Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday night insisted the Gaza Strip will have to be demilitarized after the current war with Hamas, saying only the Israel Defense Forces and not any international force could be entrusted with that mission.
Speaking during a joint press conference with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz, Netanyahu said past experience showed that international forces have been ineffective in demilitarizing areas with forces hostile to Israel and that he would not accept such an arrangement in Gaza.
Netanyahu also denounced the UN, human rights groups and women’s organizations on Tuesday night for failing to speak out against the severe sexual violence committed by Hamas in the October 7 atrocities it committed.
He called on all “civilized” leaders and governments to condemn the mass rape committed by Hamas terrorists, and questioned whether the silence of many groups was because the victims were Jewish women.
Gantz in his remarks urged Netanyahu to remove the NIS 1 billion in discretionary funds which have been earmarked for political promises from the wartime budget, which will soon come for a vote in the Knesset.
All three politicians, who together compose the war cabinet managing the offensive in Gaza, stressed that bringing home the 138 hostages who remain in the Strip was a key priority following a fraught meeting earlier Tuesday with the hostages’ families, but equally asserted that the ground operation in Gaza was key to achieving this goal.
“Gaza must be demilitarized. And in order for Gaza to be demilitarized, there is only one force which can ensure this demilitarization – and this force is the Israel Defense Forces,” said Netanyahu.
“No international force can be responsible for this,” he said, referencing vague proposals made for such a force to take control of Gaza after the fighting is over.
“We have seen what has happened in other places where international forces were brought in for demilitarization purposes,” he continued, in a strong allusion to the failure of UNIFIL in southern Lebanon to demilitarize the area after the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
He also addressed the outrage that has mounted in recent weeks in Israel and among the Jewish state’s supporters abroad over the failure of the UN and human rights groups to condemn the mass rape perpetrated by Hamas against Israeli women on October 7.
The UN Women organization finally condemned Hamas’s savage October 7 assault on December 1 after weeks of dithering, and expressed alarm over “the numerous accounts of gender-based atrocities and sexual violence” during the attack.
“I have heard, and you have heard, of the sexual abuse and rape incidents of unparalleled cruelty, but I have to say that until a few days ago I did not hear theb human rights organization, I did not hear the women’s organizations, I did not hear the UN. I did not hear their cry. And I say to them: Where were you? Are you silent because we’re talking about Jewish women,” demanded the prime minister.
“Where the hell are you?” he exclaimed in English. “I expect all civilized leaders, governments, nations, to speak up against this atrocity.”
Speaking about the current campaign in Gaza, Netanyahu said the army had the upper hand in the battle and was making good progress in destroying Hamas, stating that the IDF has killed around half of the terror group’s battalion commanders.
“We are bringing to a reckoning anyone who abducted… murdered, slaughtered, raped, and burned the sons and daughters of our people. We will not forgive and will not forget,” intoned the prime minister.
He added that the IDF has now surrounded Jabalya in northern Gaza and Khan Younis in the south of the enclave.
Gantz in his prepared remarks challenged Netanyahu directly on the issue of the controversial political funds in the wartime budget, which have been criticized for funneling money toward pet goals and projects of sectoral political parties and their particular electorates, instead of to the war effort.
“It’s still not too late to stop these budget additions which are not connected to the fighting and everything surrounding it, and transfer them to the war effort, like the rest of available resources,” said Gantz.
“We must act out of collective national considerations,” he continued, adding that it was now the time to demonstrate “leadership.”
Netanyahu politely rebuffed Gantz’s call, noting the war budget amounted to some NIS 30 billion for the final month and a half of the year, with the discretionary funds making up NIS 1 billion of that sum.
”It’s a giant budget. There is no shortage of money” said Netanyahu.
Answering questions about his political future, Netanyahu maintained that it was the wrong time to discuss such issues or step down in light of the severe military, intelligence and strategic failings which enabled Hamas to carry out its October 7 invasion.
“Of course, we could give Hamas what it wants… You know exactly what it wants,” Netanyahu said, implying that Hamas wants to see him gone and the reemergence of a governmental and social crisis in Israel.
“I don’t think we should give it what it wants. I think we have to bring what we want — crushing victory, the return of the hostages, and a promise that the continuation [in Gaza] will be different.”
Netanyahu also rejected criticism of the government’s decision to allow additional humanitarian aid and fuel into Gaza, a policy which has been questioned for reducing Israel’s leverage over Hamas to release hostages.
This is the truck convoy carrying humanitarian aid waiting to enter the #Gaza Strip.
The conditions required to deliver aid to the people of Gaza exist. We've completed all the necessary logistics to make it happen. Now, the #UN has to keep up. https://t.co/cMFqqRRq0i pic.twitter.com/UzERqC4hXz
— COGAT (@cogatonline) December 5, 2023
The prime minister said the “main card” Israel has to return the hostages is the military campaign itself and that humanitarian aid buttresses the IDF’s operation since it would be forced to bring it to a halt if a humanitarian disaster took hold in Gaza.
“There is no contradiction” between the war effort and the accompanying humanitarian aid, as they together combine to help vis-a-vis the hostages, Netanyahu said.
Asked about the sanctions against violent extremist settlers in the West Bank announced by the US State Department Tuesday night, Gantz urged the US not to speak of “settler violence” and insisted that “99 and more percent” of settlers were “normative, law-abiding people.” He did however condemn the violence which has been perpetrated by extremist settlers against Palestinians in the weeks since October 7.
Answering the same question, Gallant said only the IDF, police and security forces have the right to use force.
“We have to restrain all illegal violence,” Gallant said, adding that Israel doesn’t need others to tell it to do so, and insisted that some of the violence against Palestinians in the West Bank has been perpetrated by extremist Israelis who live inside sovereign Israel.
Gallant in his remarks gave an update on the progress of the war, saying that Hamas was gradually losing control of Gaza and that the IDF was achieving its objectives.
“What happened in Gaza City is happening now in Khan Younis… with impressive results,” said the defense minister.
“The leaders of Hamas now well understand that nobody is coming to save them — not the Iranians and not Hezbollah,” he added.
Gallant said he had told the families of hostages that the government was fully dedicated to bringing back all the captives, with no exception,” and that the IDF through its ground operation was creating the conditions to bring about their return.
“It is our duty as a nation, it is our duty as the defense establishment, and it is my duty as the Minister of Defense,” he said.
“There is only one legitimate thing to do: to win against Hamas, to strike them and eliminate them – destroying their governing and military capabilities, and bringing the hostages home.”