‘This ceasefire is a heavy price for Israel to pay,’ says Netanyahu's Likud rival

Danny Danon calls for opposition leader Yair Lapid to join the unity government


One of Likud’s brightest stars has said that the hostage deal was a “heavy price” for Israel to pay and has called for military pressure on Hamas to be intensified after the ceasefire.

Danny Danon, a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and a political rival of Benjamin Netanyahu, also called on opposition leader Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu party, to join the unity government for the sake of political stability.

The prominent member of the Likud right lashed out at the grandstanding of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, accusing him of chasing “headlines” when the country needed to “achieve victories”.

But he reserved his harshest criticism for António Guterres, the divisive secretary-general of the UN, who provoked fury by remarking that Hamas’s atrocities “did not happen in a vacuum”.

Danon said: “Guterres can’t seem to decide if he’s a spokesman of Hamas or a spokesman of the UN.”

The respected Likud figure, 52, spoke to the JC at his hotel in central London while on a whistlestop foreign tour defending the Jewish state from unfair criticism. Despite his relief at the likely return of hostages, he made clear that Israel’s priority must be military progress.

“The more pressure we apply, the more advanced our military campaign, the more chance we have to release hostages,” he said.

“What brought the deal was our military offence. I would definitely encourage the cabinet to increase our military activity to encompass different parts of Gaza. The eradication of Hamas must be full, from north to south, without leaving Hamas in a single village.

“We have two parallel objectives. One is the elimination of Hamas. This is crucial for the future of Israel, because our other enemies will be empowered if we don’t provide a deterrent. The other is the release of the hostages, which we look at every day. These objectives are not placed one before other. They are two parallel lines.”

Although the exchange of 150 Palestinian prisoners for 50 Israelis marked a sea-change from the days of Gilad Shalit, when the price for one soldier was more than 1,000 Palestinians, Danon cautioned against assuming that Israel has the upper hand.

“This is not a short ceasefire,” he said. “It is long. Israel is paying a heavy price. The deal endangers our soldiers in Gaza by allowing Hamas to resupply, take pictures of our forces and plan future attacks.

“Not only will we have tens of thousands of soldiers in hostile territory, not allowed to move or fire, they will be vulnerable to ambush.

"After the ceasefire, we must continue with a lot of strength and effort to put more pressure on the Hamas leadership. We must put them in a position to either surrender or we will destroy them.”

Danon recalled the case of Hadar Goldin, who was killed in a Hamas ambush in the 2014 Gaza war, just hours after a UN-brokered ceasefire had come into effect.

“The enemy doesn’t always respect the rules, and this puts our soldiers in danger,” he said.

On that occasion, Danon was sacked from his position as deputy defence minister after he opposed Netanyahu’s decision to agree to a ceasefire.

At the time, Netanyahu thought that eradicating Hamas would have caused the deaths of 400 soldiers and judged this too high a price to pay. Tragically, that death toll is looking low today.

“I still think continuing the offensive in 2014 would have been the right approach,” Danon said. “We should not have given in to international pressure. We should have finished the job.”

He was clear that institutions like the UN, which he knows well, are in the grip of Israelophobia, with the secretary-general a case in point.

“I don’t know what happened to Guterres,” he said. “I know him. He has visited Israel before and visited Hamas tunnels in the south. He has visited our communities.

“Some people are ignorant, but he knows the facts and knows the history, yet he decided to ignore everything he knew and focused on echoing the claims of Hamas.

"I am very disappointed in his behaviour. I told my colleagues in the UN to cut all relations until he retracts his comments.”

But the UN is just the tip of the iceberg. Given the international outrage that is building against the Jewish state, unity within the country is more important than ever, he said.

“Before the war, we were a divided Israel. We have come together now. People fighting together in tanks are from the left and the right, religious and secular, settlers and kibbutzniks. Likewise, our unity government is very important.

“I would expect other players to join it. We need real political unity. Lieberman and Lapid should join. I think they should realise that this will be a long war. As leaders, we should show unity.”

Such a move might remove the need for Netanyahu to rely on extremists like Bezalel Smotrich and Ben-Gvir to prop up his administration.

When it came to the security minister — who this week tried to push forward legislation to introduce the death penalty for convicted terrorists, provoking a backlash from the families of hostages, who believe it would endanger their relatives — Danon was scathing.

“I myself support the death penalty both before Oct 7 and definitely after the atrocities,” he said. “But to debate the matter now, to agitate the families of hostages and make lurid headlines, doesn’t serve our goals.

"I expect the minister of national security to make the distinction between headlines and achievements. Today we need to achieve victories, not create headlines.”

In order to win those victories, support from Jewish communities in Britain and around the world is vital, he added.

“We are grateful to you. We don’t take for granted seeing proud Zionists in London standing and fighting back. This Sunday there will be a major rally here. We are proud of you and you should be proud of Israel, proud of our morality, our soldiers and our determination to defend ourselves.

“They will attack and criticise us, but eliminating Hamas will be best thing for Jews both in Israel and the diaspora. People respect strength. We have to go all the way and make sure there is regime change in Gaza.”

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