The hostages’ miraculous rescue has led to security forces dilemma

Four lives have been saved, but the question of how to save more is far from settled


Defence Minister Yoav Gallant speaks during a press conference at Hakirya base in Tel Aviv on October 26, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

June 11, 2024 10:00

v The success of the operation on Shabbat morning which rescued Noa Argamani, Andrey Kozlov, Almog Meir and Shlomi Ziv after 245 days of captivity in Gaza created a dilemma for the security establishment. On the one hand, the accurate intelligence which led the special forces to the two apartments where the hostages were being held, and the operational brilliance of their extrication in full daylight and under heavy Hamas fire, was just what the IDF and the Shin Bet so desperately needed to prove that the failures of October 7 and the long slog of war in Gaza and on the northern front didn’t mean they had lost their edge.

But on the other hand, the understandable euphoria of the Israeli public at the return of the hostages and adulation of the commandoes also obscured the fact that such operations are few and far between. This was only the third time in eight months that live hostages had been rescued. Meanwhile 43 of the 120 hostages still in Gaza are officially acknowledged to be dead (not including the 19 bodies already recovered) and the actual number of those who have died in captivity is higher. Senior Israeli officers found themselves after the operation in the awkward position of having to say that while they hope more rescue operations will be possible, the IDF’s position is that only a deal with Hamas can secure the release of all the remaining 120, alive or dead.

It also means that after a few hours in which Israelis could put their differences aside and rejoice at the sight of the hostages being reunited with their families, the bitter divide over whether and how to prioritise those remaining in Gaza will only deepen. Each side found something new to use against their opponents. The opposition latched onto one of the returning hostages’ statement about how encouraged they were when they heard about the protests for their release. The government’s supporters unearthed a quote from an interview with the now former war cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot back in January, where he said it was an illusion to say that more hostages could be rescued in “Entebbe-style” operations and that there would have to be a deal with Hamas. Four lives had been saved, but the question of how to save more is far from settled.

No earthquake

l The hostage rescue operation stole Benny Gantz’s thunder, making him postpone his resignation announcement by 24 hours. When it did come on Sunday evening, it was underwhelming. Gantz had already delivered his ultimatum demanding that the prime minister present a comprehensive strategy for Gaza after the war, which Netanyahu rebuffed an hour later. Sunday’s resignation was inevitable and unsurprising.

Gantz is not a great orator. He tried to inject some pathos into his speech when he raised his voice and promised, “I would die for your children”. But he only sounded more pathetic. In 37 years of military service he had amply displayed bravery under fire. That was not at issue. But Israelis are hardly expecting a man who turned 65 that very day and had recently broken his foot in a cycling accident to don combat fatigues and join his beloved paratroopers in Nuseirat. They are looking for a leader capable of replacing Netanyahu and while the polls still have him as the favoured candidate to do so, he has yet to prove capable of leading the campaign where it matters, in the Knesset.

His resignation, along with the other members of his National Unity party, is not a political earthquake. It merely restores the coalition to the size when the war began, with a small but relatively stable majority. And despite all that has happened in the past eight months, not one of the coalition’s 64 MKs has defected. A handful have said openly that elections should be brought forward (but only once the war is over, whenever that may be) and more of them say so in private, but none have broken ranks. Gantz’s departure doesn’t change that. And while he may start attending some of the protests, he won’t be leading a movement in the streets to bring down the government. He’s simply not made from that material. A paratrooper, yes. Not a street-fighter.

Which brings attention back to those who may yet topple the government from within. The most obvious candidate is Yoav Gallant, who positioned himself before Gantz as the main critic of Netanyahu’s lack of war strategy in a televised statement last month where he repeated the need for a “governing alternative” to Hamas in Gaza, and warned that Israel is getting sucked in to the role of “military governors”.

Without Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, Gallant is even more isolated in the government. But he won’t be backing down. His decision to vote on Monday night against the government on the “continuity” procedure for an irrelevant law proposed (by Gantz) in the previous Knesset on the draft of yeshiva students is his first independent stand in the post-Gantz coalition.

Gallant refuses to take part in what is an obvious play for time, rather than a serious attempt to solve the issue of the exemption for tens of thousands of yeshiva students from national service. He is likely to be the only coalition member to rebel openly (though a few may absent themselves from the vote) and the coalition can win the vote without him.

One MK who is voting in favour is Yuli Edelstein, but it’s a tactical vote. Edelstein, as Likud’s chairman of the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, will be in charge of preparing the law for its further readings. He plans in committee to make sure it has teeth. Which means that it will be a law the Charedi parties can never accept.

Edelstein and Gallant have both principle and politics on their side. They are the unofficial leaders of Likud’s anti-Netanyahu faction. But since they don’t have the troops in the Knesset for an insurrection against the leader, their only option is to fight him on a front where most Likud voters and members will support them – the refusal, in wartime, of ultra-Orthodox rabbis to allow the conscription of young Charedi men. This is now the rock on which the government is most likely to flounder.

June 11, 2024 10:00

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