Gallant, Gantz said to reject invite for joint press conference

Ruling out resigning, PM says he’s made Israel stronger; is cautious on hostage deal

Netanyahu: War against Hamas will last ‘many more months’, Gaza-Egypt border must be ‘in our hands’ to ensure demilitarization; warns Hezbollah and Iran against escalating in north

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 gives a press conference, December 30, 2023 (GPO screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press conference, December 30, 2023 (GPO screenshot)

Primer Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday said he has no plans to resign and indicated he intends to remain in power once the war is over, to ensure Gaza is demilitarized and no new terror threat can emerge from there following Hamas’s October 7 massacres in southern Israel.

Asked about his plans for the day after the war in the face of calls for him to resign, Netanyahu replied: “The only thing I’m going to resign from is Hamas.”

“In the years I’ve led the State of Israel, it got much stronger,” he asserted, despite the country having sustained the worst one-day losses in its history on October 7, with most of the 1,200 victims of the Hamas slaughter being civilians. He cited the fact that “we can manage a multi-front campaign” that will soon have lasted 90 days, with a “wonderful army,” a strong economy and “international backing.”

“My policy is clear: We continue to fight until all the objectives of the war have been achieved, primarily the elimination of Hamas and the release of all our hostages,” Netanyahu told reporters during a press conference at the Israel Defense Forces’ headquarters in Tel Aviv, pledging to “guarantee that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel.”

He stressed that the war will last “many more months.”

“To achieve absolute victory, to fulfill all our goals, more time is needed. We act all the time with determination and strength, and I would like to emphasize — we do this while protecting the lives of our fighters as much as possible,” he said, adding that Israel was now “deepening the fight against Hamas.”

“Over 8,000 terrorists have been killed” and Hamas’s military capabilities are being destroyed “step by step,” he said.

He stressed that he was also committed to restoring security along the border with Lebanon in the north amid escalating Hezbollah attacks, so the residents who were evacuated from there can return home.

“If Hezbollah widens the fighting, it will absorb strikes it never dreamed of. And so, too, Iran,” he pledged. “We will fight by all means until we have restored security for the residents of the north.”

IDF forces operate in the Gaza Strip, in a handout photo released on December 29, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Support for Netanyahu, already sliding before the war over his handling of the controversial judicial overhaul push, has plunged since Hamas’s October 7 massacre, in which terrorists rampaged through southern communities, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking some 240 hostages to Gaza.

Some critics of Netanyahu linked the failure to stop the shock incursion to the prime minister’s policy of passing along funds from Qatari to appease Hamas and the now-debunked concept that the terror group had been deterred by previous rounds of fighting.

According to a Channel 13 news survey published earlier this month, 70 percent of Israelis believe Netanyahu should resign as prime minister.

A full investigation of the failures surrounding October 7 will take place only “at the end of the fighting,” although some lessons have “already been learned,” Netanyahu told reporters.

Rehovot resident Guy Ginat (left) at an anti-government rally in Tel Aviv’s Habima Square. Ginat said the country was becoming undemocratic under the current government and that he attended the rally to demand immediate elections, December 30, 2023. (Jeremy Sharon/The Times of Israel)

Asked how he would like to be remembered, and reminded that in the past he had said he wanted to be seen as someone who had boosted Israel’s security, Netanyahu said “History will judge,” and added that he was working to “ensure Israel is strong economically, strong militarily, strong diplomatically.”

During Saturday’s press conference, Netanyahu also stressed his government’s actions in the West Bank, declaring that under his leadership “we work around the clock: arresting terrorists, eliminating terrorists, thwarting many terrorist attacks.”

Israeli security forces surround a car which was used by a Palestinian to ram into a group of Israelis at the entrance of al-Fawwar refugee camp, south of Hebron in the West Bank, on December 30, 2023. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

He added that after the war, Gaza will not be governed by any entity “that finances terrorism, that educates its children for terrorism and that pays the families of terrorism,” a reference to the Palestinian Authority, which pays stipends to terror convicts and the families of slain terrorists. “Not Fatahstan and not Hamastan,” he said of the future Gaza.

Netanyahu also said that the Philadelphi Route, which runs for 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) all along the Gaza-Egypt border, “has to be in our hands” in order to ensure that Gaza is and remains demilitarized.

Netanyahu expressed appreciation for Washington’s support for the ongoing military operations in the face of international pressure to end the war before its goals are achieved, including at the UN Security Council last week and through ongoing provision of weapons.

Washington and Jerusalem have been at odds regarding Ramallah’s role in a postwar Gaza, and Netanyahu’s comments came after a senior official sought to downplay National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi’s recent suggestion that the government may allow a reformed Palestinian Authority to be involved in the territory’s governance.

While Netanyahu pushed off war cabinet talks scheduled for this week on a postwar vision for Gaza, Israel’s National Security Council has held eight separate discussions on how to handle the “day after” Israel’s combat operations in Gaza, the premier said.

The war cabinet instead held “a different debate,” he said, devoted to what he termed “the most important national security issue.” He did not elaborate. He said the security cabinet, a larger ministerial body, would discuss issues related to Gaza after the war at a meeting next week. But “first let’s get to the day after… First, let’s destroy Hamas.”

Hebrew-language media reported that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and fellow war cabinet member Benny Gantz rejected Netanyahu’s request to join him at Saturday’s press conference, in part due to their anger at his refusal to raise the subject of the “day after the war” during cabinet meetings.

The prime minister also took time to criticize his predecessor Naftali Bennett for publicly discussing past Israeli attacks on Iran. Bennett wrote an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal last week in which he revealed that he had directed Israel’s security forces to strike Iran on two occasions in 2022, while he was prime minister.

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett at a court hearing in the defamation lawsuit against Rabbi Yosef Mizrahi at the Magistrate’s Court in Tel Aviv, September 11, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“This is extremely irresponsible,” Netanyahu said. “You don’t do that.”

He said Israel was “acting against Iran all the time, everywhere, in every way, and I won’t go into details.”

“Iran leads the axis of evil and aggression against us on the various fronts,” Netanyahu also declared, vowing to “do everything, but everything, to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.”

Israelis attend a rally calling for the release of hostages held by the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group, at Hostages Square in Tel Aviv, December 30, 2023. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

In response to questions about reports of possible progress toward a new agreement for the release of hostages, Netanyahu said that “Hamas has issued all kinds of ultimatums that we’ve not accepted” but that if a viable deal is possible, “it will be carried out.”

Right now, he added carefully, “We see a possibility, maybe, for movement.” But he also stressed: “I don’t want to raise exaggerated expectations.”

It is believed that 129 hostages abducted by Hamas on October 7 remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during a weeklong truce in late November. Four hostages were released prior to that, and one was rescued by troops. The bodies of eight hostages have also been recovered and three hostages were mistakenly killed by the military. The IDF has confirmed the deaths of 23 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Hamas is also holding the bodies of fallen IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin since 2014, as well as two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, who are both thought to be alive after entering the Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

Most Popular
read more: