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Top Israeli journalist: ‘We should stop the war only for one condition: if Sinwar gives up the hostages’ 




Ron Ben-Yishai is one of Israel’s leading foreign and defense policy specialists, as well as an expert of the Arab-Muslim world. Currently a commentator on national and international security issues and war and military affairs correspondent for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, he has covered during the last four decades every major conflict in the Middle East and in the world on the ground.

He played himself in Ari Folman’s animated documentary “Waltz with Bashir”, selected for the Cannes Film Festival and awarded the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film and the César for Best Foreign Film in 2009.

He was for several  years roving correspondent in Europe for the Israel Broadcasting Authority (tv and radio) based in Bonn.

Since the 7th of October,  he has been several times in the Gaza Strip with  the IDF, Israel’s army,

Ron Ben-Yishai is a commentator on national and international security issues and war and military affairs correspondent for the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, Picture from EIPA.
On the occasion of Ron Ben-Yishai’s visit to Brussels, European Jewish Press and EU Reporter interviewed him.

In military terms, is the Gaza operation working ?


Yes, it is working but it needs time. The Israeli army is doing well but conducting counter-insurgency war is a very difficult task. Because you have to engage the enemy while the enemy, unlike a regular army,  is not looking for engagement with you. It is evading it so you have to look for them and convince them to come on the surface from the tunnels that are the main military asset of Hamas in Gaza. They have built a very elaborated array of tunnels all over Gaza and  are hiding there so you have to look for them. The war in the underground is very slow. So to put it in a nutshell, countering an insurgency war, fighting an hybrid army which employs tacticts and war methods of guerilla but having an equipment of a regular army. So you have to be very keen and expert in tunnel fighting which is a very difficult fighting and above all you need time…

How much time?

I think months. Today they have said that they (the IDF) controls already the Philadelphi Corridor (the crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip in the south) which means that Israel is now cutting Hamas from the rest of the world for its smuggling of weapons. Yes it is going well.

Do you think that Hamas will be truly destroyed ?

Not entirely but truly yes. It means that what Israel is trying to do is to degrade 75/80% capabilities of Hamas to fight. It means killing its operatives, most of them, destroying most of the military infrastructure but nobody hopes to kill the last Hamas operatives in Gaza. What we  should do is to make sure that Hamas doesn’t recover from the destruction the army is inflicting on them. Therefore, we need to have an alternative government in Gaza and this is not in the making because the Netanyahu government for political reasons doesn’t want to do what it needs to do.

Despite the popular support in Israel for the invasion of Gaza, do people think the government should have given greater priority to freeing the hostages, by agreeing to prisoner swaps?

Well the government has agreed to a prisoners swap. It is not the problem of the prisoner swap. It is the problem to convince Hamas that we are not going to stop the war against it. The (Palestinian) prisorners are not the problem. Israel is ready to release as many as they are asking for. The problem is that Sinwar put as  condition for the next swap deal a total end of the war against Hamas, the retreat of the IDF forces from Gaza and American guarantees that Israel will not come back. And this is the main obstacle now to a swap deal. But there is not a consensus in Israel about it. Of course the families of the hostages want it and there are a lot of Israelis who support it. They say: ‘if we should stop the war, we should do it at any price to have the hostages back.’ But a lot of Israelis , mainly from the right wing that are supporting the coalition, are against it. The army says ’we can stop now the war, we have achieve enough and we can find an opportunity to finish the business with Hamas.’ This is more or less the positions in Israel. But I am afraid, and this is the opinion of many experts, that Sinwar will never give up all the hostages. He will hold at least some of them as his insurance policy. So I believe that if we can release as many as hostages as we can, we should. But we should not let Hamas stay in Gaza.

Have the events of the last few months made an eventual peace agreement more or less likely?

The answer is short : less likely. Eventual peace after October 7 is much less likely than before it.

Has the strength of the international criticism of Israel surprised you?

To be honest, yes ! I was surprised by the intensity and viciousness of the grassroot public opinion. I am used as an Israeli journalist to criticism of Israel all the time,  by politicians or journalists,  but in this time you have it more into the grassroot ranks and this suprises  and angers me. I think the world doesn’t understand that all the destruction you see in Gaza, all the casualties, are a result of the fact that Hamas is fighting from within the Gaza uninvolded population. They are human shields for Hamas but rather a sort of human bastion from which Hamas goes and comes back. They use the population not as hostages and want them to be killed in order to put the blame on Israel.

The idea of a two-state solution has shot up the political agenda of the US and EU and others. Is it still a realistic idea, if it ever was?

I think it is a realistic idea. But after the October 7th, it will take a long way because we cannot accept a Palestinian state, as it is now, with Hamas running Gaza and Abou Mazen’s incapable government running the West Bank. We need to have a new leadership among the Palestinians and a new leadership in Israel to make it happen.  I don’t see in the near future the leadership in both camps changing. This is why I don’t believe it’s highly likely to materialize very soon.

The EU spoke earlier this week of the idea of an international peace conference together with Arab partners. What do you think of such an idea now ?

The last time there was a peace conference was in Madrid in 1991…. What came out of Madrid ? Zero ! That will come out from an international conference: there will be nice speeches, nice decisions but as long as Hamas is there and as long as supporters, like Qatar, is there, and as long as Israel has a right wing government headed by Netanyahu, I don’t see it. It is a game. Most of the moves by the European Union till today in connection with this war are declarative,  annoying from the Israeli point of view, but they have no practical meaning. Only to encourage Sinwar. As a matter of fact, the only achievement of the European Union in its decision is to make Sinwar’s position about the hostages harder and harder.

What should Israel do following the ICJ ruling ? 

The International Court of Justice has proven to be reasonable. It’s a bit unpleasant for Israel to get this kind of rulings but under the current circumstances, they are not unfair. Israel is a member of ICJ unlike the ICC. I think Israel should try to convince and say time and again: we do what we asked. You wanted humanitarian aid and we increased it. You wanted to open the land crossings and we did. We should make them happy and say that we respect their opinion. But we need to continue the war. We should stop the war only for one condition: if Sinwar gives up the hostages.

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