PM: IDF will operate in Rafah even if there is a new hostage deal; can’t leave a quarter of Hamas intact

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, February 17, 2024 (GPO screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a press conference in Jerusalem, February 17, 2024 (GPO screenshot)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comments on the expected Israeli operation in Rafah in response to a question from The Times of Israel’s Lazar Berman on whether there had been plans to enter Gaza’s southernmost city at the beginning of the ground offensive and, if so, why had that step not been taken then.

“I won’t get into our plans,” the premier responds, adding that the large number of Palestinians taking refuge in Gaza won’t ultimately be a hindrance. He says the IDF’s capacity to enter Rafah militarily and to evacuate the [civilian] population has “been proved realistic” by its campaign in Gaza thus far.

“The IDF can reach everywhere in the Gaza Strip, including Rafah,” he says.

He also says “there is a lot of space north of Rafah” to evacuate the million-plus civilians sheltering there. “There will be space for evacuation.”

“We have to do this in an orderly fashion — and that’s the instruction I’ve given to the IDF.”

He acknowledges international pressure not to operate in Rafah. But he asks how the international community can expect Israel “to leave a quarter of Hamas’s [organized fighting] force intact, in a defined territory. We won’t allow that.”

He says everyone wants to reach another hostage deal. “I also want it,” he says, and it’ll be “very good” if this can be achieved. But he reiterates that a new hostage deal with Hamas “does not appear very close” given the terror group’s demands.

Yet “even if we achieve it, we will go into Rafah,” he stresses. “There is no alternative to total victory. And there is no way to achieve total victory without destroying those battalions in Rafah, and we will do so.”

Answering final questions, he denies sidelining Ministers Gantz and Eisenkot in decisions regarding the hostage talks.

He says he wants the current leadership — his hardline prewar coalition, bolstered by Gantz’s National Unity party — to remain intact, in the cause of national unity.

Told that National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir wants to bar West Bank Palestinians from the Temple Mount during Ramadan, he says ministers are entitled to express their opinions at cabinet meetings, and that there will be an orderly discussion of the issue and a decision.

Netanyahu ends his press conference by asking the gathered reporters why the Israeli media has not investigated a major new advertising campaign “full of incitement” against him, including “huge advertisements on the Ayalon Highway” and other roads, on the internet, and elsewhere, that must be costing “tens of millions of dollars.”

He asks: “Have you not thought to look into this,” and to find out who is behind it and where the vast money coming from? He asks the reporters to do so.

“If tens of millions were being spent” on a campaign backing him, he asks,
“wouldn’t you open the nightly news” with the story, and commission investigative programs?

Most Popular