ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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On eve of 100 days of war, PM pledges ‘complete victory,’ denounces genocide claims

‘Notice the depth of the absurdity and hypocrisy — the supporters of the new Nazis dare to accuse us of genocide,’ Netanyahu says of South African case at The Hague

Sam Sokol is the Times of Israel's political correspondent. He was previously a reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Jewish Telegraphic Agency and Haaretz. He is the author of "Putin’s Hybrid War and the Jews"

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters during a press conference in Tel Aviv on January 13 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to reporters during a press conference in Tel Aviv on January 13 2024. (Screen capture/YouTube)

Israel will continue its war against Hamas “to the end — until complete victory,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged on Saturday evening, denouncing South African claims brought to the International Court of Justice in The Hague this week that Israel is carrying out genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

“We will restore security to both the south and the north. No one will stop us — not The Hague, not the axis of evil and not anyone else,” he said, addressing reporters during a press conference held at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv.

According to the prime minister, an update to the 2024 budget set to be voted on Sunday, which has been sharply criticized for its many cuts, “will enable the continuation of the war.”

“We are on the path to victory and we will not stop until we achieve victory,” he said.

He recalled that he recently told US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that “this is not only our war, this is also your war. This is a war against the axis of evil led by Iran.”

Condemning the “hypocritical attack in The Hague on the Jewish state that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust,” Netanyahu argued that the Thursday-Friday hearings before the International Court of Justice, coming as it did on the heels of Hamas’s attempt to “perpetrate another Holocaust on the Jews,” constituted “a moral low in the history of nations.”

Protesters outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, Jan. 12, 2024 (AP Photo/Patrick Post)

“Notice the depth of the absurdity and hypocrisy — the supporters of the new Nazis dare to accuse us of genocide. Whom do they support? Murderers, rapists, baby-burners? What an embarrassment, what an embarrassment,” he said.

“The State of Israel, the IDF and our security forces are fighting a moral and just war,” he continued, declaring that “this international defamation campaign will not weaken our hands or weaken our determination to fight to the end.”

The application to the ICJ against Israel by South Africa alleges that Israel has violated the Genocide Convention, to which it is a signatory. It cites the large number of Palestinian civilians killed during the war, and the severely reduced access to food, water, and medical care of the Gazan population, which South Africa alleges are the result of a planned Israeli effort to commit genocide against Palestinians in Gaza.

Numerous inflammatory statements made by Israel government ministers and MKs about Palestinians in Gaza were invoked by South Africa’s lawyers to allege Israeli intent to commit genocide, as Pretoria sought an ICJ order for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war.

Among the statements quoted at the ICJ was National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s assertion that “when we say that Hamas should be destroyed, it includes those who celebrate, those who support, and those who hand out candy — they’re all terrorists, and they should also be destroyed.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting of his far-right Otzma Yehudit party, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 1, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Both Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich have called to displace Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, a policy rejected by Netanyahu, who recently stated that “Israel has no intention of permanently occupying Gaza or displacing its civilian population.”

Israeli representatives at the ICJ argued Friday that “random” inflammatory comments of Israeli politicians did not reflect policy determined in the state bodies making war policy; and insisted that the massive harm to Palestinian civilians during the war was a result of Hamas’s widespread use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes, rather than genocidal intent.

L-R: Dr. Tal Becker, Prof. Malcolm Shaw KC, Dr, Gilad Noam, Dr. Galit Raguan attend a hearing in the case brought to the International Court of Justice at The Hague in which South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide in its war with Hamas in Gaza, January 12, 2024. (International Court of Justice)

Netanyahu made a similar argument on Saturday evening when asked by reporters about statements made by far-right members of his government.

“Things have been said across the political spectrum and they carry no weight – for one reason: What matters is the government’s policy as determined by the government and the cabinet,” Netanyahu declared, adding that “the IDF avoids harming noncombatants, this is our policy.”

During the question and answer portion of the press conference, Netanyahu was pushed to address the plight of the families of the roughly 132 hostages still in Gaza. The premier responded that no one can put themselves in their “nightmare” situation, adding that his heart is with them and that he will not rest until all of their loved ones are returned.

But he went on to say that the hostages’ families cannot put themselves in the shoes of the political decision-makers, suggesting that other considerations need to be taken into account in negotiations to free those held captive.

Some critics of this stance argue that the government must pay whatever price is necessary to free the hostages, given that the state had a responsibility to protect its citizens and failed to do so on October 7.

Regarding US Secretary of State Blinken’s demand that Israel hand over to the Palestinian Authority tax revenues it collects on the Ramallah’s behalf, Netanyahu claimed some of the money owed had in fact been transferred to the PA: “It is sitting in their bank account.”

The PA has not withdrawn it, however, he said, “because they insist that we give money to people in Gaza, and we don’t want to give money to people who helped or could help Hamas in the murders it carried out or will carry out. So we don’t give that money.”

Asked about the decision to not allow the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians who evacuated northern Gaza to return, Netanyahu answered that Israel’s policies adhere to the laws of war.

“There is an international law and it says a simple thing: You remove a population to keep it away from a combat zone, and you do not return it as long as the danger exists,” he said. “There is extensive fighting in the northern Gaza Strip and we will not bring residents back while there is fighting.”

IDF troops operate inside the Gaza Strip, on January 13, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Asked if Israel intends to reestablish control over the Philadelphi Corridor, which runs for 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) along the Gaza-Egypt border, Netanyahu replied that this was “one possibility for what I call a southern barrier.”

“We will not end the war without closing this breach. Otherwise we will not eliminate Hamas, we will not demilitarize Gaza and then more weapons will enter through this southern breach. Obviously we need to to close it. There are several options and we have not yet made a decision,” he said.

The spokesperson for Egypt’s foreign ministry hit back at Netanyahu indicating that Cairo will remain in control of its borders after the war.

“Egypt fully controls its borders and controls it completely, and these issues are subject to legal and security agreements between the countries involved, so any talk on this matter is generally subject to scrutiny and is responded to with declared positions,” Ahmed Abu Zeid said during an interview with Egyptian television channel Sada El-Balad.

Additionally, Netanyahu expressed approval of IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi’s announcement of an internal probe into the military’s mistakes ahead of October 7, while adding that an external investigation into the matter would be counterproductive at this time.

It is “obvious” that the military needs to examine itself operationally but when it comes to an outside probe, “I think there is no one who wants the commanders in the IDF to be looking for lawyers instead of dealing with the fighting,” he declared.

A cabinet meeting called to discuss Israel’s postwar plans for the Gaza Strip earlier this month ended in acrimony and recriminations between cabinet members and Halevi, with ministers appearing unhappy with the very formation of the investigative team, seemingly concerned its findings could also reflect badly on them.

On October 7, thousand of Hamas-led terrorists burst across the border into Israel from Gaza and killed some 1,200 people, the large majority of whom were civilians, while also committing severe atrocities including rape, torture, and other crimes.

They took hostage some 240 people, of whom 132 remain in captivity, although not all of them are alive. Israel subsequently declared war on Gaza with the goal of eliminating Hamas and its capability to threaten Israel’s security, and releasing the hostages. In this campaign, the Israel Defense Forces faces a situation in which Hamas has placed its fighters and constructed its military installations throughout Gaza’s civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, mosques and homes.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says over 23,000 people have been killed in the fighting, though these figures cannot be independently verified, and are believed to include both civilians and combatants, some as a consequence of terror groups’ own rocket misfires. The IDF says it has killed over 8,500 Hamas fighters in Gaza, in addition to some 1,000 terrorists inside Israel on October 7.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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