Amid the escalating tension at the fraught Gaza border, the enigma of Erez and Sahar’s abduction, along with hundreds of other hostages, seems to be a conundrum that is unfurling a near-impossible predicament for the Israeli government.
As the Israeli army, a formidable combination of regular forces and reservists, amass along the Gaza borders, it appears that around 150 hostages kidnapped last Saturday by Hamas militants from southern Israel are being surreptitiously held within the confines of Gaza. Alarmingly, the hostages run the gamut from women, children to the elderly folks.
With anticipations of a full-fledged ground assault on Gaza by Israel gaining momentum, the safety of these hostages hangs precariously on a balance.
Diplomatic efforts are being undertaken behind closed curtains by allies including Qatar and Egypt to assure a partial release of the hostages taken by Hamas. An agreement to free the women and children held in captivity in exchange for the release of 36 Palestinian female prisoners and adolescents from Israeli prisons is an idea that is drawing attention. Yet, such a compromise appears to be a distant goal.
Senior Analyst Michael Milstein of Israel’s Reichman University’s Institute for Policy and Strategy argued that, under normal circumstances, the top priority would have been to retrieve the hostages. However, recent concerns gear towards eliminating Hamas as a military threat. With both sides reeling from the impacts of heated conflicts, concession or compromise seems an unlikely solution.
Israel battles the shock and indignation over the breach of their southern border and the horrific killing of at least 1,200 civilians, a majority of whom were murdered in cold blood. In contrast, Palestine reels from the aftermath of a series of Israeli airstrikes – over 2,000 attacks that misted a bleak cloud of death over another 1,000 lives since last Saturday.
Hamas has issued a grim warning to execute a hostage for each unsuspecting death during an Israeli airstrike. However, Milstein suspects Hamas may be reluctant to maintain custody of women, children, and the elderly, given the demands for their care and the negative international attention it garners. Instead, they focus on maximizing the benefits from any taken military personnel through negotiations for their release.
These circumstances place the Israeli government at a crossroads pertaining to the hostages; an armed rescue mission carries considerable risks, whereas waiting for Hamas to capitulate could result in depreciation of hostage immunity.
Israel’s meticulous approach is evidenced by the swift establishment of a Hostage Situation Room, which holds information about the hostages abducted to Gaza. However, Milstein, a veteran of Israeli military intelligence, acknowledges that they may not hold complete data about each location in Gaza.
Regardless, Israel has a proven track of successful hostage rescues, most significantly demonstrated by its secretive Sayeret Matkal unit’s 1976 Raid on Entebbe. With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the helm, the decision of a forced rescue or a patient negotiation Ultimately, falls to him.
The situation takes on an even larger global significance as reports point to the US providing intelligence and potential Special Forces support. Almost defiantly, Hamas has showcased a substantial capability in asymmetric warfare, using minimal digital correspondence to maintain surprise attacks.
“This is without question,” Milstein declares, “the most difficult hostage situation Israel has ever faced in its history”.