Israel has not set a time limit for its current Gaza ground operation to root out Hamas, war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said on Wednesday.
“On the question of the operation’s length, there are no limitations,” Gantz said, sitting down with reporters in Tel Aviv.
The former defense minister and top military general said that the conflict, triggered by Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught that killed over 1,400 in Israel’s largest-ever mass casualty event, is existential — in terms of both Israeli security, and its “Zionist and democratic” values.
“The war here is for our existence and for Zionism, and so I can’t provide an estimate of the length of each stage in the war and the fighting that will continue after. We can’t retreat from our strategic objective,” Gantz said.
Over 240,000 Israelis are internally displaced as a result of Hamas’s attack, with northern border communities joining Gazan border towns as closed military zones, amid the largest exchange of fire with Hezbollah on the Lebanese border since the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
Gantz said that scarred residents, especially from communities ravaged by Hamas invaders in the south, will not return to revive their destroyed towns until the threat posed by the terror group’s brand of jihadi terror is neutralized. Without providing a sense of security within its own borders, Gantz has said publicly, Israel is not fulfilling its mission to its citizens.
“Israel cannot accept such an active threat on its borders,” Gantz said of Hamas, which he said shattered Israel’s security and diplomatic paradigms regarding Gaza with its attack a month ago. “The whole idea of people living side by side in the Middle East was jeopardized by Hamas,” he added.
Gantz, like fellow war cabinet members Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, has repeatedly said Israel was forced into war by Hamas’s brazen attack, along with a paradigm shift away from economic-led coexistence toward firm separation and security.
Consequently, although Israel declared war on Hamas the same day, it is still formulating its full battle plan.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu raised some eyebrows by saying that Israel would maintain security control over Gaza for an indefinite period. Gantz declined to elaborate upon that plan on record.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said at a G7 Summit Wednesday that while there may be “need” for Israel to maintain troops in Gaza for a transitory period after the current ground operation wraps, neither Israel nor Hamas will govern the Strip in the long term.
A day earlier, John Kirby, the White House national security spokesman, told reporters that US President Joe Biden “maintains his position that reoccupation by Israeli forces is not the right thing to do.”
The American comments were echoed by UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who told the G7 summit: “In the short term, it is inevitable that Israel, because they have the troops in Gaza, will need to have a security responsibility…But our view is as soon as practicable, a move towards a peace-loving Palestinian leadership is the most desired outcome.”
American officials have expressed concern that Israel still does not have a day-after plan formed, should it succeed in its goal of uprooting Hamas. Gantz confirmed on Wednesday that Israel still has not shaped a long-term strategy for who should govern the Strip.
“Once the Gaza area is safe, and the northern area will be safe, and the Judea and Samaria region [West Bank] will calm down, we will sit down and review an alternative mechanism for Gaza,” Gantz said.
“I do not know what it will be. But I do know what cannot be there – an active presence of Hamas with governance and military capabilities. They cannot be here. We can come up with any mechanism we think is appropriate, but Hamas will not be part of it. So in terms of future strategy – in the southern area, we need to replace the Hamas regime and ensure security superiority for us,” he continued.
On Israel’s northern border, Gantz reaffirmed Israel’s policy is still to avoid a two-front war, but that Israel is prepared to expand hostilities with the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group if necessary.
He also said that Lebanon, which hosts Hezbollah and has integrated the terrorist organization into its mainstream politics, should “bear…responsibility” for the group’s actions.
“Practically speaking, Lebanon must bear state responsibility, and we must demand it,” Gantz said.
On Tuesday, Gantz made one of the government’s strongest statements on its continued fire exchanges with Hezbollah, saying that Israel is facing a “multi-front war.” The war cabinet member said that Israel’s policy of retaliating toward provocations from Lebanese territory stands, and that the Israel Defense Forces will continue to preemptively strike imminent threats, such as rockets prepped for launch.
“I believe this is part of [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah’s considerations as well. Though Hezbollah is an Iranian proxy, it’s a Lebanese organization. If he decides to protect Gaza at the expense of Beirut, so be it,” Gantz added. “I highly recommend that he make the right calculus.”