Hamas Or The Hostages? Rejecting A False And Dangerous Dichotomy

Can Israel defeat Hamas while securing the release of its hostages, or must it choose between these two goals? This question, frequently posed in Israeli media narratives and political discourse, is not just misleading but fundamentally flawed. It distracts from a more pressing reality—that Hamas will have no interest in releasing all of the hostages if it is granted a ceasefire. The paradox has a direct effect on the intolerable war of attrition being waged by Hezbollah in northern Israel. 

As US Special Envoy Amos Hochstein wraps up another visit to the region, Hezbollah continues to link any future ceasefire in Lebanon to a ceasefire in Gaza, creating a strategic entanglement. 

In Gaza, Hamas terror chief Yahya Sinwar responds to ceasefire proposals with conditional counter-offers that ultimately aim to extract more concessions from Israel. This dynamic is vividly reflected in the latest United Nations Security Council resolution on Gaza, Resolution 2735, adopted on May 31.

It calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and sets the stage for further negotiations. President Biden echoed this sentiment, advocating for a sustained ceasefire contingent on the release of some of the Israeli hostages, with additional phases to discuss further conditions. Stage two of this plan could go on indefinitely.

This approach risks playing into Hamas’s hands. As Sinwar uses negotiations to gain more leverage, he aims to prolong the talks indefinitely, allowing Hamas to rebuild its military capabilities and retake control over Gaza without releasing all of the hostages. 

The implications of Sinwar’s strategy extend beyond Gaza. In the north, Hezbollah continues its attacks, displacing tens of thousands of Israelis. The ongoing attacks by Hezbollah underscore a critical point: as long as the southern front remains unresolved, quiet in the north remains elusive. 

This seemingly perpetual state of low-intensity conflict serves to weaken Israel strategically and internally, a goal shared by Hamas, Hezbollah, and their backers in Iran. Iran’s role in this conflict cannot be overstated. It supports both Hamas and Hezbollah, fostering a multi-front campaign of attrition designed to exhaust Israel. 

The Iranian strategy aims to inflict high costs on Israel, even if it means significant losses for Hamas. The ultimate goal is not necessarily the preservation of Hamas’s military power but the protracted erosion of Israeli strength and unity. 

The debate within Israel, unfortunately, reflects this. While some argue for concessions to secure a ceasefire and the return of hostages, others see this as a dangerous precedent that emboldens Israel’s enemies. 

The real issue is not whether Israel can defeat Hamas or secure hostages, but how it can do both without falling into the trap of endless negotiations that serve only to strengthen its adversaries. 

To address this, it is crucial to reject the false dichotomy that Israel must choose between defeating Hamas and freeing hostages. Both goals are interconnected. Any ceasefire or negotiation that does not include clear mechanisms to prevent Hamas from rearming and solidifying its control over Gaza is bound to fail. 

As long as there are no effective pressure points on Sinwar, he has no incentive to release all hostages. The international community, including the United States, must understand this dynamic. The goal should be a united front that demands the release of all hostages as a starting point. 

This must be coupled with sustained efforts to dismantle Hamas’s military infrastructure and prevent its resurgence. Only by maintaining pressure on Hamas can Israel hope to achieve security for its citizens. 

The ongoing discussions in the Israeli media and among its political and military leaders reflect a deep frustration. What is lacking from this discourse, however, is the recognition that the current approach to phased negotiations is flawed. It risks entrenching Hamas’s power and prolonging the suffering of hostages, leading Israel into a lose-lose situation.

The notion that Israel must choose between defeating Hamas and freeing hostages is a false narrative that undermines our resilience. The international community and Israel must reject this dichotomy.
This is the only way the IDF’s military achievements in Gaza will lead us to reach our goals, namely bringing the hostages back home and eliminating Hamas’s military abilities.

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Picture of Sarit Zehavi

Sarit Zehavi

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