'The pressure is on Hamas; there's a chance it will work'

IDF plan to replace Hamas to begin in northern Gaza in ‘coming days’ – Hanegbi

Apparently backing IDF Spokesman Hagari, national security adviser says Israel can’t get rid of Hamas ‘as an idea’; expresses some optimism about efforts to reach hostage deal

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi (L) speaks during the Herzliya Conference, June 24, 2024. (Ronen Topelberg)
National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi (L) speaks during the Herzliya Conference, June 24, 2024. (Ronen Topelberg)

Israel’s plan for the “day after” Hamas will start to be implemented in northern Gaza in the coming days, said National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi on Tuesday.

Speaking at Reichman University’s Herzliya Conference, Hanegbi said that the Israel Defense Forces plan has “been sharpened” in recent weeks, and that “we will see a practical expression of this plan” shortly.

Washington has repeatedly criticized Jerusalem over this issue, arguing that failure to plan for “the day after” would lead to Israel either permanently occupying Gaza or a state of chaos in the Strip that would allow for Hamas to reconstitute.

Senior US officials pressed Defense Minister Yoav Gallant this week in Washington on the issue. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “emphasized the importance of that work to Israel’s security” during his meeting with Gallant.

Hanegbi, who was in Washington last week, agreed in Herzliya that initiating a process to replace Hamas is key to long-term victory in Gaza.

“We can’t get rid of Hamas as an idea, there we need an alternative idea,” he said.

IDF spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari delivers an English-language address, June 16, 2024. (Screenshot)

Last week, IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari earned a rebuke from Netanyahu when he warned that “if the government doesn’t find an alternative — [Hamas] will remain” in the Gaza Strip.

“This business of destroying Hamas, making Hamas disappear — it’s simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public,” Hagari told Channel 13 news in an interview. “Hamas is an idea, Hamas is a party. It’s rooted in the hearts of the people — anyone who thinks we can eliminate Hamas is wrong,” he continued.

The government’s alternative, Hanegbi said on Tuesday, is a government based on locals who are willing to live alongside Israel. They must be backed up by moderate Arab states, he said.

“The minute Hamas’s ability to operate its military and civil systems like it could on October 7 is taken away, there will be more ability for countries that want to see a governing alternative to Hamas in Gaza, with local leadership in Gaza, to join this process.” he explained. “It’s starting to take form now.”

Optimism on a deal

Throughout the session, hecklers in the crowd shouted at the senior Netanyahu aide about the hostages remaining in Gaza. Those who interrupted included Ayala Metzger, whose father-in-law’s body, the elderly Yoram Metzger, is held in Gaza, and Dani Elgarat, whose brother Itzik Elgarat is also hostage in the Strip.

Some 120 hostages remain in Gaza — 116 of whom were taken on October 7 — including 44 who have been confirmed dead.

Hecklers calling for a deal to free hostages held by Hamas in Gaza interrupt National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi (not pictured) at the Herzliya Conference, June 24, 2024. (Ariela Lopez/The Times of Israel)

Hanegbi said that he agrees that time is not working in the hostages’ favor but expressed some optimism that current efforts to reach a deal will succeed.

“Today the massive international pressure is on Hamas; there is a chance it will work,” he explained, adding that Qatar is also under pressure to get the terror organization’s leadership abroad to back the proposal presented by US President Joe Biden on May 31.

Hanegbi called that offer “an Israeli proposal.”

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Israel-Hamas war, from the State Dining Room of the White House, May 31, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

On Sunday, Netanyahu said that Israel was prepared to pause fighting in Gaza for a partial deal in exchange for the return of a number of hostages held by Hamas, but insisted the war will not end until the terror group is destroyed.

The comments appeared to contradict the terms of Israel’s latest ceasefire and hostage deal proposal — some of whose details were presented by  Biden — which reportedly provides for a temporary ceasefire in the first phase of the deal, to be extended into “a sustainable calm (cessation of military operations and hostilities permanently)” in the second phase. However, Netanyahu has repeatedly denied that the Israeli proposal provides for ending the war before Israel achieves its two declared goals of destroying Hamas and bringing home all the hostages.

Hanegbi also praised the talks he and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer held in Washington late last week with his US counterpart Jake Sullivan and Blinken.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (L) meets with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the State Department in Washington, June 24, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

The conversations were “the most intimate, the most focused on the issue of the hostages with the central people in the White House,” he recounted, adding that Israel is “under the impression that the US commitment is 100%.”

“We must stand firm and united around this proposal, because it will start the comprehensive process to bring all the hostages home,” said Hanegbi.

On attempts to reach a diplomatic solution in the north with Hezbollah, Hanegbi said that Israel and the US “believe in” American-led efforts to stave off a broader conflict.

Friends of hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin, supporters of Hapoel Jerusalem and other Israelis call for his return and the rest of the hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, as they demonstrate in Jerusalem on June 24, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“If there is not an arrangement through diplomatic means, everyone understands there will be an arrangement through other means,” he warned.

Blinken appeared to caution against launching a major offensive against Hezbollah during his meeting with Gallant, underscoring “the importance of avoiding further escalation of the conflict and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows both Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes.”

The US diplomat’s warning was the latest from a top Biden official, as the administration seeks to prevent a full-fledged war between Israel and Hezbollah, which began launching near-daily attacks on the north following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

A smoke plume billows during Israeli bombardment on the village of Khiam in southern Lebanon on June 23, 2024. (Rabih DAHER / AFP)

Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. warned Sunday that any Israeli military offensive into Lebanon would risk an Iranian response in defense of Hezbollah and that US forces would be challenged to bolster Israel’s air defense umbrella.

Netanyahu reiterated in the Sunday interview his hope that there would be a diplomatic solution to the northern border skirmishes while asserting that Israel was bracing to address the threat militarily if need be.

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