PM: 'Anyone who thinks we’ll stop is unmoored from reality'

Taking flak from right, Netanyahu vows war will Hamas will continue ‘until the end’

Finance Minister Smotrich pans war cabinet over report Israel prepared to release senior Palestinian security prisoners in hostage exchange deal

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking about the war on Hamas, December 20, 2023. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking about the war on Hamas, December 20, 2023. (X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared Wednesday that Israel will not end its military campaign in the Gaza Strip until it has achieved its goals, dismissing any suggestion of a halt as unrealistic.

Netanyahu’s assertion came after criticism from far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who hit out at reports of negotiations for another hostage release deal with Hamas and especially one media account, according to which the war cabinet had instructed the Mossad chief to discuss freeing high-level Palestinian security prisoners in return for Israeli captives in Gaza.

“We’re continuing the war to the end,” Netanyahu said in a statement to media. “It will continue until Hamas is destroyed — until victory…until all the goals we set are met: destroying Hamas, releasing our hostages and removing the threat from Gaza.”

“Anyone who thinks we’ll stop is unmoored from reality… We’re raining fire on Hamas, hellfire,” the prime minister said. “All Hamas terrorists, from first to last, face death. They have two options only: surrender or die.”

The war in Gaza erupted when Hamas sent thousands of gunmen into Israel on October 7 in a massive terror attack that killed around 1,200 people. The invaders also took some 240 hostages, mostly civilians, to Gaza. Israel responded with a military campaign it says aims to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza, and release the hostages.

A flurry of recent reports has said high-level efforts are being made to hammer out a hostage release agreement similar to one that secured the release of 105 captives last month during a week-long truce.

Mossad spy agency chief David Barnea reportedly met with senior US and Qatari officials in Europe earlier this week for talks on a deal. A Wednesday report by the Israel Hayom daily said that the war cabinet had authorized Barnea to discuss the release of “quality terrorists,” although the assertion was removed when the article was later updated.

Finance minister and head of the Religious Zionist party, Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, December 18, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/ Flash90)

“The war cabinet should send the head of the Mossad to eliminate Hamas leaders wherever they are, and not to talk with them and conduct negotiations,” Smotrich, who is a member of the security cabinet but not the war cabinet, wrote on X.

The members of the war cabinet, formed to oversee the military campaign, are Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz, who in the past served as defense minister and chief of staff of the IDF.

Netanyahu’s Likud party scolded the finance minister in response, saying it’s “sad” that Smotrich posted  comments on “things that have no basis.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has already instructed the Mossad to eliminate Hamas leaders wherever they are, just as he instructed the finance minister to open the faucets and ensure that funds get to citizens, businesses, soldiers and reservists,” Likud said. The jibe was an apparent reference to criticism by the state comptroller this week that hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens, especially evacuees from the north and south, were left in dire financial straits by the state’s failure to speedily provide them with economic assistance.

Responding to Likud’s comments, Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party said, “The only faucets that the prime minister tried to pressure the finance minister to open, in all kinds of ways, are those designed to convey money to the Palestinian Authority so that it can transfer them to Hamas in Gaza. It’s good that the finance minister stepped in and set a red line.”

Earlier this week, Smotrich spoke out against a possible plan to transfer Palestinian tax funds, collected by Israel, to the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, which would then funnel them to the Gaza Strip, where Hamas holds sway. The terror seized Gaza from the PA in a bloody coup in 2007.

Mossad director David Barnea speaks at a conference at Reichman University, on September 10, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

It is believed that 128 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive — after 105 civilians were released from Hamas captivity during the 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 along with three hostages who were mistakenly killed by the military. The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed the deaths of 21 of those still held by Hamas, citing new intelligence and findings obtained by troops operating in Gaza.

Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh, who is based in Qatar, arrived in Cairo Wednesday to conduct talks with Egyptian officials thought to be focused on a possible truce in the Israel-Hamas war and a deal to release some of the hostages.

Hamas leaders have publicly said they will only free hostages in exchange for a permanent ceasefire, though reports in recent days have indicated talks for another short-term truce to release more hostages may be advancing.

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