". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


IDF Hostage Rescue Bolsters Israel’s Strategy against U.S. Criticism

February 14, 2024

It was Day 129 of captivity for Luis Har and Fernando Simon Marman, two elderly Israelis kidnapped as hostages by Hamas terrorists on October 7. They weren’t expecting this Monday to be any different, nor were the three Hamas terrorists holding them captive in a second-floor apartment.

Then, at 1:49 a.m. local time, Israeli special forces blew in the blast door with explosive charges, slew the three captors, and shielded Har and Marman with their bodies. “The diamonds are in our hands,” a coded radio transmission informed headquarters. The hostage rescue team lowered the two men from the building by ropes to avoid detection, then transported them by armored vehicle to a waiting helicopter, which whisked them back to Israel within the hour.

There was more to it than that, of course. Hamas fighters in surrounding buildings heard the explosion, and they fired on the rescue team as they evacuated the hostages. One minute after the rescue operation, the Israeli Air Force struck Hamas positions “to prevent the group from having a real-time picture of the raid,” according to Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari. A Navy commando unit and a column of tanks also supported the retreating rescue team.

“This was one of the most successful rescue operations in the history of the State of Israel. You eliminated the kidnappers, the terrorists and made your way back to Israel unscathed — a perfectly executed operation,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the rescuers. Only one Israeli soldier was slightly injured in the raid, while Hamas casualties were significantly higher.

The bold, pre-dawn mission penetrated the heart of Rafah, the only city in the Gaza Strip with a border crossing to Egypt, and the last Hamas stronghold. “Reaching the target in the heart of Rafah was very complex,” said Hagari. Israeli forces operated on solid intelligence and had prepared the operation for a month, waiting on the right moment to strike.

“Hamas is vulnerable, Hamas is penetrable, and it is possible to go anywhere and do anything,” Defense Minister Yoav Gallant exulted. He called the rescue mission a “turning point in the campaign” and promised “more operations” to rescue hostages.

In response, Hamas complained that Israeli airstrikes hit 14 houses and three mosques, resulting in approximately 100 deaths. And the anti-Israel press have been only too happy to accept this misdirection as the main narrative. The problem with this narrative, as even CNN admitted, is that Hamas’s statistic does not distinguish between military and civilian casualties. While every civilian casualty is regrettable, we don’t know for certain how many civilians were killed.

The Israeli military countered that it conducted strikes only against legitimate, terrorist targets, and “many terrorists were eliminated tonight in this action.”

The sad reality is that Hamas routinely stations military personnel, supplies, and bases near, in, or under civilian establishments such as schools, mosques, hospitals, and homes. It deliberately places civilians in harm’s way, so that it can blame Israel for the civilian casualties when Israel strikes legitimate military targets. In the case of the Rafah hostage rescue, Hamas militants held hostages in a residential area, and they fired on Israeli forces from a residential area. The blame for any civilian casualties resulting from these deliberate attempts to endanger civilians lies solely with Hamas.

In fact, IDF recently assessed that Hamas has changed its tactics to deliberately fight Israel from humanitarian safe zones, instead of its now-compromised tunnel network. “So, anywhere [Palestinian refugees] go, they’re always human shields,” Israel expert Caroline Glick said on “Washington Watch.”

Many of those Palestinian refugees have found themselves in Egypt-adjacent Rafah, quadrupling it population to more than 1 million. Their presence means the Hamas militants operating out of Gaza now have four times as many human shields, which complicates Israel’s goal of eradicating Hamas operations in the Gaza Strip.

Also complicating Israel’s goal is that “Biden and his team are trying to kneecap Israel before the job is done,” wrote National Review’s Philip Klein. In a Sunday call with Netanyahu, Biden forbade Israel from eliminating Hamas fighters in Rafah, insisting that “a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there.” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller reiterated on Monday that U.S. will not support “any military campaign in Rafah” without a ”credible plan” to protect civilians, and National Security Council spokesman John Kirby insisted that an Israeli invasion of Rafah would be a “disaster” and “not something we would support.”

What qualifies as a “credible plan” appears to be left up to the Biden administration’s own interpretation. However, the most credible plan — permitting Gazan refugees to leave the Strip and seek shelter in other countries that have promised to welcome them — is currently being blocked by none other than the Biden administration.

Despite Biden’s Sunday scolding, Israel went ahead with its Rafah hostage rescue mission on Monday morning. The move demonstrated that Israel will not be bullied, harangued, or disingenuously hugged into abandoning its own key national security interests. Israel aims to defeat Hamas and recover its hostages. Hamas militants are hiding out in Rafah, and they have hostages with them. Who is Biden to order Israel not to enter Rafah and take its hostages back?

Israel will dismantle Hamas’s last bastion in Rafah, Netanyahu insisted Sunday. He added that Israel is conscious of the humanitarian situation and plans to grant “safe passage for the civilian population” and erect tent-cities for refugees.

“By carrying out a daring military operation in Rafah that rescued two hostages,” Klein explained, “Israel sent two important messages to President Biden. One, operations in Rafah are necessary to destroy Hamas. And two, hostages can be secured by military action, and not merely through negotiations that demand Israel abandon its war aims.”

Perhaps because of that message, “the audacious and successful mission hasn’t generated much enthusiasm from administration officials,” Klein noted. “The White House and its agencies seem far more concerned with the early evidence of Israel’s intention to do exactly what it said it would do from the outset of this war — eradicate Hamas in all its strongholds.”

The current rhetorical weapon with which the Biden administration is needling Israel is an alleged concern for minimizing civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip. The word “alleged” is appropriate because, if the Biden administration earnestly cared about civilian casualties, they would be pleading with Hamas to abandon population centers just as much as they are pleading with Israel to use caution when approaching those population centers. But, taking their cues from the Hamas-enamored, anti-Israel press, the Biden administration is acting as if the burden to minimize civilian casualties rests on Israel alone. Thus, on Thursday, Biden condemned Israel’s response to Hamas’s terror attack — the worst assault on Jews since the Holocaust — as “over the top.”

The real reason why the Biden administration is harassing Israel is stubborn insistence on the illusory two-state solution. Biden on Sunday declared his goals for the conflict in the Middle East: “to find the means to bring all the hostages home, to ease the humanitarian crisis, to end the terror threat, and to bring peace to Gaza and Israel through a two-state solution” (emphasis added).

This is a fantasy of contradictions. The destruction of Hamas achieves three of these goals: bringing home the hostages, ending (not just easing) the humanitarian crisis, and eliminating the terror threat. It would also bring peace to Gaza, but not through a two-state solution. Any outcome that leaves Hamas at least partially intact could result in two states, but it wouldn’t solve anything, wouldn’t end the terror threat, and (as currently framed) wouldn’t even bring home the hostages. The simple truth is that Hamas’s prime directive is to destroy the state of Israel, their subjects in Gaza support them in that goal, and Israelis are no longer willing to tolerate this existential threat building weapons against them right across the border. A two-state solution is simply not a possibility.

The greatest obstacle to a two-state solution is that there is no entity that could legitimately, democratically, and peacefully govern an Arab counterpart to the state of Israel. The Palestinian Authority (PA) is weak, corrupt, and unpopular — at least the factions willing to coexist with Israel are. Biden is frustrated by these facts, and he has chosen to take that frustration out on the government of Israel.

At a December fundraiser, Biden suggested that Israel had to “strengthen PLA [PA] — strengthen it, change it, move it,” an idea akin to suggesting NATO states were responsible for reconstructing Russia’s government to be more peaceful and democratic. Biden baselessly expressed his confidence that Netanyahu was on board with this absurd idea but was held back by his “extremist” cabinet. He proposed to force Israel to reform the PA by changing Israeli public opinion, fomenting Israeli civil unrest, and orchestrating regime change in the cabinet — you know, just the sort of things allies do to each other all the time.

Two months later, Biden has taken to crudely cursing out Netanyahu, his onetime “friend” in private, and his administration is “looking past Netanyahu to try and achieve its goals in the region,” suggesting the septuagenarian leader “will not be there forever.”

An inconvenient fact the Biden administration seems to have overlooked is that any potential replacement to Netanyahu or his cabinet would share their determination to eliminate Hamas in Gaza, a view widely shared by the Israeli public. In fact, the chief opposition leader, Benny Gantz, joined Netanyahu’s cabinet after the October 7 massacre so that partisan divisions would not hinder wartime decision-making. “There is no question about the need to act in any place in which there is terror,” Gantz stated recently. “Broad action in Rafah, as we said in the past, is not in question.”

Having misread the room, the Biden administration is trying to orchestrate another ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. “I’m pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire,” Biden said Sunday. Biden added his hope that, once the ceasefire took hold, “I think that we would be able to extend that so that we could increase the prospect that this fighting in Gaza changes.”

As Klein described the still-tentative terms, the “tremendously one-sided hostage deal” would “involve Israel releasing many times more Hamas prisoners and agreeing to a cease-fire of several months, with the aim of making it permanent.” One major sticking point is that Hamas wants the war to end without giving back all the hostages.

The one-sided nature of the deal is not terribly surprising, given the one-sided nature of the negotiations. The ceasefire talks feature representatives of Hamas, Qatar (a Hamas sponsor), the U.S., and Israel. The U.S. should be in Israel’s corner, but the current administration is just as likely to stab them in the back. In other words, Israel probably feels ganged-up on three-to-one. This might explain why Netanyahu’s government rejected a framework developed after the first round of talks. Israel representatives will “only listen” in the second round of talks and only agreed to participate at all due to U.S. pressure.

Biden’s Sunday comment also “surely makes Israel’s cooperation less likely,” remarked National Review’s Noah Rothman. Biden practically admitted the ceasefire deal “would be used as leverage against Israel to prevent it from pursuing its prime directive in this war — the neutralization of Hamas as a terrorist threat,” he said, giving Israel even less incentive to cooperate.

The negotiations come as Israeli forces close in on Rafah, Hamas’s last major stronghold in Gaza. In other words, with Israel advancing down the field on a game-winning drive, the Biden administration is pressuring them to stall out and turn the ball over within sight of victory.

However, recovery of the hostages kidnapped on October 7 is also a critical war aim for Israel. Hamas still holds 134 hostages (although at least 29 of those have died), and has released 109 hostages. IDF has recovered another 11 bodies and has successfully freed only three. Thus far, the IDF has attempted three hostage rescue operations, two of which were successful.

After the successful rescue mission in Rafah, Hagari promised that Israel remained “very determined” to bring home the remaining hostages. “We [still] have hostages, and we need to reach them. Most of them we will not bring this way, [but rather] I hope, through processes of agreement. But how many more times will [a rescue operation] be required, and under what circumstances — who knows?”

Netanyahu was even more forceful in his Monday message. “Only the continuation of military pressure until complete victory will result in the release of all our abductees. We will not miss any opportunity to bring them home.”

“The fact that Israel was able to rescue two hostages by going into Rafah will only reinforce public resolve to press on,” noted Klein, “even in the face of Biden’s opposition.”

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.