It’s unlikely any more hostages will be returned alive, says IDF lieutenant colonel

Eescalation with Hezbollah is unavoidable, former IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said in a wide-ranging briefing


Liri Albag, Karina Ariev, Agam Berger, Daniela Gilboa and Naama Levy were abducted from the Nahal Oz base on October 7, 2023 (Photo: The Hostages Families Forum)

Hamas has no intention of returning any of the hostages according to a former senior IDF spokesman, who also warned about the looming danger of escalation with Hezbollah.

Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters he was “not optimistic” that any more hostages would be freed alive, although he said that some were known to be held in Rafah.

Speaking at an event with the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre, Conricus, who is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said: “Hamas is not going to release the hostages.”

He added that the terror group had used the hostages as leverage: "They have been using this as a way of prolonging the war and getting Israel to divert its time and efforts away from defeating Hamas.”

“They used the holy month of Ramadan very cleverly and got a month of almost zero IDF operations in Gaza by dangling the hostages in front of Israel for a month. They really fooled Israel.”

Of the 128 hostages still in Gaza, 36 have been declared dead by Israeli officials.

In addition, between 30 and 50 more hostages are believed to be dead, but their families have not yet been informed according to Conricus.

About the remaining hostages, the colonel said: “There is a lot of ambiguity". One of the hostages whose body was rescued from Gaza last week was previously thought to be alive. Conricus described the operation as “a needle in a haystack”.

He warned that Israel’s “failure” to bring most of the hostages home “will be dangerous in the future for Israel because we will see other terrorist organisations emulate this. What this means for other border communities in Israel is very dangerous.”

Shifting his focus to the north, the former IDF man noted that 20 communities in northern Israel had been evacuated because of the threat from Hezbollah. More sirens have gone off in northern Israel than in the south since October 7: “This has a huge psychological impact.”

It is unlikely that the school year will start in northern communities on September 1 and Conricus said: “Between 60,000 and 85,000 Israelis are refugees in their own country, many from northern Israel. I don’t see how this changes without the use of force and military escalation.”

Conricus said Hezbollah was the “crown jewel” of Iran’s proxies, “they are five times more powerful than Hamas.”

The Lebanese terror group have high-precision weapons and many more trained fighters than Hamas. Hezbollah’s vast tunnel network across Lebanon is not officially acknowledged by the Israelis but is known to the IDF. The tunnels are built in the country’s solid rock, a far stronger foundation than the sandstone of Gaza, and they would require more force to destroy.

The tunnels are used by Hezbollah for transporting troops and weapons, including long-range rockets.

The tunnels “allow Hezbollah to fire a lot of rockets without Israel being able to take them out before they’re fired,” said Conricus.

“Hezbollah is capable of striking most of populated Israel, including sensitive targets,” he added, pointing to a recent Hezbollah drone strike at the Golani junction.

This is "no diplomatic end in sight” to the tensions with Hezbollah, Conricus went on, and he predicted escalation along the border.

“Regime change in Iran would be a tremendous contribution to Israeli security,” Conricus added, noting that “Iranian fingerprints” can be seen in some of the Palestinian violence in the West Bank.

Capturing Hamas’s leader Yahya Sinwar will be essential to defeating Hamas, he said: “An alive Sinwar or Mohammed Deif would tell Palestinians in Gaza that Hamas had experienced a temporary setback, but an imprisoned Sinwar could signal that it is over for Hamas.”

This will be necessary to show Gazans that they can form a movement to challenge the terror group’s dominance. “Hamas needs to be defeated in such a way that Palestinians understand that they aren’t coming back,” the colonel explained. Destroying the tunnels will be fundamental, he added.

Conricus said he believed that Rafah had to be invaded for Israel to win the war. There is a vast network of Hamas tunnels that crisscross the city and pass into Egypt.

Egypt, according to Conricus, is providing Hamas with weapons via the tunnels and was also behind the international pressure against the Rafah invasion.

The colonel recalled standing in tunnels in Rafah in 2004 that were large enough for a small truck to bring in weapons. He questioned why Israel has had such a lenient policy towards the construction of the tunnel network.

Discussing the IDF re-entering Jabalia, the colonel said that Israel “expects to fight again in almost every location we’ve already fought in [...] until infrastructure and personnel are significantly degraded, Hamas will return.

“Israel has already degraded significant parts of Hamas’s military, their production capabilities and their stockpile of weapons. There is also a lot of degrading of combat capabilities in terms of personal,” said the colonel.

He noted that “in almost all interactions between Hamas and Israel, the latter has succeeded,” but “these tactical victories have not been strung together to dismantle Hamas politically, its administrative capabilities, or bring the hostages back.”

Conricus agreed with the position of Israeli cabinet minister Benny Gantz, who has demanded Netanyahu’s government release a “day-after plan”.

Gantz told the war cabinet to form a six-point plan by June 8 or he would remove his centrist party from Netanyahu's emergency coalition.

Conricus noted the tension between defeating Hamas and getting the hostages back.

Conricus added it was “impossible” for Netanyahu and his government of “extremists and freeloaders who do not serve in the military” to plan for the day after.

“This is the most complex geopolitical and strategic environment in the world. No other country has the same diversity of threat that Israel faces,” Conricus said.

Conricus' visit to the UK was facilitated in partnership between ELNET UK and BICOM.

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