After more than 100 days of war, Israel’s limited progress in dismantling Hamas has raised doubts within the military’s high command about the near-term feasibility of achieving the country’s principal wartime objectives: eradicating Hamas and also liberating the Israeli hostages still in Gaza.
Israel has established control over a smaller part of Gaza at this point in the war than it originally envisaged in battle plans from the start of the invasion, which were reviewed by The New York Times. That slower than expected pace has led some commanders to privately express their frustrations over the civilian government’s strategy for Gaza, and led them to conclude that the freedom of more than 100 Israeli hostages still in Gaza can be secured only through diplomatic rather than military means.
The dual objectives of freeing the hostages and destroying Hamas are now mutually incompatible, according to interviews with four senior military leaders, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to speak publicly about their personal opinions.
There is also a clash between how long Israel would need to fully eradicate Hamas — a time-consuming slog fought in the group’s warren of underground tunnels — and the pressure, applied by Israel’s allies, to wrap up the war quickly amid a spiraling civilian death toll.
The generals further said that a drawn-out battle intended to fully dismantle Hamas would most likely cost the lives of the Israeli hostages held in Gaza since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants invaded Israel, killed roughly 1,200 people and took some 240 captives, according to Israeli estimates.
Hamas freed more than 100 hostages in November, but has said it will not release the others unless Israel agrees to completely cease hostilities. Most of the remaining hostages are thought to be held by Hamas cells that are hiding within the subterranean fortress of tunnels that extends for hundreds of miles beneath the surface of Gaza.
On Thursday, Gadi Eisenkot, a former army chief who is serving in the war cabinet, exposed a rift inside the government when he said in a television interview that it was an “illusion” to believe that the hostages could be rescued alive through military operations.
“The situation in Gaza is such that the war aims have yet to be achieved,” said Mr. Eisenkot, adding: “For me, there’s no dilemma. The mission is to rescue civilians, ahead of killing an enemy.” [Continue reading…]