Hanegbi: Israel won’t negotiate with Hamas on hostages now, will remove it from power

Security Council head says ‘I was wrong,’ so were others, about Hamas being deterred; admits state failed in its mission to protect citizens; Israel hasn’t identified all hostages

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

File: National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi speaks to reporters at the Israel Defense Forces' Tel Aviv headquarters, October 14, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash 90)
File: National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi speaks to reporters at the Israel Defense Forces' Tel Aviv headquarters, October 14, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash 90)

National Security Council head Tzachi Hanegbi said on Saturday that there are no active negotiation efforts underway by Israel to repatriate the Israelis and some other foreign nationals kidnapped by Hamas last Saturday, saying “there is no way right now to have a negotiation” with the terror organization.

“Israel will not hold negotiations with an enemy that we have vowed to wipe from the face of the earth,” he said, briefing reporters at the Israel Defense Force’s Tel Aviv headquarters.

His comments prompted fury from the families of the missing, with their spokesman accusing the government of abandoning them.

There are thought to be 150-200 hostages being held by Gaza terror groups.

Hanegbi also stated that the cabinet’s war goal is to remove the Hamas terror group from military and political control over the Gaza Strip, but declined to elaborate on planned next steps for the coastal enclave.

And he acknowledged that “the State of Israel did not fulfill its mission” to protect its citizens from the devastating Hamas onslaught, in which some 1,500-2,000 Hamas gunmen poured into Israel having blown up sections of the border fence and massacred over 1,300 Israelis, most of them civilians, at 22 communities and about a dozen IDF bases and posts. He said, “I was wrong,” and so were others, to have assessed that Hamas was deterred.

Confirming that some 150-200 hostages, the vast majority of them Israeli, are being held in the Gaza Strip, Hanegbi said that the government, eight days after their capture, still does not know who they all are and their status.

He said that the government’s liaison for hostages, Gal Hirsch, updates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a few times a day.”

The government, and its representative Hirsch, have come under fire from hostages’ families for not sharing information, or even initiating contact, with them. Hirsch said Friday he had set up a team to liaise with the families, and on Saturday he said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with them.

“We are trying to get everyone home,” said Hirsch. “We’ve been to dozens of homes… I want to hug people personally.”

The spokesman of the families of missing Israelis feared held captive in Gaza slammed the government for essentially abandoning the hostages after Hanegbi’s statements.

Ronen Tzur, head of The Families Headquarters, said at a press conference in Tel Aviv that the families are awaiting an explanation of Hanegbi’s statement.

IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Saturday night that the military has so far notified the families of 126 hostages that their loved ones are being held in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad claim to be holding 130 hostages, with some reports estimating the number as at least 200.

Hamas has also said that any prisoner swap negotiations will only take place after the end of the fighting.

Hamas’s October 7 surprise assault against Israel, directly largely against civilian targets, is the most devastating terror attack in Israel’s 75-year history and the bloodiest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust. Netanyahu declared war the same day.

Posters of those held hostage by terrorists in Gaza are glued to the wall outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, October 14, 2023 (Avshalom Sassoni/FLASH90)

Pounding targets in the Gaza Strip for the past eight days, Israel has said that it will not hold back against Hamas even at the cost of harming kidnapped Israelis. Hamas has claimed several captives have been killed in Israeli strikes; Israel has largely dismissed this as Hamas propaganda.

When asked by The Times of Israel at the briefing about Israeli plans for alternative control, or a return to Israeli control, of the Gaza Strip, Hanegbi said: “We can’t report through you to the enemy on what is coming. We can tell Hamas that it is prohibited for it to be the sovereign in Gaza.”

Hanegbi added that in a recent cabinet meeting, the government approved a plan to “destroy” Hamas, as the prime minister and defense minister had declared.

“Hamas will not be the ruler, the sovereign, in Gaza after the war,” he said.

In response to questions about the government’s responsibility for failing to thwart Hamas and to protect Israel’s citizens, Hanegbi said, “I greatly identify with what the chief of staff said, referencing IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi’s Thursday statement that the military failed in its mandate to protect citizens.

“We did not fulfill our mission. Nobody can dispute that the State of Israel did not fulfill its mission,” Hanegbi said.

Reminded that he said in an interview a week before the onslaught that Hamas hadn’t initiated fire from Gaza for two years, that it was deterred for the next 15 years, and was not seeking escalation, Hanegbi said, “First of all, that was my mistake. And it reflects the mistake of all those who carry out the assessments — over many years, but especially recently. We believed that Hamas had learned the lessons of [2021’s] Operation Guardian of the Walls, when it sustained a heavy blow.”

A house where 40 Israeli civilians were held hostage in Kibbutz Be’eri, October 11, 2023 (Lazar Berman/The Times of Israel)

Hanegbi said that security forces received “an indication hours before” the Hamas onslaught began, but that the IDF and the Shin Bet believed that it was nothing close to “what we suffered.”

Responding to concerns that Hezbollah may open a full-scale northern front in Israel’s ongoing war, Hanegbi said that Israel has “passed messages” to discourage the terror group from joining its fellow Iran-backed proxy in war against Israel.

“Our goal is to not be pulled into a two-front war,” Hanegbi said.

“We think Hezbollah won’t invite the destruction of Lebanon, because it won’t be less than that if there’s a war there,” Hanegbi said.

Israel has traded fire with Hezbollah and allied Palestinian factions in Lebanon several times in recent days, although the tit-for-tat attacks have remained limited in scope. At least four Israeli soldiers, three Hezbollah terrorists, and five Palestinian terrorists have been killed in the exchanges.

The fence of an Israeli military position is seen damaged after Hezbollah targeted it with rockets on Mount Dov on the Lebanese border, Oct. 8, 2023. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

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