Netanyahu Firm on Hamas Destruction, Prepares for Potential Hezbollah War

By Yoni Weiss

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated on Sunday that Israel is willing to temporarily pause fighting in Gaza for a partial deal to secure the return of the remaining hostages held by the Hamas. However, he emphasized that the war will not end until Hamas is completely destroyed.

Netanyahu noted that the intense fighting phase in the Gaza Strip is winding down as Israel prepares for a potential war against Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which has been increasing its cross-border attacks on Israel. He made these comments in his first interview with a Hebrew-language outlet, Channel 14, since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack.

When asked about the possibility of reaching an agreement with Hamas to end the war, Netanyahu was unequivocal. “No. I’m not prepared to end the war and leave Hamas in place. I am prepared to do a partial deal, that’s no secret, that would return some of the people to us,” he said to Channel 14. “But we are obligated to continue the fighting after a pause in order to complete our goal of destroying Hamas. I’m not prepared to give up on that.”

Netanyahu’s stance appeared to contradict the terms of Israel’s latest ceasefire and hostage deal proposal, which, according to President Joe Biden, includes a temporary ceasefire leading to a permanent cessation of hostilities. Despite this, Netanyahu has maintained that Israel will not end the war until it has destroyed Hamas and secured the return of all hostages.

Sources involved in the hostage negotiations criticized Netanyahu’s remarks, arguing that they hinder the chances of reaching a deal. An Israeli official echoed this sentiment, saying Netanyahu’s comments caused significant damage to the negotiations.

Netanyahu’s comments also drew condemnation from the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, which accused him of abandoning the Israeli proposal supported by the U.S. The group stated, “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.”

In response, Netanyahu’s office blamed Hamas for opposing the deal. “Netanyahu made it clear that we will not leave Gaza until we bring back all 120 of our hostages, both living and dead,” his office stated.

Hamas interpreted Netanyahu’s comments as a rejection of the proposal and reiterated its demand for a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Despite this, Netanyahu insisted that the war would continue until Hamas no longer controls Gaza, even as the intensity of Israeli operations in the enclave would soon wind down.

Netanyahu also addressed the potential for a full-blown war with Hezbollah, expressing hope for a diplomatic solution but preparing for the possibility of conflict. He vowed that any deal with Hezbollah would ensure the group’s forces are not on the border.

Discussing postwar scenarios for Gaza, Netanyahu indicated that Israel would maintain military control and potentially establish a civilian administration with local Palestinian involvement and regional support.

Netanyahu ruled out the reestablishment of Israeli communities in Gaza, which some of his far-right coalition partners have called for, stating it is “unrealistic and does not help achieve the war aims.”

During the interview, Netanyahu also criticized political rivals and called for national unity, condemning protests against the government and asserting that the fall of his government would lead to a left-wing coalition and the creation of a Palestinian state. He dismissed claims that he bore responsibility for the failures leading up to the Oct. 7 attack, stating that it was not the right time to address these issues.

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