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Stop Fantasizing on a Heroic Military Operation. Israel Must Strike a Hostage Deal, Now

About two months after the hostage exchange deal blew up, we can state with certainty that the decision to stop it was a terrible mistake. We must say clearly that the hostages have to be freed through a deal. That is the only way.

Families of hostages call for the immediate release of hostages, in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, January 20.,Credit: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters // Haaretz

In a shocking interview with journalist Ilana Dayan, war cabinet member Gadi Eisenkot revealed that he supported continuing the deal even though Hamas had violated it. Most members of the security cabinet opposed doing so.

The hostages and their families are paying a heavy price for that opposition. At least 16 hostages have been killed in captivity, and the release of the others seems more distant than ever. Eisenkot has also paid a terrible personal price. His son Gal was killed in an operation to recover the bodies of dead hostages about a week after the deal blew up.

Had Israel shown flexibility and not tried "to educate" Hamas' leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, many more hostages would have returned and at a much lower price than Hamas is demanding now – an end to the fighting, an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, international guarantees that Hamas will remain in power and the release of all Palestinian prisoners and detainees in Israel.

But we need to learn from the mistakes of the past and realize that we must negotiate with Hamas, even over this proposal. Given the way the Israel Defense Forces is treading water in Gaza, ending the fighting isn't such a terrible idea.

The public is slowly coming to understand that the vows to topple Hamas' government and destroy the organization won't be kept. And in the end, we'll also have to realize that Hamas will presumably be part of Gaza's future government.

The idea that it's possible to free the hostages through heroic military operations is also a ridiculous fantasy. Such operations will only endanger the lives of both the hostages and the soldiers. The fighting is portrayed as the thing that made the first hostage deal possible. But whether that's true, it's clear that now, contrary to the claims of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, that is no longer the case because the fighting is now less intense.

The head of the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, Ronen Tzur, announced that he currently intends to focus on demanding an end to humanitarian aid to Gaza as a way to pressure Hamas. But this would also be a mistake.

First, that's because it is immoral and illegal to starve civilians. Second, the international community, which in any case is criticizing Israel harshly for allegedly starving Gaza's residents and committing genocide against them, would be given proof that it is right. And there's no guarantee that U.S. President Joe Biden would rush to Israel's aid if we did take this step, as it blatantly defies America's demands.

Palestinians line up for food in Rafah, Gaza Strip, in December.  (Credit: Fatima Shbair /AP  //  Haaretz)


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Third, it should already be clear that punishing Gaza's residents to create pressure on Hamas is ineffective. The terrorist organization is indifferent to Gazans' suffering. Aren't the deaths of more than 25,000 Gazans (many of them women and children) sufficient proof of this? It's also wrong to think that starving Hamas terrorists would make them surrender. Hamas has nothing to lose. Nor is there any point in hoping that Gaza's starved, desperate residents will rebel against Hamas if we just make life harder for them. Polls show that Palestinian support for Hamas has only grown since the war began.

Finally, ending humanitarian aid would make the hostages' already difficult situation even worse. Returned hostages have said they received less and less food as the fighting went on.

It's not enough to demonstrate, wear special dog tags or yellow ribbons and chant "now!" We must say clearly that the hostages have to be freed through a deal. That is the only way.