'No pause and no schmause' without release of hostages

Israel to retain ‘security responsibility’ in Gaza after war, says Israeli official

Strip must go through ‘de-Nazification’ process, says official; Netanyahu compares Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar to Hitler in his bunker in his final days

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Ramon Air Force Base, November 5, 2023 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Ramon Air Force Base, November 5, 2023 (Kobi Gideon / GPO)

Israel intends to maintain significant control over the Gaza Strip even after the current war against Hamas, an Israeli official said Sunday.

“I don’t see any situation in which Israel doesn’t have ultimate security responsibility in Gaza,” said the official in a Hebrew-language briefing with Israeli reporters in the Kirya in Tel Aviv.

US President Joe Biden has warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that re-occupying Gaza would be a “big mistake.” Israeli officials insist they have no interest in doing so.

The official added that after Hamas is toppled, “it won’t be enough to do just a rehabilitation of Gaza.”

“It must go through a process of ‘de-Nazification,'” continued the official. “This culture [of seeking to kill Jews] still exists in the Palestinian Authority.”

Netanyahu also used Nazi Germany as a metaphor to describe Hamas on Sunday.

Yaha Sinwar (C), Gaza Strip chief of the Hamas terror movement, shakes hands with a masked fighter of the military wing during a rally marking the 35th anniversary of the group’s foundation, in Gaza City on December 14, 2022. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar “doesn’t care about his nation and is acting like a little Hitler in his bunker,” said Netanyahu.

In the final days of his life, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler hid out in a Berlin bunker and blamed the German people for the country’s defeat in World War II. They “deserved to perish,” said the German dictator.

“[Sinwar] cares about his people as much as he does about a speck of dust,” said Netanyahu.

The official said that the IDF, and its deployment on the northern border, would change as well after the war.

An Israeli army tracked medical vehicle moves along a road near the northern city of Kiryat Shmona close to the border with Lebanon on October 31, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY/AFP)

“The IDF will deploy against a [massive] breach of the border, and not just a penetration of a few terrorist cells into communities,” said the official.

“The IDF will be bigger,” continued the official. “We will invest in the army.”

The official added that Hezbollah “cannot breach the border because of our deployment and the readiness of our forces. The issue of ‘capturing the north’ is no longer relevant.”

Wise people are sitting in Saudi Arabia and in Israel. It will be possible to continue the process we started before the war afterwards – with the condition that we win

Civilians will return to evacuated communities in the north, said the official, “because of the scale and strength of the victory over Hamas.”

However, the official stressed that efforts underway to make sure a massive terror attack, similar to that Hamas carried out on October 7, cannot happen in the West Bank. “The possibility of a major change [in IDF operations] in the West Bank  remains a realistic one.”

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session on ‘Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment’ as part of the G20 summit in New Delhi, India, on September 9, 2023. (EVELYN HOCKSTEIN/ POOL/ AFP)

Turning to the normalization process with Saudi Arabia, which was a major US and Israeli priority until the Hamas massacre, the official struck an optimistic note.

“Wise people are sitting in Saudi Arabia and in Israel,” said the official. “It will be possible to continue the process we started before the war afterwards — with the condition that we win.”

According to the White House, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman agreed in a phone call with Biden to eventually “build on” the US-brokered negotiations that had been underway to normalize ties.

Biden administration officials have acknowledged that the normalization effort is no longer the most immediate priority for the US and Israel, as they work to respond to the October 7 Hamas onslaught. However, the White House insists that it is still committed to the goal and has suggested that one of the reasons for the Hamas massacre was to try and thwart the effort.

Spy drama

The official also waded into apparent tension between former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen and its current director David Barnea.

“Yossi Cohen was not appointed as a representative by the prime minister,” the official said. “He did reach out to the prime minister at the beginning of the war with a message from an Arab leader. The prime minister received the message, but instructed him to work under the current director, Barnea. Parallel tracks can complicate matters.”

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen speaks at a conference of the Makor Rishon newspaper at the International Convention Center in Jerusalem, February 21, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90/ File)

The official added that “ties with Qatar are managed by the current Mossad head along with the intelligence staff headed by Nitzan Alon and the head of the Shin Bet. They report to the war cabinet.”

Earlier Sunday, the Mossad put out a similar statement through the Prime Minister’s Office declaring that “there is only one official channel that manages the release of the hostages,” adding that “any other official who claims he has a connection to this is not authorized to do so.”

Cohen — who is part of Gal Hirsch’s team working to free the captives held in Gaza by Hamas — has recently been in Qatar to discuss the hostage issue and also held a meeting with the families of kidnapped. Cohen claimed in a interview that everything he is doing is coordinated with the Mossad and the PMO, though the statement suggests that is not the case.

On Sunday evening, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a clarification that the former Mossad chief “initiated a meeting with an Arab leader with the prime minister’s approval.” The statement added that Cohen “also held a number of meetings on a diplomatic issue and remained in touch with the national security adviser,” appearing to attempt to tamp down on the internal dispute.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, meets with Qatari Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al-Thani at a hotel during a day of meetings, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Amman, Jordan, November 4, 2023. (Jonathan Ernst/Pool Photo via AP)

The official also said that Israel is seeing preliminary signs that Israel’s ground operation is pushing Hamas to seek a deal to release hostages. “We are seeing something, but it’s not ready yet. Beforehand, we didn’t see anything.”

On the possibility of a ceasefire — a growing priority for Israel’s allies — the official said that “even if there is a ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages, it will be temporary and Israel will continue to operate to topple Hamas.”

The official said there will be “no pause and no schmause” without the release of the hostages, adding, “whoever wants a pause, sorry for the expression, can bite me.” The official also said Israel believes that the majority of the hostages are alive: “Hamas sees them as an asset.”

The official added that Israel does not know how many terrorists the IDF has killed: “I know we’ve killed many but I don’t know how many.”

In a brief televised statement on Friday, Netanyahu said he told visiting US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that he rejects any temporary halt to the fight against Hamas that does not include “the release of our hostages.

In addition, the official insisted, there has been no offer of a release of hostages with foreign citizenship.

The official also argued that Netanyahu is not playing politics during the war. “The prime minister is going around and is dealing with one thing only: the management of the war. The public can talk about it, but the prime minister doesn’t intend to deal with it now.”

A handout photo shows IDF soldiers operating in the Gaza Strip, in pictures distributed on November 5, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel declared war with the aim of eradicating Hamas following the terror group’s devastating October 7 onslaught, in which thousands of terrorists stormed through the border and murdered some 1,400 people, mostly civilians killed in their homes and at a music festival, and abducted over 240 of all ages who are being held captive in Gaza. The Hamas assault came under a barrage of thousands of rockets fired across Israel. Hamas and other terror groups have continued to rain rockets on Israel, displacing over 200,000 Israelis.

Israeli leaders have rejected humanitarian ceasefires in the Strip as the Israeli military presses its offensive, and Jerusalem has warned that Hamas will abuse any pauses in fighting for its war effort.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said Sunday that more than 9,770 Palestinians have been killed since Hamas sparked war with its murderous assault. The figures do not differentiate between terror operatives and civilians nor between those killed in Israeli strikes and those killed by the hundreds of rockets fired by terror groups that have fallen short inside the Strip.

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