Early this morning, Hamas fired the first shot that signaled the end of its ceasefire deal with Israel, roughly an hour before the truce was due to expire. Before the ceasefire broke there had been a night of intense negotiations over the next stage of the hostage releases. Hamas, as it has done since negotiations started, tried every trick in the book to buy time and maximize its gains. Last night, it did not agree to Israel’s demand to release the remaining surviving women.
Hamas has violated the ceasefire deal on several occasions. It breached some of it terms about separating mothers and children. It also broke the ceasefire in Gaza by attacking IDF soldiers, and again when it claimed responsibility for a terror attack in Jerusalem yesterday. In that attack, three Israeli civilians were killed. Despite this, Israel has carried on adhering to the ceasefire agreement, not wanting to risk the hostages. Today, Israel’s patience finally ended, and it resumed fighting following Hamas’s missile attack.
Over the last seven days, Hamas has released 105 hostages, with Israeli women and children and foreign nationals gaining their freedom. In return, Israel has released Palestinian prisoners — women and men younger than nineteen — at a rate of three Palestinians for every one Israeli released. If another ceasefire is agreed, it will include adult male hostages — some are fathers to children who were held in captivity by Hamas and released — and bodies of Israelis held by Hamas. It’s possible that in exchange, Hamas will change its demands.
If talks restart, Hamas is likely to demand the release of adult male hostages that are imprisoned for serious terrorism offenses, and will try to increase the number of prisoners they want in return for each released Israeli. The release of dangerous terrorists is something that Israel may not agree to. Past experience has shown that many released prisoners have gone on to plan or commit acts of terrorism resulting in the death of Israelis. It has also been an incentive to abduct more hostages.
Although the Israeli public is keen for all of the hostages to return, including the deceased, the majority are unlikely to support this kind of deal — especially one involving the release of terrorists. The public equally expects the Israeli Defense Forces to continue fighting Hamas until the terrorist group is no longer a serious threat and is unable to maintain control over the Gaza Strip.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant have repeatedly declared during the ceasefire that they are still committed to the military option against Hamas. Today they acted on their promise.
Continued warfare will not be an easy task. Although the IDF’s remarkable achievements have squeezed Hamas into agreeing to the release of women and children, the ceasefire deal also showed that Hamas is still sufficiently organized and in control. It’s a tough negotiator that has lied, deceived and used psychological warfare, for example by claiming that a hostage was killed then releasing her alive a few weeks later. It has been successfully hiding hostages in various locations and was able to deliver them to the Red Cross.
The hostages released so far by Hamas have been somewhat of a burden to the organization; Hamas has suffered widespread international condemnation for abducting women, children and elderly people. Their release was therefore used by Hamas for public relations. Hamas soldiers were filmed helping Israeli children and elderly women while handing them over to the Red Cross, making them look like your average friendly neighborhood freedom fighter.
In reality, the hostages have been cruelly abducted, and many have lost loved ones, killed by Hamas in front of their eyes. Several suffered injuries or illness and most have been denied vital healthcare. They have returned to Israel traumatized, weak and malnourished. Early accounts suggest that they have been starved and suffered physical and emotional torture, with their bodies marked by burns. Some were reportedly held in cages.
Although the US administration favors the removal of Hamas as Gaza’s governing body and fully supports Israel’s need to defend itself, it backed a continuation of the ceasefire. President Biden is committed to the return of Israeli hostages and his involvement, along with that of CIA director William Burns, has been pivotal during the negotiations. Yesterday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the administration’s satisfaction that the ceasefire had allowed for the release of hostages and doubling of humanitarian aid in Gaza. The Americans have also expressed their concern with the war continuing, resulting in the death and displacement of large numbers of Palestinian civilians. This is something that Israel will need to consider in the next stage of the war. Fighting will expand to southern Gaza, where Hamas’s offensive abilities are still substantial, and where there are more civilians. The IDF today started informing Palestinian civilians about specific areas in the south they should avoid for their own safety.
Hamas has used the ceasefire to regroup and conditions will now be more dangerous for Israeli troops in Gaza. However, the ceasefire also gave Israeli troops some much needed rest from the intense fighting. Israel may now use even greater force to make Hamas return to the negotiating table. Egypt, Qatar and the US will continue mediating in the hope of reaching another ceasefire deal. But while a new deal is in the interest of both sides, it will require bigger concessions and will be even more difficult to achieve.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.