ceasefire, Israel will find itself under increasing pressure from America and the West for additional and longer ceasefires “to get more of the hostages out.”

That’s the way Hamas will survive to carry out its threat to repeat the Oct. 7 massacres “again and again.”

Israel is in this terrible situation principally because of America.

The fingerprints of the Iranian regime were all over the Oct. 7 pogrom. Iran is also behind the attacks on Israel currently being mounted from Syria and Lebanon.

Yet it was the Obama and Biden administrations whose appeasement of Iran empowered it to fund, arm, train and direct proxy armies, including Hamas, Hezbollah and Syrian militias bent upon Israel’s destruction.

It is the Biden administration that, five weeks after the Hamas pogrom, funneled a further $10 billion in sanctions relief into Tehran’s coffers.

It is the Biden administration that forced Israel to make the deal with the hostages. It is the Biden administration that is now pressuring Israel not to continue its war in the south of Gaza where it intends to finish off Hamas.

America is giving to Israel with one hand and twisting the knife into it with the other. Certainly, it’s providing Israel with a steady resupply of weapons without which the Jewish state would be powerless.

But this is the minimum America must do to prevent Israel being destroyed on its watch, which the American people would never tolerate.

Yes, the Biden administration dispatched two aircraft carrier groups and a submarine to the region “to deter Iran.” But it has not used this force to stop the Hezbollah rockets being fired into northern Israel from Lebanon. Nor has it responded adequately to the dozens of Iranian attacks on its own forces in Iraq—although, given the inevitable escalation in such attacks, America may be further drawn into this conflict despite itself.

Instead, America has been leveraging its military support for Israel to force it to run the war in accordance with the Biden administration’s aims: to continue to appease Iran and to create a state of Palestine. Both those aims pose a mortal threat to Israel’s security and existence.

If most of the hostages are returned through this deal and Hamas is beaten, then those who took this fateful decision will be vindicated.

If, however, it enables Hamas to rise again from the ashes of Gaza, the hundreds of Israelis who have lost their lives in the attempt to stop it forever will have made the ultimate sacrifice for nothing; more Israeli innocents will die; and Iran will steadily unleash further death and violence against the West.

Israel’s terrible dilemma over the hostages is reminiscent of the unspeakable choices forced upon the Jewish councils who administered the ghettos of Europe during the Holocaust, and whom the Nazis forced to provide lists of people to deport to the death camps or risk the murder of everyone in the ghetto.

This infernal choice has been forced upon Israel by a ring of pressure formed by Yahya Sinwar, the Iranian regime and—sickeningly—the Biden administration.

If America’s stricken Jewish community wants to know how best to help Israel at this terrible time, it should be alerting its fellow Americans to what the Biden administration is doing to Israel in their name.

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