Biden administration claiming one thing, Israel another on 'pauses'

An interesting development, given that American media have reported this before Israeli media despite the obvious higher interest in that country. The White House has committed the IDF to operational ‘pauses’ in northern Gaza each day, with announcements to give terrorists plenty of warning to time attacks on moribund IDF units.

Neither the Jerusalem Post nor the Times of Israel has reported any such agreement at this time, but NBC News and other American media outlets issued breaking-news reports on John Kirby’s announcement:

Israel will implement four-hour pauses in fighting in areas of the northern Gaza Strip every day, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said today.

An announcement would be made three hours before the pauses, Kirby told reporters. The Israeli military had told the U.S. that there would be no military operations in the areas involved during the pauses, he added.

This is not just an effort to get humanitarian aid into northern Gaza, as is the claim. The US, Egypt, and other Israeli allies want to push for a general-cease fire of three days as well, in exchange for hostages. Not all of the hostages, and not even most or half of the hostages. They want to trade a general three-day cease fire for around five percent of the hostages.

From CBS News:

International mediators were closing in on a possible deal Thursday for a three-day humanitarian cease-fire in exchange for the release of around a dozen hostages held by Hamas, according to two Egyptian officials, a United Nations official and a Western diplomat. The deal would also allow a small amount of fuel to enter the territory for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war began.

“Talks revolve around the release of 12 hostages, half of them Americans, in exchange for a three-day humanitarian pause, to enable Hamas to release the hostages and to enable Egypt an extended (period of time) to deliver humanitarian aid,” a source close to Hamas told the AFP news agency on Wednesday. 

A senior U.S. official said the Biden administration has suggested Israel tie the length of a pause to a certain number of hostages being released in a formula that could be used for additional pauses.

It appears that Joe Biden wants to rescue Hamas’ hostaging strategy by incentivizing it again. Israel made the tough decision over the past month to abandon two decades of negotiating with Hamas and others over kidnapping victims at home and abroad to put an end to the market for hostages. Now Biden and his team want to reopen the market and allow Hamas to reset and rearm itself in a succession of three-day cease-fires, apparently as many as 60 days’ worth, to free all of the 240 hostages estimated in Hamas custody now.

Israel’s previous position was the correct one: No cease-fire at all unless Hamas agrees to release all hostages in exchange for a bilateral pause. Even that would be risky for IDF troops in Gaza, especially since Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have a long track record of tag-teaming on “cease fires.” One agrees to a cease-fire while allowing the other to continue attacks on Israel, with deniability to the party to the agreement.

That’s exactly what will happen this time, too — and Israel knows it.

Thus far, Israel has not responded to the White House announcement of operational pauses in northern Gaza, but Israeli president Isaac Herzog has cast cold water on any hostage deal. He tells NBC News today that no ‘real proposal’ has yet to emerge, despite all of the chatter around the topic:

“There is no real proposal that is viable from Hamas’s side on this issue,” Herzog tells NBC News.

“Whilst there are many, many people who are third parties who are sending optimistic messages to the news reels, I’m saying outright: According to my knowledge, up to now, there is no real substantial information that is showing any real offer of any process on the table.”

Herzog went on to tell Raf Sanchez that there would be no cease-fire at all without the return of the hostages, and presumably all of the hostages. That in itself throws some cold water on Kirby’s statement, and certainly on the idea that Israel will go along with three-day cease-fires to get only a handful of hostages out at a time.

The Israelis instead are declaring full speed ahead, especially in Gaza City. They have gotten much closer to Hamas’ HQ in the al-Shifa Hospital, and are warning again as they have for four weeks for civilians to evacuate the area.

From the Times of Israel:

The Israeli Defense Force said its troops captured a major Hamas stronghold in west Jabaliya, just north of Gaza City, in the early hours of Thursday morning following 10 hours of fighting, as the military meanwhile pushed further into the heart of Gaza City where the terror group is believed to have its underground headquarters.

The IDF said that Nahal Infantry Brigade troops battled Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives in the west Jabaliya stronghold known as Outpost 17, who were both “above ground and in an underground route in the area,” and that dozens of terror operatives were killed in the course of the battle.

Inside Outpost 17, the IDF uncovered “significant” Hamas battle plans, as well as weapons and tunnel shafts, one of which was located adjacent to a kindergarten and led to an “extensive underground route,” the IDF said. …

Eyewitness accounts from inside Gaza City recount seeing and hearing Israeli ground forces as they continue to close in from multiple directions. Other reports have said that fighting took place just one kilometer from the perimeter of the hospital.

This makes it clear that the IDF will risk ground troops to assault Hamas’ HQ as surgically as possible. They could have easily used their earlier declaration and proof of the hospital’s dual role as a military command center to attack it from the air. Politically speaking, that would have created a lot of problems for Israel that they don’t really need, although it’s not clear that their international opponents will give them any credit for a more surgical approach either. The White House clearly wants to avoid it altogether, but Israel is determined to fight this war to its conclusion, and it doesn’t need the authors of the Kabul Collapse to dictate the manner in which they do so.

Update: Well, the Times of Israel is reporting on this now — by reporting that Benjamin Netanyahu rejects the White House claim:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office dismisses a White House statement that says Israel has agreed to a daily four-hour humanitarian pause in northern Gaza starting today.

It turns out that Israel has already been implementing tactical pauses all along to allow civilians to evacuate. Yesterday alone, the Times of Israel reports, the IDF allowed 50,000 civilians to evacuate to the south while implementing a tactical pause. However, they do not plan to make that a commitment unless conditions on the ground necessitate it:

Because Israel has not described the holding of its fire to allow for the evacuation of Gazans from the north as “humanitarian pauses,” it appears to have sparked backlash, leading Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office to issue a statement saying that the IDF’s fighting is continuing and that there will not be any ceasefire without a return of the hostages.

“The fighting is continuing and there will be no ceasefire without the release of our captives,” the Prime Minister’s Office says in a statement. “Israel is enabling safe corridors from the Strip’s north to its south, as 50,000 Gazans did only yesterday.”

Either the White House got out over its skis this morning, or this was an attempt to bully Israel into adopting the Biden administration’s demands. Either way, it’s an embarrassment to the West Wing.

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