The leaders in charge of directing Israel’s war in Gaza vowed Saturday to soldier on with the grinding military offensive aimed at vanquishing the Hamas terror group, pushing back at international pressure to slow down or halt it, and pledging to “stand firm against the world if necessary.”
In a joint press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz rejected mounting international criticism over the civilian costs of the war, urging Western leaders to throw their support behind the Jewish state since its victory would mean victory for the entire free world as well.
Netanyahu slammed French President Emmanuel Macron over remarks he made castigating Israel a day earlier. He also indicated that Israel would oppose the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza following the war — a goal declaredly sought by Washington — lambasting it as an entity that educates children to want to eliminate Israel, supports terrorism and hasn’t condemned Hamas’s October 7 massacres, which sparked the ongoing war. And he said Israel would retain overall security control in the enclave.
The pushback came after several countries over the weekend expressed concern over the deteriorating humanitarian situation and the civilian casualties in the Strip.
On Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged for more to be done to protect civilians in Gaza and ensure humanitarian aid reaches them, saying that “far too many Palestinians have been killed” during the war.
And Macron said Friday that there was “no justification” for Israel’s alleged bombing of “these babies, these ladies, these old people,” reiterating his call for a ceasefire in Gaza and telling the BBC: “There is no reason for that and no legitimacy. So we do urge Israel to stop.”
In the Saturday evening press conference, Netanyahu urged worldwide backing for his opposition to a ceasefire that doesn’t include a return of the hundreds of hostages being held in Gaza by Palestinian terrorists, and called on Americans to join the demand for the destruction of Hamas, which he said poses a danger to them too. He charged that most Americans share that realization.
He noted that in some countries, there are those who are pressuring the leaders to push for a ceasefire, an apparent reference to mass pro-Palestinian demonstrations calling for such a move, such as a mass rally Saturday in London.
“Don’t cave to the pressure,” Netanyahu said. “Our war is your war. Israel has to win for its own sake and for the world.”
In any case, “no international pressure, no false allegations about IDF soldiers and our state,” he said, will impact Israel’s insistence on protecting itself.
Israel will “stand firm against the world if necessary,” Netanyahu asserted.
Addressing Macron’s criticism, Netanyahu said: “He made a serious mistake, factually and morally. It’s Hamas preventing the evacuation of civilians, not Israel.”
“Israel tells them to leave,” Netanyahu stressed, explaining that Hamas, not Israel, has fired on the humanitarian corridor set up for northern Gazans to evacuate, and that Hamas is using the civilians as human shields.
“It’s not Israel that locates itself in hospitals, in schools, in UNRWA and UN facilities — it’s Hamas. Therefore, it is not Israel but Hamas that is responsible for harm to civilians,” Netanyahu argued.
If the free world sanctifies the terrorists’ practice of fighting from among civilians, committing the double war crime of targeting and slaughtering civilians while hiding behind their own civilians, then this foul practice will spread, he warned.
“And I say to the president of France and our other friends — it will reach you too,” he said. “Immunity must not given to terrorists who carry out this double war crime. We are truly doing everything to minimize harm to civilians or noncombatants, but we will not give Hamas the license to murder our citizens without our response. We can do without the moral preaching.”
France sought to walk back the remarks Saturday, with a French diplomatic source stressing that Macron had “never implied and does not think that Israeli forces are deliberately targeting civilians. He has been consistently qualifying Hamas’s use of hostages or civilian population as unacceptable blackmail.”
The source also reiterated Macron’s condemnation of the October 7 Hamas onslaught, while also asserting his wish that more be done to alleviate the humanitarian situation.
No to the PA
In his address, Netanyahu also said the military will remain in Gaza “as long as necessary” to prevent the enclave from being used to launch terror attacks against Israel. “Hamas will be demilitarized; there will be no further threat from the Gaza Strip on Israel, and to ensure that, for all long as necessary, IDF will control Gaza security to prevent terror from there.”
He also indicated Israel would oppose the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza following the war — a goal sought by Washington — as the territory cannot be ruled by “a civil authority that educates its children to hate Israel, to kill Israelis, to eliminate the State of Israel… an authority that pays the families of murderers [amounts] based on the number they murdered… an authority whose leader still has not condemned the terrible [October 7] massacre 30 days later.”
Netanyahu also responded to a Saturday meeting of Muslim leaders in Riyadh — including Syria’s President Bashar Assad, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, among other authoritarians — which served as a platform for scathing criticism of what they alleged were Israel’s violations of international law during the war.
Israel’s intense aerial and ground offensive targeting Hamas infrastructure has killed over 11,000 people, according to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza. The figure cannot be verified independently and is believed to include members of terror groups and civilians killed by misfired Palestinian rockets.
Netanyahu urged Arab heads of state to “take a stand against Hamas,” adding that the terror group had only “brought disaster to Gaza; only bloodshed and poverty.”
Furthermore, it is an integral part of Iran’s axis of terror and evil, he said, and that axis “endangers the whole world and the whole Arab world.”
Netanyahu stated he has been working to ensure international support for the IDF, and declared that in the wake of the Hamas atrocities, “everybody in the free world has a moral obligation to support Israel.”
At Saturday’s summit in Riyadh, speeches and discussions focused on Israel’s actions and ignored the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7, when thousands of Palestinian terrorists slaughtered some 1,200 people, mostly civilians butchered in their homes or at a music festival, and kidnapped at least 244 hostages into Gaza.
The final declaration released at the Riyadh summit Saturday rejected Israel’s assertions that it is acting in self-defense and demanded that the United Nations Security Council adopt “a decisive and binding resolution” to halt Israel’s “aggression.” It also called for an end to weapons sales to Israel and dismissed out of hand any future political resolution to the conflict that would keep Gaza separate from the West Bank.
During the meeting, Mohammed bin Salman, the Gulf kingdom’s de facto ruler, blamed the “occupation, siege and the settlements” for the ongoing conflict and called for their end.
Salman shook hands with Iran’s Raisi, who was on his first trip to Saudi Arabia since the two countries mended ties in March, and said that Islamic countries should designate the Israeli army a “terrorist organization” for its conduct in Gaza.
Raisi told the summit that the only solution to the conflict is a Palestinian state from the “river to the sea” — meaning an elimination of the State of Israel — and urged sanctions against Jerusalem.
‘The people of Israel in 2023 are not in the year 1943’
Speaking after the premier, Gallant similarly hit out at criticism of Israel, in remarks that appeared partly aimed at Macron.
He highlighted the fate of Kfir Bibas, a 10-month-old baby from Kibbutz Nir Oz, who along with his family was abducted into Gaza.
Gallant said he has a grandchild the same age, and expressed grave concern for Kfir.
“Who is looking after him… among those savages? A toddler who doesn’t walk yet… We have a supreme obligation to bring the hostages home,” he said.
“I hear some [world leaders] and ask myself and ask them: How can you be so bold as to preach morals to us at the height of combat? One thousand and five hundred soldiers, civilians, women and children were abducted or killed… It happened only a month ago. Everyone saw what happened,” Gallant continued.
“I want to say to those European leaders who criticize us: the State of Israel and the people of Israel in 2023 are not in the year 1943,” he added. “We have the means and the obligation to defend ourselves, by ourselves, and that’s what we’ll do. We will not rest until we’ve carried out our mission, and carried it out so that Hamas is defeated.”
“When the war is over, there will be no terror organization called Hamas,” he vowed.
Speaking after Gallant, Gantz addressed regional leaders, emphasizing that the ongoing operation in Gaza was a moral one.
“You need to act so that a different reality will be possible afterward, and so that Gaza will not again be held by those whose hands are covered in the blood of the innocent,” he said.
“It is Hamas that brought ruin upon the residents of Gaza. It should be pressured and attacked, so that the hostages are returned and so that the day will come when the war will be over,” he added.
Referring to Saturday’s summit in Riyadh, Gantz said Israel will not countenance moral preaching from Syria’s Assad, “the slaughterer of his own people” — in reference to the country’s brutal crackdown on rebels and widespread killing of civilians during its civil war — or from “the hangman from Iran,” a reference to Raisi, who oversaw the summary executions of thousands of Iranians in the late 1980s.
“Those who shook hands with the leader of Iran remember what Iran has done,” he said, in an apparent reference to the handshake with the Saudi crown prince.
Regional leaders can help the Palestinians with humanitarian needs, and need to remember “that the reality requires a changed regime in Gaza,” Gantz added.