National Security Adviser: We’re not begging for a deal; Sinwar is in distress; Rafah op could come soon

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 Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi says that Hamas’s Gaza chief Yahya Sinwar is delaying a hostage-truce deal because he is “in distress.”

“It is apparently hard for him to take a decision [on a hostage-truce deal] that is likely to mean the end of Hamas rule,” says Hanegbi, in a Channel 12 interview, “because the minute he gives up on the highly significant card for his survival, our hostages, it’s not easy for him, and that’s why things are delayed.”

Hanegbi, a former Likud MK and minister who is very close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says Sinwar “is living on borrowed time,” that Israel has come close to eliminating him in recent months, missing him by “less than days” in the tunnels of Gaza, and that “he won’t emerge alive from this confrontation. His fate is sealed. But we must be patient.”

When it is put to him that Sinwar, who orchestrated the October 7 massacre, has done more damage to Israel than any individual ever, and that he is perceived by adherents as a modern Saladin, Hanegbi retorts that “this Nazi murderer” should not be pumped up. “He caused more than 40,000 of his own people to be killed, and didn’t care,” says Hanegbi, citing a figure far higher than the unverified totals cited by Hamas. “14,000 terrorists were killed — which hurts him more.”

Hanegbi says twice in the interview that Israel has known harder times than the current period, citing the 1973 Yom Kippur War and the 2nd intifada. He says the goals of the war against Hamas are being achieved — returning the hostages, destroying Hamas’s military and governance capabilities, and ensuring no future threat from Gaza of the massacre of Israelis.

Hanegbi says discussion of governance in Gaza,”the day after” the war, is “important but virtual” at this stage: “Did the Americans, when they were fighting the Nazis for four years, establish what would happen the day after? They first had to defeat the Nazis. We have to defeat the new Nazis — Hamas. No Saudi, Emirati, Jordanian or Fatah official will go in and take control of Gaza so long as Hamas is there… with functional battalions… and would shoot them in the head,” he says.

He says an Israeli civil administration of Gaza “is not the right thing; we shouldn’t be running Gaza’s sewage systems.” But Israel must maintain overall security control because “nobody but us will fight to destroy the remainder of Hamas” when the war itself is completed.

He denies that the IDF is treading water, and says “it is a fact” that Israel has taken the decision to carry out its planned operation in Rafah. “The prime minister, backed by all cabinet ministers, has ordered the IDF to carry out the operation in Rafah,” he says, and “it could be very soon.”

There was a firm date, he adds, but it was postponed because of last month’s direct confrontation with Iran.

If there is a hostage deal now, he says, that would of course require a truce: “If there is a deal, the deal will require a humanitarian pause in the north, south and center [of Gaza],” says Hanegbi. “If there is an agreement to what the Americans called very generous terms, it won’t be easy for any minister to vote in favor of this deal, but it frees living people. And, therefore, if Hamas agrees to the deal as it is — and that does not include ending the war; because the government’s policy is to complete the war in order to complete the goals of the war — there’ll be a humanitarian pause for the specified period.”

He says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken knows that Israel will move into Rafah soon, because Blinken drove past the tanks “on his way to Kerem Shalom” when he visited this week. “He won’t be surprised.”

When it is put to him that Netanyahu will not go ahead with the deal because Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir will take their far-right parties out of the coalition, Hanegbi denies this: “Did the prime minister give a green light to the negotiating team to advance the deal, knowing that it could have political repercussions? We know that the answer is yes.”

But by saying there will be an IDF operation in Rafah in any case, isn’t he encouraging Sinwar to reject the deal, the interviewers ask? Says Hanegbi: “One of the goals of Rafah operation is to boost the chances of a deal — because when Sinwar hears that he can prevent the IDF going into Rafah by saying yes to a deal, that’s almost the only central means we have of pressuring [him].”

The Rafah operation is also needed to cut Hamas off from the Egyptian border — its “oxygen” for arms supplies, he adds, and the four functioning Hamas battalions in Rafah also have to be destroyed.

Asked whether the deal is overly generous, and yet Sinwar is still resisting it, Hanegbi says, “We’re not begging for a deal” and “there are conditions we won’t accept.”

He notes that the deal provides for only non-armed civilians to return to northern Gaza.

He says the cabinet has decided that the IDF has to focus on Gaza now, but that Israel will have to deal with the northern border. He rejects the idea of returning people to their homes near the northern border and daring Hezbollah to fire, with the threat of a major military offensive if it does, saying this would be an unconscionable risk.

He says again that Israelis have been “fighting for our lives for 75 years,” that “there were periods that were many times worse than these days,” and that “people were slaughtered in Israel not only on October 7.” He recalls, during the Second Intifada, that “I couldn’t put my children on the bus to school because buses were blowing up.”

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