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Israel’s War Cabinet Vows To Continue War Despite Hostage Deal

Israel’s War Cabinet had a joint press conference Wednesday night, Nov. 22, to motivate support for the hostage deal, including as a path for the continuation of the war. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stressed that the security establishment unanimously supported the deal to secure the release of 50 hostages, explaining that it will not harm the military objectives; rather, it will even advance them, reported the Times of Israel. The army will use the multi-day truce to prepare for the resumption of the war, Netanyahu said. “All of our forces will be protected during the pause and intelligence collection will continue.”

“The war continues. We will continue until we complete all of our goals,” Netanyahu said, listing those goals again as removing Hamas, returning all of the hostages, and ensuring that whatever comes next in Gaza will not pose a threat to Israel.

Netanyahu vowed that the dual diplomatic and military pressure will continue after the multi-day truce and will improve terms for future deals until all of the hostages are returned home.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said he insisted on an additional clause being included in the cabinet decision approved yesterday regarding the hostage deal, which states that once the multi-day truce ends, the IDF will continue its missions of eradicating Hamas and securing the release of all hostages.

Times of Israel notes that Gallant left out the third mission, which only Netanyahu has stressed in recent weeks—that Gaza will not return to being a threat to Israel after the war—in what appears to be a gap between the premier and other war cabinet members. Whereas Netanyahu has used the third goal for the war to all but reject proposals for the Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza, Gallant and Benny Gantz have only focused on the other two goals of the war—destroying Hamas and returning the hostages. Gantz and Gallant have also promoted steps to boost the Palestinian Authority.

Benny Gantz, the third member of the war cabinet, threatened Lebanon with the same treatment that has been meted out to Gaza, in response to continued Hezbollah rocket attacks. “What’s happening now in northern Gaza can also happen in southern Lebanon and Beirut,” Gantz said. Addressing Iran, Gantz said, “We know how to [act toward those attacking] us, as well as to those who are sending them.” He declared, “No harm to Israel’s sovereignty will go unanswered.”

In response to questions, Netanyahu said he is sure Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar will try “to buy extra time” to prevent Israel from resuming its Gaza operations after the hostage deal and pause. “We are prepared for other developments too,” he said. He said he had told President Biden, to whom he had spoken just prior to the press conference, “We are taking a pause,” as agreed to in a deal that Biden had initiated, “but we are continuing afterward.”

Asked about previous hostage deals, he used the occasion to target Iran, saying that “the greatest threat to our existence” stems from the axis of evil led by Iran, and that Iran getting a nuclear weapon would pose unimaginable dangers. He said that he had done many things to thwart that, “some of which are connected to the deal to release Gilad Shalit,” but he could not elaborate further.

Netanyahu also indicated that, while the IDF may be “taking a pause,” the Mossad is not. After a reporter mentioned a (Hebrew) report asserting that Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal have been saying they expect to continue ruling Gaza after the war, Netanyahu said that he has “instructed the Mossad to act against the heads of Hamas wherever they are.” Asked whether the truce applies to targeting Hamas chiefs—a presumed reference to those abroad—Netanyahu said there is “no such obligation.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi also said Nov. 22 that the military is “not ending the war.… We are trying to connect the goals of the war, so that the pressure from the ground operation brings about the ability to also achieve the goal of this war, to create the conditions for the release of the abducted hostages,” Halevi told commanders during a visit to the Gaza Strip. “We are not ending the war. We will continue until we are victorious, going forward and continuing in other Hamas areas,” he added.

The IDF announced this morning, in the run-up to the truce taking effect, that it had struck some 300 targets in the Gaza Strip over the past day. It claimed that the targets included command centers, tunnels, weapons depots, weapon manufacturing sites, and anti-tank missile launch positions (no word on whether it bombed more hospitals after it hit the Indonesian Hospital on Nov. 21).