Hanegbi says no ceasefire unless Hamas releases a ‘massive’ number of hostages

National Security Council adviser stresses any pause would be brief and see military pushing on with offensive, adds Israel achieving the goals it set out after terror onslaught

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Michael Levy lowers his head as he becomes emotional after the unveiling of a Times Square digital billboard showing posters of Hamas hostages taken by terrorists, including his older brother Or Levy, during an Oct. 7 assault into Israel, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
Michael Levy lowers his head as he becomes emotional after the unveiling of a Times Square digital billboard showing posters of Hamas hostages taken by terrorists, including his older brother Or Levy, during an Oct. 7 assault into Israel, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi said Friday that Israel will only agree to a ceasefire in exchange for the release of a “massive” number of hostages and not a “manipulative release” done by Hamas for public relations purposes.

“Only then will we agree to a ceasefire and it will be very limited and short because afterward, we will continue advancing toward our goals for the war,” Hanegbi said at a press conference.

The National Security Council chairman said the war cabinet is united in its strategy for advancing the release of the some 240 hostages being held in Gaza, indicating that the ministers believe it will only happen if Hamas feels squeezed and under pressure, rejecting the claim of Qatari mediators that the Israel Defense Force’s ground incursion complicates the talks.

Hanegbi said that in conversations with US President Joe Biden and other world leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has withstood calls for Israel to agree to ceasefires and humanitarian pauses without a release of hostages.

“We’re in the 42nd day of the war, and we have not agreed to order the IDF to halt its advancement even for one minute,” Hanegbi claimed.

Israel has, however, agreed to four-hour humanitarian pauses in different neighborhoods in northern Gaza each day to allow Palestinians to flee south through humanitarian corridors established by the IDF.

National Security Council chairman Tzachi Hanegbi gives a press conference on November 17, 2023. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Hanegbi said that after two pairs of hostages were released on October 20 and 22, there was a proposal to release 10 hostages — eight of whom were Thai workers — as well as a proposal to release 15 hostages.

However, these were rejected by Netanyahu and the war cabinet, Hanegbi said, adding that Israel will not agree to a temporary ceasefire for such a small number of hostages while so many remain in Gaza.

There are “no compromises” on this matter, Hanegbi said.

Hanegbi said the IDF is marking three weeks since the launch of its ground incursion in Gaza and is now operating in the heart of Gaza City, striking every target that it wanted.

Thousands of terrorists have been killed including senior members of Hamas’s leadership, Hangebi said. “All of the goals set by the security cabinet have been met, and as the prime minister said, ‘This is only the beginning,’”

“We’re determined to reach the end of the battle, and the end of the battle will be the end of Hamas,” he said.

“We will not stop until all of Hamas’s and Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s military and leadership capabilities are eradicated,” Hanegbi added in what appeared to be one of the first times that the PIJ has been included in such statements regarding Israel’s war aims.

Israeli soldiers at the Al-Shati camp, in the northern Gaza Strip, during an Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, November 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hanegbi also addressed the controversial decision by the war cabinet on Thursday night to agree to a “special request” from the US to allow two trucks of fuel into Gaza each day to operate the Strip’s sewage treatment system, which is on the verge of collapse.

He said the collapse of the system would have risked the mass spread of disease in Gaza, which would impact both the Palestinian civilians in the enclave and the thousands of Israeli troops operating there.

“If plague were to break out, we’d have to stop the war,” Hanegbi said, explaining that the IDF would not be able to continue operating amid a dire humanitarian crisis and that international outcry would reach new heights.

In an apparent effort to share the responsibility for the decision, Hanegbi said the war cabinet asked the security chiefs during the meeting whether responding positively to the Biden administration’s request would harm the IDF’s military goals in Gaza.

The National Security Council chairman said the ministers were told by the security chiefs that it was okay to allow in the fuel, which only amounts to 2-4% of what would normally have gone in daily before the war.

Palestinians flock to an open-air market during the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip in Khan Younis on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Fatima Shbair)

Pressed to respond to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s criticism over the war cabinet’s decision to allow fuel trucks into Gaza each day, Hanegbi says that Netanyahu called the far-right minister and explained the circumstances that led to the approval.

“I assume that he wasn’t aware of these issues,” Hanegbi said.

Smotrich called the decision “illegal” as it goes against earlier policy set by the broader security cabinet. Hanegbi dismissed the claim, saying that the higher-level war cabinet is authorized to make such decisions and that other ministers will be able to voice their opinion on the matter when the security cabinet meets Saturday night.

A reporter noted that Israel has gradually walked back various lines in the sand regarding the supply of humanitarian aid for Gaza after initially asserting that nothing would be allowed in as long as the hostages are not released.

Hanegbi responded that Israel must maintain diplomatic maneuverability on the world stage and could not urge over one million Palestinians to flee to southern Gaza without providing them “minimal” services there.

He clarifies that “not a drip” of water or fuel has reached northern Gaza where IDF ground troops are fighting Hamas.

Hanegbi also noted how Israel has bucked international pressure since the beginning of the war, launching a ground incursion, reaching the heart of Gaza City and blowing up governing institutions despite repeated warnings from many global leaders who have been calling for restraint and for a ceasefire.

A truck carrying fuel which crossed into Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on November 15, 2023, amid the ongoing battles between Israel and Hamas. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The National Security Council adviser was also asked during what Israel’s strategy is for Gaza after the war.

But like Netanyahu before him, Hanegbi avoided answering the question, instead repeating Israel’s short-term aims.

“The plan for the war is to eliminate Hamas. It’s the only way we can ensure that after[ward], we will not be threatened from Gaza, which is the number one goal that the cabinet has instructed the army to achieve,” he said in English.

“The second goal, which is as sacred as the first one, is to release the hostages,” Hanegbi continued, saying he can’t go into detail but insists, “We’re determined to release all hostages, and we’re not going to be quiet until we reach this goal.”

The US has publicly implored Israel for the past month to plan for who will rule Gaza if the IDF succeeds in its war aim of eliminating Hamas, arguing that failure to prepare in advance risks leading to Israel being bogged down in the enclave indefinitely.

Israel has yet to publicly comment much on the future of Gaza beyond Netanyahu saying that the IDF will maintain overall security control of the Strip for an indefinite period after the war — a stance that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken came out against on Thursday.

A source familiar with the matter told The Times of Israel this week that Israel has officials privately working on “day after” plans and has reached out to the US to launch a joint dialogue on the matter.

Palestinians at the scene of an apparent Israeli strike on Rafah, Gaza Strip, Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Hatem Ali)

The hostages were taken when Hamas-led terrorists launched a devastating onslaught on October 7, in which they rampaged through southern communities, killing over 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes and at a music festival, and kidnapping some 240 people. In response, Israel embarked on a massive air and ground campaign with the aim of toppling the terror group’s regime in Gaza, which it has ruled since taking over in a 2007 coup.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry claims that 11,500 people had been killed in Gaza since the start of the war, including at least 4,710 children and 3,160 women. The figures cannot be independently verified and do not distinguish between civilians and terrorists, and also do not differentiate between those killed by Israeli airstrikes or by failed Palestinian rocket launches.

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