Eisenkot, Gantz said to urge hostage deal for long halt to war; PM, Gallant opposed

As Israel marks 100 days since Hamas’s October 7 massacres, war cabinet said split over whether to push for an agreement even at price of prolonged halt to the IDF campaign

War cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot (center) attends the Tel Aviv rally marking 100 days since the hostages were kidnapped into Gaza on January 14, 2024. (Courtesy)
War cabinet minister Gadi Eisenkot (center) attends the Tel Aviv rally marking 100 days since the hostages were kidnapped into Gaza on January 14, 2024. (Courtesy)

As the nation marked 100 days since Hamas’s October 7 massacres, the war cabinet was apparently split over whether to push for a deal to secure the release of 132 hostages believed held in the Gaza Strip even at the expense of a lengthy halt to the IDF campaign in Gaza to destroy the Palestinian terror group.

According to television news reports on Sunday evening, Gadi Eisenkot, a former IDF chief of staff and current war cabinet observer minister from the National Unity party, is pushing for far-reaching steps to bring the hostages home, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant insist that maintaining the military campaign launched after the October 7 attacks is crucial to bringing about the hostages’ release.

Some 240 hostages were abducted when Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border on October 7 and rampaged through southern communities, massacring some 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

Government and military officials have repeatedly stated that the Israel Defense Forces will not stop fighting until it has ended the terror group’s rule in Gaza, but the imperative to return the hostages is also a declared prime goal of the war.

“We need to stop lying to ourselves, to show courage and to work towards an extensive deal that will bring the hostages home. Their time is running out, and every day that goes by is putting their lives in danger,” Channel 12 quoted Eisenkot as telling his ministerial colleagues in recent discussions.

“This is a critical time to take brave decisions,” he reportedly said.

War cabinet minister and former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, with family and friends, at the funeral of his son Gal, in Herzliya on December 8, 2023. Master Sgt. (res.) Gal Meir Eisenkot was killed fighting in the Gaza Strip on December 7. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Eisenkot’s son and nephew were both killed fighting in Gaza in recent weeks.

National Unity Party head Benny Gantz was reportedly supportive of his colleague’s approach, as was Shas party leader MK Aryeh Deri.

War cabinet minister Benny Gantz attends the Tel Aviv rally marking 100 days since the hostages were kidnapped into Gaza on January 14, 2024. (Courtesy)

According to Channel 12, Eisenkot understands that a deal to secure the release of all remaining hostages held by terror groups in Gaza would likely require a lengthy ceasefire — and not a brief, temporary truce like the Qatar-led deal in late November, which brought the release of 105 civilians from Hamas captivity  — a concession which Netanyahu and Gallant firmly oppose.

The prime minister and the defense minister hold that any deal that puts an end to Israel’s campaign to destroy the Hamas regime before it is completed will put the country’s security at risk, according to the television reports.

“There’s no dispute over the goal [of returning the hostages] and its precedence — but what will bring the hostages back is military pressure, just as we brought back the previous hostages. Hamas won’t negotiate will us at all if we don’t apply pressure,” Channel 12 quoted Gallant as saying.

Last week, the war cabinet reviewed a new Qatari proposal for a hostage release deal and ceasefire in Gaza, according to multiple reports.

Members of the war cabinet meet at the Kirya military headquarters in Tel Aviv on January 10, 2024. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The Qatari offer was said to go beyond a temporary truce, providing a roadmap for ending the war that includes Hamas’s leaders going into exile and Israel withdrawing its troops from the Strip.

Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been serving as mediators between Israel and Hamas in weeks of intermittent talks to secure the release of more Israeli hostages.

It is believed that 132 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during the weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 25 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza. One more person is listed as missing since October 7, and their fate is still unknown.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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