Israel Defense Forces (IDF) may be in for a protracted ground campaign against the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip and they may not spend much of their time and resources negotiating for the release of hostages, according to Retired Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Brig. Gen. Amir Avivi.
The Israeli military has been amassing forces around the Gaza Strip for nearly two weeks after Hamas gunmen entered southern Isreal on Oct. 7 before killing hundreds of people and taking around 200 hostages back to Gaza. The buildup of Israeli forces has raised speculation of a ground assault into the territory and Israeli Economy Minister Nir Barkat further stoked those expectations on Thursday when he told ABC News that the IDF has the “green light” to move into Gaza when it chooses.
Speaking with “NTD Good Morning” on Friday, Mr. Avivi raised the prospect that Israeli troops could be in for a long drawn-out mission if they do indeed launch a ground assault in Gaza.
“The goals of the war are to completely destroy Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad and dismantle, dismantle all the terror infrastructure inside Gaza,” he said. “There is only one way to do it. It’s maneuvering. It’s a ground incursion into the Gaza Strip, getting control of this area and, step by step, dismantling the whole terror infrastructure. This will take months.”
During his IDF service career, Mr. Avivi served in a variety of senior positions, including as deputy commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division, whose area of responsibility includes the Gaza Strip. Mr. Avivi has since gone on to found the Israeli Defense and Security Forum, a self-described Zionist organization that advocates that Israel’s state policies should be guided primarily by its security.
‘We’re Not Going to Negotiate’
Hamas has indicated it took hostages during its Oct. 7 attack in order to have people to trade as it calls for the release of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
“Our detainees in [Israeli] prisons, their freedom is looming large. What we have in our hands will release all our prisoners,” Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri told Al-Jazeera on the day of the attack.
Asked how an IDF ground assault in Gaza might impact the safety of the various hostages taken in the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, Mr. Avivi said IDF forces will not focus too intently on negotiating for their release.
“By going in, we’re also going to solve the issue of the hostages, we’ll have to move forward, reach the places where they are and liberate them,” he said. “This is not the classical situation where you negotiate. We’re not going to negotiate, we’re going to destroy this organization, and free our hostages.”
The hostages taken during the Oct. 7 attack include Israelis as well as foreign nationals. The exact number and nationalities of the hostages have been difficult to confirm, but Americans may be among those held captive.
Mr. Avivi said the IDF has taken appropriate measures to notify Gaza’s civilian population to evacuate to the southern end of the Gaza Strip, where they can find humanitarian aid in the form of food and water. He said this effort to direct the civilian population south means that the potential targets in the north of Gaza are now “mostly terrorist and terror infrastructure” and IDF forces now have a greater ability “to really operate aggressively” in that area.
Tensions To Israel’s North
While the IDF has turned much of its attention to the south, toward Gaza, Israeli troops have traded fire with gunmen of the Hezbollah terrorist group around Israel’s northern border with Lebanon. On Friday, the Israeli Ministry of Defense ordered residents to evacuate the northern city of Kiryat Shmona, amid the escalating fighting with Hezbollah.
“While we’re going in to destroy Hamas, we might find ourselves also in a full-scale war on our northern border,” Mr. Avivi warned.
A 2021 report by the U.S. State Department assesses that Iran has historically supported Hamas and Hezbollah and used both groups as proxy forces to target Israel and indirectly advance Iran’s other interests in the region.
“At the moment, we’re concentrating on Gaza and defending in the north. It might change where all our forces of the Northern Command are ready to attack also in Lebanon if needed. But this is up to Iran, and this is up to Hezbollah,” Mr. Avivi said. “If they want to go to war, this is the moment for us also, and we’ll go to war. We’re not going to initiate this war in Lebanon. This is up to Iran and Hezbollah. And if they initiate a war, they will find a reality where they’ll find themselves exactly like Hamas—being destroyed.”