'Intense phase of the fighting against Hamas is about to end'

PM says open to partial pause and hostage deal but war won’t end until Hamas destroyed

Netanyahu later says ‘Hamas is the one opposing the deal, not Israel,’ as hostage families accuse him of ‘walking back’ offer; Eisenkot: His comments contradict war cabinet decisions

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 14 in the first interview he's given to an Israeli news outlet since October 7, on June 23, 2024. (Screenshot, Channel 14, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Channel 14 in the first interview he's given to an Israeli news outlet since October 7, on June 23, 2024. (Screenshot, Channel 14, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said that Israel was prepared to pause fighting in Gaza for a partial deal in exchange for the return of a number of hostages held by Hamas, but insisted the war will not end until the terror group is destroyed.

Netanyahu also said the intense fighting phase in the Gaza Strip was winding down as Israel increasingly readies for a potential outright conflict with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has been intensifying its cross-border attacks on Israel.

Netanyahu was speaking on the right-wing Channel 14 in his first interview with a Hebrew-language outlet since Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught.

Asked whether he was prepared to reach an agreement with Hamas after the high-intensity phase of the conflict is over that would constitute a commitment to end the war, Netanyahu said: “No. I’m not prepared to end the war and leave Hamas standing. I am prepared to do a partial deal, that’s no secret, that would return some of the people to us.”

“But we are obligated to continue the fighting after a pause in order to complete our goal of destroying Hamas,” he told the TV channel’s “The Patriots” program. “I’m not prepared to give up on that.”

Netanyahu’s comments appeared to contradict the terms of Israel’s latest ceasefire and hostage deal proposal, some of whose details were presented by US President Joe Biden last month, which reportedly provides for a temporary ceasefire in the first phase of the deal, to be extended into “a sustainable calm (cessation of military operations and hostilities permanently)” in the second phase. However, Netanyahu has repeatedly denied that the Israeli proposal provides for ending the war before Israel achieves its two declared goals of destroying Hamas and bringing home all the hostages.

Former war cabinet observer MK Gadi Eisenkot said Monday that Netanyahu’s comments contradicted decisions made by the war cabinet. “As someone who sat in the cabinet, there were only two options: A full deal all at once, or a comprehensive deal in three stages. The cabinet voted unanimously on this, and therefore Netanyahu’s statement about a ‘partial deal’ is contrary to the war cabinet’s decisions.

Eisenkot, who left the government two weeks ago together with his National Unity party leader Benny Gantz, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that Netanyahu’s remarks caused the families of hostages “emotional turmoil,” and constituted “critical damage to Israel’s national resilience.” He added: “Maybe it was a slip of the tongue… This requires immediate clarification from the prime minister.”

MK Gadi Eisenkot attends a Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee meeting on June 24, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Sources involved in the latest round of hostage talks slammed the premier’s remarks, telling the Haaretz daily, “Netanyahu clarified today that he is not interested in the release of all the hostages — the demand he himself is making of Hamas — and is not prepared to provide the goods that Hamas is demanding.”

“In such a situation, [Hamas chief in Gaza Yahya] Sinwar has no motivation to advance a deal,” one of the sources was quoted as saying.

An Israeli official cited by the Walla news site issued similar criticism, saying, “Netanyahu’s comments this evening caused tremendous damage to the chances for reaching a deal.”

A woman walks past photographs of hostages held by Hamas terrorists in Gaza since October 7 on June 23, 2024 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Hamas kidnapped 251 people on October 7, when thousands of terrorists led by the group stormed southern Israel to kill some 1,200 people, sparking the war in Gaza. It is believed that 116 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza, though dozens are believed dead.

Netanyahu’s comments were also denounced by the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which accused him of withdrawing his support for the Israeli proposal being pushed by the US, which the current negotiations are based on.

“We strongly condemn the prime minister’s statement in which he walked back from the Israeli proposal. This means he is abandoning 120 hostages and breaching the moral duty of the State of Israel to its citizens,” the group said in a statement.

Netanyahu’s office released a statement later Sunday laying the blame solely on Hamas.

“Hamas is the one opposing the deal, not Israel,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. “Netanyahu made it clear that we will not leave Gaza until we bring back all 120 of our hostages, both living and dead.”

Hamas charged that Netanyahu’s comments amounted to a rejection of the proposal unveiled by Biden in late May, and it reiterated its demand that any agreement include a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and an end to the war sparked by its October 7 attack.

Troops of the 401st Armored Brigade operate in southern Gaza’s Rafah, in a handout photo published June 23, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces)

Netanyahu, however, made clear during the interview that the war would continue until Hamas no longer controls Gaza, even as he said the intensity of Israeli operations in the enclave would soon wind down.

Once the intense fighting is over in Gaza, Netanyahu said, Israel will be able to deploy more forces along the northern front.

“The intense phase of the fighting against Hamas is about to end,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that the war is about to end, but the war in its intense phase is about to end in Rafah.”

“After the end of the intense phase” in Gaza, the prime minister added, Israel will “redeploy some forces to the north… primarily for defensive purposes.”

Addressing the possibility of a full-blown war with Hezbollah, Netanyahu said he hoped there would be a diplomatic solution but was bracing for the possibility there would not be.

“We will meet this challenge too. We can fight on several fronts. We are prepared for this,” he stated.

Netanyahu vowed that Israel would enforce any deal with Hezbollah to ensure that the terror group’s forces are not on the border, saying, “It won’t be an agreement on paper.”

“It will include the physical distancing of Hezbollah from the border, and we will need to enforce it… We are committed to returning the residents of the north to their homes,” he added.

Fires and black smoke rises from houses in the northern Israeli border community of Metula which were hit by Hezbollah anti-tank missiles, as seen from the Lebanese town of Marjayoun, June 22, 2024. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

According to Netanyahu, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi told him there was hope for a diplomatic solution to the problem on the Lebanon border, after their trip to Washington last week.

Netanyahu was also asked about Israel’s ability to withstand strikes on its power grid, after a senior electricity official warned last week that Israel was not ready for all-out war with Hezbollah. The premier pledged “there will be no catastrophe.”

“We are working to protect it — unique protections that I cannot go into,” he said.

Israel trying ‘another plan’ for local governance in Gaza

Turning to postwar scenarios for Gaza, Netanyahu said it was “clear” that Israel will maintain “military control in the foreseeable future.”

“We also want to create a civilian administration, if possible with local Palestinians” and regional backing “to manage humanitarian supply and later on civilian affairs in the Strip,” added Netanyahu.

The prime minister declined to say who would rule Hamas after the war, saying only that the army had approached him five months ago with the idea of using local clans to rule the Strip.

“Now they brought me another plan, which we are trying,” said Netanyahu, who is opposed to the Palestinian Authority’s return to Gaza. “I won’t go into details so that it will work.”

Palestinians in the Zawaida camp, in the central Gaza Strip, on June 22, 2024 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Netanyahu ruled out the reestablishment of Israeli settlements in Gaza, as a number of his far-right coalition partners have called for.

“Settlement in Gaza is unrealistic and does not help achieve the war aims,” he said.

Slams political opponents, says ‘time for unity’

During the interview, Netanyahu also lashed out at his political rivals, slamming National Unity party leaders Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot for leaving the government earlier this month and attacking the war leadership they were recently part of. “There need to be limits to the opposition as well,” he said.

He added, “No one will rush to topple the government in the middle of a war,” claiming the fall of the government would bring about a left-wing coalition that would create a Palestinian state, a charge he has made for years.

Asked if calls by IDF reservists to stop performing volunteer duty as a means of opposing the government’s controversial judicial overhaul legislation had led in part to the October 7 Hamas onslaught, Netanyahu responded that the months of anti-government protests were “a disaster” that “came from the left.”

“I said it [protests] endangered Israel at the time,” said Netanyahu. He said they were “an important factor” in the failures surrounding the October 7 massacre, “but not the main factor.”

Protesters gather during an anti-government rally calling for early elections and a hostage deal, outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on June 18, 2024 (Menahem Kahana / AFP)

Netanyahu also denounced the current protests against the government, calling on demonstrators “to get a grip” as “this is the time for unity.”

“Their goal is to topple the government and every time there’s another excuse,” he said in an apparent reference to demonstrations in recent years over the judicial overhaul and his ongoing trial on corruption charges. “I don’t think this reflects most of the nation. I appeal to most of the nation and say, this is the time for unity.”

He also refused to address the lead-up to the October 7 atrocities, which he has repeatedly refused to accept any responsibility for, while again forcibly denying that he had subscribed to a “conception” that the terror group was deterred.

“There is no point at the moment to address the days before the onslaught. This is isn’t the time to discuss this. There will be time to discuss this after we finish this intense war,” said Netanyahu.

Asked by his interviewers about “all kinds of conspiracy theories regarding treason in the IDF and security establishment that led to the catastrophe that befell us” on October 7, Netanyahu said: “I don’t buy it. I think there are things that will need to be checked.”

He added, without elaboration, that “There was also a strange case of spying, after the war,” but concluded: “I didn’t see signs. I saw a lot of failures that will need to be thoroughly clarified, but I don’t buy the conspiracy theories.”

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