Emerging divisions in Israel over Gaza war

After nearly 15 weeks of war, stark divisions within Israel over the path forward in the Gaza Strip are increasingly coming into the open.

A member of Israel’s war cabinet, a general who lost a son in the conflict, in a television interview broadcast late Thursday urged the country to pursue a long ceasefire with Hamas to free remaining hostages, a rebuke of the “victory total”. prosecuted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

And in a sign of growing exasperation among some of the Israeli public at the government’s failure to free the hostages, relatives and supporters of the prisoners partially blocked traffic on a major Tel Aviv highway before dawn Friday.

Israel’s emergency coalition government is under intense and conflicting pressures as the war drags on. Right-wing politicians are urging the military to act more aggressively in Gaza, even as Israel grapples with worldwide outrage over the carnage and decimation of much of the territory. At the same time, the families of the hostages are demanding concessions to guarantee their return.

Divisions between Israel and its closest ally, the United States, are also increasingly evident. Netanyahu on Thursday appeared to rule out a long-stated goal of U.S. foreign policy: a post-war peace process that would lead to the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state.

“Israel must have security control over all territory west of the Jordan,” Netanyahu said at a news conference Thursday, referring to an area that includes occupied territory that Palestinians hope will one day become their independent state. “I tell this truth to our American friends and put a stop to the attempt to force us into a reality that would endanger the State of Israel,” he said.

President Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday in their first conversation in nearly a month, as the two leaders increasingly diverge over the conduct of the war and the future of Gaza once the fighting ends.

The White House confirmed the call in a brief statement, specifying only that the two leaders spoke “to discuss the latest developments in Israel and Gaza.” And in Yemen, the U.S. military struck three Houthi missiles and launchers, John F. Kirby, spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters Friday, a series of attacks that the White House says will continue until the militant group stops its attacks. his attacks against Red Sea Expedition.

The Israeli officer who criticized the continuation of the war, retired military chief of staff Lieutenant General Gadi Eisenkot, laid bare some of the lingering tensions within the wartime government. General Eisenkot said Israeli leaders must define a vision for how to end the war in Gaza and the desired outcome. Only an agreement with Hamas would guarantee the release of the hostages, he said, adding that Israel has so far failed in its stated goal of destroying Hamas. More than 240 people were taken hostage on October 7 and around 130 people remain captive in Gaza.

“We did not overthrow Hamas,” General Eisenkot told Uvda, an Israeli news program, in a prerecorded interview. “The situation in Gaza is such that the objectives of the war have yet to be achieved.”

General Eisenkot’s views carry weight in Israel partly because of the personal price he paid in the war: His 25-year-old son, Sergeant Gal Meir Eisenkot, was killed while fighting in Gaza last month, as he was his nephew. .

Throughout the hour-long broadcast, he appeared to be on the side of a deal to free the hostages, even if Israel had to agree to a prolonged truce with Hamas. He lamented that a week-long ceasefire last November, during which groups of hostages were released daily in exchange for imprisoned Palestinians, had expired because he said reaching a similar agreement a second time would be difficult.

Since the conflict began, at least 25 guests have been killed in captivity, according to Israeli officials, including at least one in a failed rescue attempt. In December, soldiers mistakenly identified three hostages as fighters and shot them to death.

General Eisenkot said that a heroic rescue mission – like the 1976 Entebbe raid in which Israeli commandos saved the lives of 103 people aboard a hijacked plane in Uganda – “will not happen” because the hostages were missing and because most kept underground.

Tamir Pardo, former head of the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, echoed General Eisenkot’s message in a television interview Friday evening. Those in Israel who talked about bringing back the hostages while eliminating Hamas were “lying through their teeth,” he said.

While there is broad support for the Gaza campaign among Israelis, many have become increasingly exasperated with Netanyahu’s government’s lack of progress in bringing the hostages home.

At a news conference on Thursday, some relatives of the prisoners accused Israel’s war cabinet of delaying and called on the government to conclude an international deal for the hostages. “Stop lying to us,” said Shir Siegel, whose 64-year-old father, Keith Siegel, is among the hostages. “You’re not doing everything you can.”

Highlighting divisions in the war cabinet, General Eisenkot said Netanyahu bears “loud and clear” responsibility for the country’s failure to protect its citizens on October 7, when around 1,200 people were killed in the Hamas-led assault . I called for new elections “within a few months.”

While the election could threaten wartime unity, “the Israeli public’s lack of confidence in its government is no less serious,” he said.

As the debate within Israel grows louder, a number of world leaders have raised growing alarm over the suffering of civilians in Gaza and the death toll, which now exceeds 24,000, according to Gaza health officials.

This was stated by a senior official of Unicef, the United Nations children’s fund declaration Thursday that the conditions were “among the most horrific” he had ever seen, describing seriously injured children undergoing surgeries in dangerous circumstances.

“UNICEF has described the Gaza Strip as the most dangerous place in the world to be a child,” said the official, Ted Chaiban, the agency’s deputy executive director. “We said this is a war against children. But these truths do not seem to have leaked out.”

Chaiban said his recent three-day trip to Gaza included a visit to Nasser Hospital in the southern town of Khan Younis, where the Israeli army says it is trying to crush a Hamas stronghold. The hospital has been flooded with people wounded in airstrikes, and dozens of people taking shelter there have fled in recent days as fighting rages around the compound.

He described meeting a little girl in hospital whose spleen had been removed after shrapnel cut her abdomen. The spleen plays an important role in the body’s immune system, so the child must recover in isolation, Chaiban said, because she is in “a war zone full of disease and infection.”

A 13-year-old hospitalized, Mr. Chaiban said, had developed gangrene from a hand injury and had to undergo an operation to amputate his arm, without anesthesia.

The United Nations has described dire conditions in the enclave, with scarce water, poor sanitation and many malnourished and sick children. Only 15 of Gaza’s 36 hospitals are even partially functional, according to the World Health Organization, which said the Nasser hospital alone treated 700 patients on Monday, more than double its typical workload.

Nadav Gavrielov AND Adam Rasgon contributed to the reporting.