Halevi: IDF counts 900 dead terrorists in Rafah Brigade

Report says IDF brass backing truce even if it leaves Hamas in power; PM: Won’t happen

In latest sign of rift between Netanyahu and generals, NYT says security officials believe ceasefire is best way to release hostages; army responds it is committed to all war goals

Illustrative: The treads of an IDF tank are repaired at a position near the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, July 2, 2024. (Jack Guez / AFP)
Illustrative: The treads of an IDF tank are repaired at a position near the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, July 2, 2024. (Jack Guez / AFP)

Israel’s military leadership wants to see a ceasefire in Gaza, even if it leaves the Hamas terror group ruling the Strip, The New York Times reported on Monday, citing six current and former security officials. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly responded that this was not an option.

The generals were said to believe that a permanent ceasefire is the best way to free remaining Hamas-held hostages. They also reportedly said that the Israel Defense Forces needs to restock ahead of an expected wider conflict with Hezbollah, as diplomatic efforts have so far failed to allay fears of a potential war in Lebanon.

The New York Times did not indicate to what extent generals have pushed the position before Netanyahu, who has repeatedly promised to keep fighting until “total victory.” The premier has also said that Israel is running low on munitions, alleging that the White House is withholding arms from the country.

The Times’ report was the latest indication of a rift between Netanyahu and the military’s top brass regarding the war against Hamas, which was sparked by the Palestinian terror group’s October 7 massacre, in which 1,200 were killed in Israel and 251 were kidnapped, 116 of whom remain captive.

In a statement, Netanyahu blasted the “anonymous sources” who spoke to the US outlet.

“I don’t know who those unnamed parties are, but I’m here to make it unequivocally clear: it won’t happen,” said Netanyahu in a (Hebrew) video statement. “We will end the war only after we have achieved all of its goals, including the elimination of Hamas and the release of all our hostages.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and the head of the IDF’s Northern Command Maj. Gen. Ori Gordin, visit the northern border with Lebanon, June 25, 2024. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

“The political echelon defined these goals for the IDF,” he continued, “and the IDF has all the means to achieve them.

“We will not succumb to defeatism, neither at The New York Times nor anywhere else. We are filled with the spirit of victory, he concludes.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a July 2, 2024 video statement, says the war in Gaza will not end until Hamas is destroyed. (PMO screenshot)

The Israel Defense Force also responded to the report, saying it was “determined to keep fighting until it achieves the goals of the war, the destruction of Hamas’s military and governance capabilities, bringing back our hostages, and safely returning residents in the north and south to their homes.

“The IDF will continue fighting Hamas across the Gaza Strip,” the statement continued, “alongside continuing to improve our readiness for a war in the north, and defending all of our borders.”

During a visit to Gaza Tuesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said that the operation in the southern enclave’s Rafah would take time.

“We count in [Hamas’s] Rafah Brigade, what we saw with our eyes… over 900 dead terrorists, including commanders, at least one battalion commander, many company commanders, and many operatives,” Halevi told troops at a forward logistics base.

He said the military will continue to destroy Hamas’s infrastructure in Rafah, including its tunnels. “It takes time, so this campaign is long because we do not want to leave Rafah with the infrastructure,” Halevi added.

Officials cited in the NYT report also elaborated on a manpower crisis the IDF is facing. The newspaper cited four military officials as saying that fewer reservists are reporting for duty as the war in Gaza drags on. Five officers also said that officers were increasingly distrustful of their commanders after the army’s failures on October 7.

Five officials and officers were cited as saying Israel was running low on shells. Some added that the IDF was lacking spare parts for military vehicles, including tanks and bulldozers. Two officers said that due to the shortage of munitions, Israeli tanks in Gaza were not loaded to their full capacity.

Netanyahu effected a crisis with the United States over the past two weeks after accusing the White House of a “diminution” in arms shipments to Israel. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who visited Washington last week, said that “significant progress” had been made in resolving the crisis.

Eyal Hulata, Israel’s former national security adviser, told The New York Times that Israel was still able to fight Hezbollah.

Then-National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata speaks at the annual conference of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism Policy (ICT) at Reichman University in Herzliya, September 15, 2022. (Gilad Kavalerchik)

“If we’re dragged into a bigger war, we have enough resources and manpower,” Hulata was quoted as saying. “But we’d like to do it in the best conditions we can. And at the moment, we don’t have the best conditions.”

All the officers interviewed were said to agree with Hulata’s assessment.

Tensions have been mounting with the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group for weeks. Fires ravaged the north on Monday after rockets launched from Lebanon started them, and a barrage of 15 projectiles hit the largely evacuated city of Kiryat Shmona on Tuesday.

Former war cabinet member Benny Gantz warned on Monday that Lebanon could “soon enough start feeling war” if it failed to rein in Hezbollah.

Gantz’s statement came two weeks after the IDF said its senior commanders had approved plans for a Lebanon offensive. Later that day, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said “no place” in Israel would be safe from the terror group’s missiles.

Firefighters battle a blaze sparked by a rocket launched from Lebanon, in northern Israel on July 1, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Meanwhile, a senior adviser to Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, was quoted in the Financial Times on Tuesday as saying that the Islamic Republic would support Hezbollah with “all means” if Israel launches a war in Lebanon. The report came days after Tehran’s mission to the United Nations threatened “obliterating war” on Israel if it were to pursue “full-scale military aggression” in Lebanon.

Channel 12 news reported on Tuesday that German Foreign Minister Annaela Baerbock and German intelligence were in Lebanon in a push to de-escalate the situation.

The push comes after previous American- and French-led efforts have so far failed to make Hezbollah retreat beyond the Litani River — some 30 kilometers (19 miles) from Israel’s northern border — in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah conflict.

Hezbollah has been shelling the northern communities on a near-daily basis since October 8, a day after the Hamas onslaught started the war in Gaza.

An end to the fighting in the south would open the door for Hezbollah to hold its fire. The Iran-backed Shiite group has pledged to keep striking Israel as long as the war against Hamas in Gaza continues.

US special envoy Amos Hochstein (L) meets with Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut on June 18, 2024. (AFP)

Negotiations to secure a truce and hostages-for-prisoners exchange deal with Hamas have so far faltered, with Hamas demanding that any agreement includes a permanent end to the war and Netanyahu vowing to continue until Hamas’s military and governing capabilities are eliminated.

Touching on the issue in Sderot on Tuesday, Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich said Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar was facing defeat, and as a result could suddenly accept a ceasefire hostage deal “to save himself” and Hamas. This, he said, is therefore the time to increase IDF military pressure in Gaza.

“We see more and more indications that Hamas is breaking, and there are more and more elements who feel that [Hamas] is a moment away from the end,” said the finance minister.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if suddenly, after months of refusal, Sinwar decides to respond positively to the proposal he received for a deal,” added Smotrich, who last month threatened to bring down the government if it goes ahead with its latest hostage-ceasefire offer, which Hamas has not accepted.

The far-right minister claimed that Sinwar “is panicking, because he understands that we are close to victory, and he will want to save himself and Hamas’s rule in Gaza, so that he can return and rebuild its power, and again become part of Iran’s conventional [military] plan for the destruction [of Israel] in the next round.”

This, therefore, is “precisely not the time to stop,” he said. “This is not the time to take our foot off the gas. On the contrary. This is the moment to send in more forces [to Gaza] and turn up the military pressure.”

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