ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 139

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IDF chief: War 'won't be short,' Hamas fights 'like animals'

Gantz says war in south – and possibly in north – could take ‘months’ to complete

At funeral for Sha’ar Hanegev council head Ofir Libstein, minister in war cabinet says only after destroyed areas in south have been rebuilt ‘will we be victorious’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Minister Benny Gantz seen during a meeting of with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden in Tel Aviv, October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)
Minister Benny Gantz seen during a meeting of with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Joe Biden in Tel Aviv, October 18, 2023. (Miriam Alster/ Flash90)

Minister Benny Gantz said during a funeral on Wednesday that the ongoing Israel-Hamas war is likely to take months, and could potentially including a northern front as well.

“It will take a long time. The war in the south — and if need be also in the north or anywhere else — might take months, and the rebuilding will take years. Only when [the rebuilding] is complete will we be victorious,” Gantz said at the funeral for Ofir Libstein, the head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, who was killed fighting Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Kfar Aza on October 7.

“Our goal is not just to defeat Hamas, but to promise that the south will be 100% paradise,” he added. “After the war, after we win, on any front that we fight, we will be dedicated to this rebuilding.”

Gantz, who joined the government and its narrow war cabinet last week, said he and Libstein were close friends, and he had visited him in Kfar Aza just a few weeks ago, where the late mayor had described how hard everyone in the region was working to create a “paradise.”

Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the funeral of Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council head Ofir Libstein on October 18, 2023. (Channel 12 screenshot)

“From where we are now, it is difficult to see the paradise [that once was there],” he said. “But I am here despite the difficulty and the pain, to tell all of you firstly: I’m sorry.”

Gantz, a former defense minister and former IDF chief of staff, added that he was “sorry that we were not able to save you, sorry that we were not able to protect you this time, that we weren’t able to save Ofir and everyone — and I am here to promise you and to promise all the citizens of Israel that we will not stop until we achieve the dream of Ofir and his friends.”

Ofir Libstein in Ashkelon on November 27, 2018. (Flash90/File)

Gantz — who currently lives in the central city of Rosh Ha’ayin — said that he personally intends to live in the future “paradise” that will be rebuilt in the Gaza border region in the future.

“We are at war not just for your homes, the residents of the Gaza border towns, but for all of our homes,” he said.

Also speaking Wednesday, the chief of the Israel Defense Forces said the war against Hamas will not be short, especially if the Hezbollah terror group further joins in the fighting.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi also accused Hamas of “fighting like animals,” following the October 7 massacres in southern Israel.

“We operate according to the rules. We are all angry, but we use our heads. We fight with determination and remain human, unlike the other side, who fight like animals,” Halevi said to troops at the Israel Air Force’s Tel Nof airbase.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi speaks to troops at the Israel Air Force’s Tel Nof airbase, October 18, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

“It won’t be short, and we may even need to expand [the fighting], if another enemy joins, but we know how to expand,” he said, referring to repeated attacks by Hezbollah on the northern border in recent days.

President Isaac Herzog also addressed Libstein’s funeral, saying that he spoke about the late mayor in his meeting earlier that day with US President Joe Biden, “about his heroism, the immensities of his soul, the growth and blossoming [of Kfar Aza].”

Herzog added that to all the mourners at the funeral, “and to the entire Kfar Aza family, those in Sha’ar Hanegev and the entire Gaza border area, I want to say: I know that there are no words that can comfort you through this tragedy you experienced. There are no words to capture such hell.”

President Isaac Herzog speaks at the funeral of Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council head Ofir Libstein on October 18, 2023. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Even in the face of such pain, Herzog added, “there is hope… Ofir will never get to achieve his plans and aspirations, but we will. We will walk in his footsteps, and that will be the greatest victory of all. We will return and rebuild what was burned, we will restore and construct what was destroyed, and we will rise from the ashes.”

Libstein, who was elected to his position in 2018, went out to battle against the Hamas terrorists who invaded Kfar Aza on October 7, and was killed in the fighting. He was buried on Wednesday at the Even Yehuda cemetery.

At least 1,400 Israelis, the majority of them civilians, were massacred and some 200 were abducted back to Gaza during Hamas’s surprise onslaught, which sparked an ongoing war.

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