Israel’s military appears to push back against goal to end Hamas

Alisa Odenheimer | Bloomberg News (TNS)

Israel’s military appeared to suggest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long-stated goal of destroying Hamas is unachievable, emphasizing the difficulties in claiming victory in a war that’s into its ninth month.

“To say we are going to destroy Hamas, to make it disappear — its simply throwing sand in the eyes of the public,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said in an interview with Israeli TV. “Hamas is an idea. Whoever thinks we can make it disappear is mistaken.”

After his comments attracted controversy — including a dressing down from Netanyahu — the Israel Defense Forces clarified that he meant “the elimination of Hamas as an idea and ideology”. There has been speculation the group has set aside battalions to regain control of Gaza even after suffering heavy losses, according to Israeli state-owned Kan.

Whatever his true meaning, Hagari’s interview drew attention to the argument that Iran-backed Hamas, whose terrorists attacked Israel on Oct. 7 to spark the ongoing conflict, may never be eliminated entirely. The group, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union, has thousands of fighters and a network of tunnels under Gaza’s main towns, and hasn’t indicated it’s close to a surrender.

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That makes it tougher for Netanyahu to ever declare victory in the war — based on the objectives he has set before a permanent cease-fire can be agreed. Those include the destruction of Hamas and the return of hostages abducted from Israel on Oct. 7, when about 1,200 people were killed.

More than 37,000 Palestinians have been killed in the subsequent conflict, according to the health authorities in Hamas-run Gaza.

Hagari gave his interview during a week where relations between Netanyahu and U.S. President Joe Biden appear increasingly frayed, with a disagreement emerging over whether or not the U.S. is withholding arms deliveries. Washington — alongside Egypt and Qatar — has been attempting to mediate a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas for some months without success.

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