Prisoner Exchange: An Initial Acknowledgment of Power Limits

Amir Makhoul – Progress Centre for Policies

In their joint press conference on the eve of the ceasefire and the exchange deal, Netanyahu, Gantz, and Gallant hinted at the possibility of expanding the deal to include further Israeli hostages but without a firm commitment. They unanimously attributed the deal’s complexity to the ground operation in Gaza and the threat of Hamas, acknowledging the agreement as a difficult but necessary decision.

The three heads of cabinet agreed that the war will persist post-ceasefire, with a specific modification in the war objectives. Their aims as it stood were defeating Hamas, eliminating its military capabilities and governance, and ensuring the return of all Israeli captives in Gaza. Now, Netanyahu and Gallant are bent on targeting external Hamas leaders, such as Haniyah and Mashaal, wherever they are, with Gallant stating their fate as death. Gantz anticipated the need for tough decisions during the ongoing war.

The trio committed to repatriating Israeli evacuees, numbering 230,000 from the north and south, without specifying a timeline. According to Netanyahu and Gallant, there is no secret commitment regarding a ceasefire with Hezbollah in the north, suggesting that actions will be managed based on Israel’s interests and pragmatism. In contrast, Gantz issued a direct threat, indicating a repetition of Gaza’s fate in southern Lebanon if Hezbollah’s operations persist, potentially leading to all out regional war with Beirut’s fate resembling that of Gaza.

Netanyahu addressed Iran and the Houthi role in the ship seizure, emphasising Israel’s alertness without specifying response details. Netanyahu’s response regarding the Red Cross’s role and commitment to visiting currently detained Israeli individuals lacked clarity.

There was no discussion about a commitment to not release prisoners convicted of killing Israelis. Netanyahu implicitly admitted the military solution’s failure in freeing hostages, acknowledging the difficulty of the military operation to retrieve an Israeli soldier’s body a few days ago. He mentioned the possibility of future violence by released prisoners against Israel, stating Israel would take measures to prevent this.

A statement an hour and a half after the press conference from the head of the National Security Council, Tzachi Hanegbi, announcing the delay of the ceasefire’s implementation, shocked and disappointed families of hostages, eroding trust in the government’s recent promise to return their loved ones.

Initial analysis highlights a specific modification in war objectives, an acknowledgment of the military’s limits in hostage retrieval, and portrayal of the deal as an Israeli triumph over Hamas. Leaders did not rule out the ceasefire expanding in terms of the number of releases and duration, with hints at potential serious obstacles during implementation. The hesitations regarding the Red Cross’s role suggest the ceasefire is a multilateral international agreement, complicating Israel’s control over the details. As media enters Gaza, the world may discover the catastrophe’s magnitude, potentially leading to condemnation of the international community for not intervening sooner. If the ceasefire is fully realised, it could signal the possible beginning of the end of the war.

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