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For US officials, Israeli hostage deal brings joy — and hard questions about how much more war to support

WASHINGTON (JTA) — If the provisions of a likely agreement bear out and Hamas releases dozens of hostages, U.S. officials will celebrate alongside the Israelis.

But then will come the questions about how, and whether, Israel restarts its war to defeat the terror group behind the abductions.

Analysts and scholars with ties to Israel’s government say the country’s security officials are already anticipating those questions, as it appears that Hamas is set to release as many as 50 hostages — mostly women and children — this week. In exchange, Israel will release about three times as many imprisoned Palestinians and will pause its invasion of Gaza for four days.

Jonathan Schanzer, a vice president of the conservative-leaning Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who has been speaking to Israeli government officials, said he expects the initial pause to lead to demands for a longer break in the fighting.

“Once there’s calm there are going to be international efforts to extend the calm because as far as the international community goes, quiet is a good thing,” he said.

Israel has vowed to restart its campaign after the pause, but calls for a long-term ceasefire are already increasing internationally and among Democrats in Congress. Recently, a rising number of Congress members and senators — including some Jewish lawmakers — have voiced calls for a ceasefire or criticized Israel’s conduct in Gaza. About 40 Democrats in total have called for a ceasefire, although a number of their statements are qualified with demands that Hamas be dismantled and all the hostages be released — which are also Israel’s stated goals.

Watching how those Democrats respond during the anticipated pause in fighting will be key to understanding whether support for Israel will further erode, said Kevin Rachlin, the vice president of public affairs for J Street, the liberal Jewish Israel lobby that is influential among Democrats.

He pointed to a letter signed this week by 13 Senate Democrats, including leaders in the caucus, calling on Biden to press Israel to come up with a detailed plan for “sustained humanitarian aid” for the Gaza Palestinians.

“The growing pressure that we’re seeing right now is not just [because of] the civilian death toll but also on the finite definition of what does success look like with this military operation?” Rachlin said. “I think with a pause, that allows more of these questions to come into the forefront. You’ll start to see more members talk and ask about that more forcefully.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel during the pause, the Israeli news site Walla reported late Tuesday. It will be his fourth trip to the country since Oct. 7.

The Biden administration continues to back Israel’s war aims — although it too has questions about how Israel will conduct the war once the pause is over. In a call with reporters on Thursday, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the administration had questions about how Israel would expand its military campaign in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, considering that Israel previously encouraged hundreds of thousands of civilians to move southward while it waged war with Hamas in the north.

“As they consider moving their operations to the south, we have said we don’t support those kinds of operations absent a cohesive plan by the Israelis to factor in how they’re going to be able to protect what is now mathematically a dramatically increased civilian population, because they were evacuated from the north at Israel’s urging,” he said.

Extending the pause into a ceasefire is not an option for Israel, which has vowed to eradicate Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday evening as his cabinet met to vote on the terms of the hostage release.

“I am here to say the war will continue” after the release, Netanyahu said in a press conference before the vote, which appeared guaranteed to approve the deal. “We will not give up until we achieve absolute victory and we return them all.”

Schanzer said the demands of the Israeli public left no other choice for Netanyahu.

“The Israeli government is or was deemed to be in violation of its contract with the people of the south” on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists breached Gaza’s border with southern Israel and killed 1,200 people, most of them civilians, and abducted some 240 people, Schanzer said.

To restore trust with its population, Schanzer said, “from the government’s perspective, the goal is to completely clean out Hamas from the Gaza Strip so that the southern communities can return and live normal peaceful lives. Every Israeli that I’ve talked to since the start of this war has said that there cannot be a return to 10/6.”

In response to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency question, a spokesman for the Biden administration’s National Security Council said its support for Israel’s war against Hamas would not wane, citing a statement from a Hamas spokesman vowing to repeat the Oct. 7 attack.

“What we do not support are calls for Israel to stop defending itself from Hamas terrorists, which is what a permanent ceasefire would be,” the spokesman said, “Hamas has warned that what happened on October 7th ‘will happen again and again and again’ until Israel is annihilated. These comments are horrifying and are an important reminder of how much is at stake.”

Still, it was clear from the spokesman’s reply that the Biden administration still had questions about how Israel will conduct its war once it resumes. Biden officials are not happy with the frequency and extent of the humanitarian pauses Israel has recently agreed to.

“For a humanitarian pause to be fully successful, we have to have in place a system to maximize aid delivery and ensure the protection of humanitarian workers while also working to secure the release of hostages, and prevent the terrorists from using the pause to take advantage,” said the spokesman. “This is complex and we are continuing to work in earnest towards this goal.”

Kirby mentioned one measure of “fully successful” in his call with the media: the amount of humanitarian aid Israel allows into Gaza. “Our incremental goal was about [trucks of aid] 150 a day and we’re not close to achieving that,” Kirby said.

Since Israel struck back, the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says that more than 12,000 people have been killed, including thousands of children. It is not clear what portion of that total number are combatants, or how many have been killed by misfired missiles aimed at Israel.

David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which has close ties to the U.S. and Israeli governments, said the pause would give Israel an opportunity to present to the Biden administration a detailed plan for its next steps.

“It’s a way for Israel to explain to the U.S. what it looks like,” he said of the continuation of the war. “Now you have 2 million people all in the south, and you’re going to have to navigate that,” he said. “That’s where, I think, the U.S. needs to be convinced.”

As of now, Biden stands as a bulwark against pressure for a ceasefire, Makovsky said, but that could change if the war becomes a quagmire with no clear way out.

“He’s going to be supportive but if he feels that Israel is stalled and that it’s not making progress on the objective, then I think there will probably be a reassessment,” he said.

The post For US officials, Israeli hostage deal brings joy — and hard questions about how much more war to support appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Treasure Trove: Remembering Yoni Netanyahu, a heroic soldier and leader

Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu was the older brother of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister. He was the commander of the Entebbe Operation on July 4, 1976 when Israel rescued 102 hostages who had been on a flight hijacked by Palestinian and German terrorists and ordered to land in Entebbe, Uganda. Yoni was the only Israeli soldier killed in […]

The post Treasure Trove: Remembering Yoni Netanyahu, a heroic soldier and leader appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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Pope Condemns Anti-Judaism, Antisemitism Amid New Wave of Attacks Against Jews

Pope Francis waves after delivering his traditional Christmas Day Urbi et Orbi speech to the city and the world from the main balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, December 25, 2021. Photo: REUTERS/Yara Nardi

Pope Francis condemned all forms of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, labeling them as a “sin against God,” after noticing an increase in attacks against Jews around the world.

“(The Church) rejects every form of anti-Judaism and antisemitism, unequivocally condemning manifestations of hatred towards Jews and Judaism as a sin against God,” the pontiff wrote in a letter to the Jewish population of Israel dated Feb. 2 and made public on Saturday.

“Together with you, we, Catholics, are very concerned about the terrible increase in attacks against Jews around the world. We had hoped that ‘never again’ would be a refrain heard by the new generations,” he added.

The Pope noted that wars and divisions are increasing all over the world “in a sort of piecemeal world war,” hitting the lives of many populations.

Francis, 87, has condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 cross-border attack from Gaza into southern Israel. He has also said on several occasions that a two-state solution was needed to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his letter, the pope also called, once again, for the release of those hostages still being held by militants.

He said his heart was torn at the sight of the conflict in the Holy Land and the division and hatred stemming from it, adding that the world was looking at the unfolding of events in the area with “apprehension and pain.”

He assured the Jewish community of his closeness and affection, “particularly (those) consumed by anguish, pain, fear and even anger,” repeating his call for the end of the war.

Francis said he prayed for peace. “My heart is close to you, to the Holy Land, to all the peoples who inhabit it, Israelis and Palestinians, and I pray that the desire for peace may prevail in all.”

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Israel Says It Has Struck More than 50 Hezbollah Targets in Syria Since Oct 7

Israeli soldiers take part in training session near the Israel border with Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, February 1, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Gil Eliyahu/File Photo

The Israeli military said on Saturday that since the outbreak of the Gaza war on Oct. 7 it had struck more than 50 targets in Syria linked to the Iranian-backed Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

The remarks, in a briefing by chief military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari that mainly discussed efforts to beat back Hezbollah attacks launched in solidarity with Hamas, were a departure from Israel’s usual reticence about Syria operations.

“Everywhere Hezbollah is, we shall be. We will take action everywhere required in the Middle East,” Hagari said.

Israeli forces have attacked 34,000 Hezbollah targets in Lebanon, including 120 border surveillance outposts, 40 caches of missiles and other weaponry and more than 40 command centers, Hagari said. He put the number of enemy dead at more than 200.

Hagari said Israel had deployed three army divisions along its side of the Lebanese border in anticipation of Hezbollah getting involved after Palestinian Hamas launched a shock cross-border attack on Oct. 7, triggering the war in the Gaza Strip.

With tens of thousands of its northern residents having evacuated, Israel has threatened to escalate the Lebanon fighting unless Hezbollah backs off from the border – and has sought Western help in finding a diplomatic solution in Beirut.

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