Israel Announces Four-Hour ‘Pauses’ instead of Three-Day Ceasefire
The White House announced Thursday morning that Israel had agreed to observe daily, four-hour-long pauses in the fighting to allow civilians to flee the area. Israel committed to announcing each pause three hours in advance and opening a second corridor for evacuations.
“Israel is fully aware of, you know, the public pressure they’re going to be under. They are going to do everything they can to avoid civilian casualties,” said U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) on “Washington Watch.” “They gave Palestinians all the time in the world to get out of the war zone. Unfortunately, Hamas didn’t allow an awful lot of people to get out because they like using their own citizens as human shields.”
Hamas militants are currently hunkered down in an elaborate, underground tunnel network in Gaza, while civilians remain above ground. As Israel seeks to eradicate Hamas militants while minimizing civilian casualties, brief pauses for evacuation purposes could actually aid Israeli war aims, while allowing military operations to continue 20 hours out of the day.
Since Monday President Biden has pressured Israel to “pause” their Gaza offensive for three days. Biden first mentioned the possibility of a “pause” on November 1, when a heckler confronted him at a campaign fundraiser. The heckler — a self-identified transgender rabbi — demanded a “ceasefire right now.” “I think we need a pause,” Biden responded. “A pause means give time to get the prisoners out.”
From that moment, the Biden administration has worked to negotiate a three-day “pause,” in exchange for the release of 10-15 hostages. The shift in the Biden administration’s approach to the war raised questions about whether the Biden administration is really as committed to defending Israel as it claims to be. It coincided with heavy political pressure from a segment of the Democratic base, which has threatened to sit out the 2024 election if Biden does not moderate his support for Israel.
First, let’s set the record straight: a three-day “pause” really is a “ceasefire.” Biden is asking Israel to stop airstrikes and ground advances for three whole days — 72 hours. “That doesn’t sound like a pause. That sounds like a ceasefire,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, host of “Washington Watch.” In 2014, a five-hour pause in hostilities between Israel and Hamas was called a “ceasefire.”
Advocates of a ceasefire point to the dire humanitarian situation facing thousands of civilians lacking fuel, food, and medical supplies in Gaza City, now under siege by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
However, calls for a ceasefire began on October 7, before Israel had even repulsed the Hamas militants who invaded its territory to kill, rape, burn, and kidnap. Original calls for a ceasefire implied that Israel should not — indeed, had no right to — retaliate against the hostile militants who invaded its territory and slaughtered its civilians. Original calls for a ceasefire implied that Israel does not possess the same sovereign right to defend itself that other nations enjoy. Original calls for a ceasefire implied that the nation state of Israel has no right to exist.
Even now, even a longer-term ceasefire would only benefit Hamas. For starters, Hamas would thereby neutralize Israel’s military superiority with the stronger political position. They enjoy the sympathy of international media, a majority of the United Nations, American university students, and a surprisingly effective segment of the Democratic voter base. During a ceasefire, Israel’s military would have to stop shooting, but Hamas’s political weapons remain unhindered.
Militarily, a ceasefire would effectively constrain Israel, but not Hamas. Hamas has demonstrated its willingness to break ceasefires with Israel. In 2014, Hamas broke a ceasefire by launching rockets into Israel. On October 7, 2023, Hamas violated a years-long ceasefire and invaded Israel in an unprovoked attack. Hamas has also stated repeatedly that its war aim is the total “annihilation” of Israel. Such an aim is not achieved by peace, humanitarian aid, or playing by the rules.
Just Wednesday, The New York Times published an interview in which senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya said that the Iran-backed terrorist organization wanted “not just have a clash,” but to provoke a “permanent” state of war on all of Israel’s borders. “This battle was not because we wanted fuel or laborers. It did not seek to improve the situation in Gaza. This battle is to completely overthrow the situation,” al-Hayya added.
Consequently, a ceasefire would allow Hamas to regain the battlefield initiative. After Hamas’s unprovoked surprise attack on October 7, Israel regained the initiative through a relentless air barrage. They maintained that initiative by advancing into the Gaza Strip with ground forces, encircling Gaza City, and forcing Hamas militants into hiding. If Israel agreed to a ceasefire, Hamas could — and probably would — strike back at Israeli forces in Gaza before the ceasefire expired.
A ceasefire would allow Hamas militants to recover from the damage Israel’s military has already dealt them. They could use the time profitably to gather supplies, reestablish communications, fortify their positions, or trap more civilians in harms’ way. If the ceasefire allowed more humanitarian aid into Gaza, Hamas could loot those supplies, as they have done already. Hamas would also gain an opportunity to scout Israel’s troop positioning and devise a plan to counterattack.
The current proposal for a ceasefire would also allow Hamas to retain most of the hostages they kidnapped from Israel on October 7. Hamas kidnapped more than 200 people; Israel’s latest count is 242 people. So far, Hamas has freed four hostages, and IDF forces have rescued one. Biden’s proposed ceasefire deal would ask Hamas to free 10-15 hostages, leaving more than 200 hostages under their control. Even if the terrorist group kept up its end of the deal, they could extort at least another 20 ceasefires on the same terms.
In October, Israel tried to negotiate for the release of as many as 50 hostages, but when those talks stalled it decided its best chance to save the hostages alive was a rescue by military force. Israel still calculates that it can save more hostages by wiping out Hamas in Gaza than it can save by nicely asking the terrorists to release a few. “The only way of saving the hostages is if Israel continues its ground operation,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said this week.
A three-day ceasefire is also not necessary to deliver humanitarian supplies into the Gaza Strip, or even into the besieged Gaza City. Israel had allowed 451 truckloads of food, water, and medical supplies into the Gaza Strip as of November 4, and more aid can cross into the Strip from Egypt. For obvious reasons, trucks carrying aid are slowed by close inspections to ensure they do not carry weapons or anything else that could help Hamas; still aid is arriving.
Additionally, the Jordanian Air Force on Monday air-dropped a crate of “urgent medical aid” to a Jordanian Field Hospital in Gaza. That relatively difficult operation was undertaken in coordination with Israel and the U.S., despite the fact that Israel and Jordan have both recalled their ambassadors from the other countries. The episode, which occurred without any lengthy halt to hostilities, demonstrates that a ceasefire is not a prerequisite to delivering aid.
Thus, President Biden has been pressuring Israel to agree to a ceasefire that has no upsides for Israel or the people of Gaza and only benefits Hamas. Israel needs to end the conflict in Gaza as soon as possible, but the Biden administration is pressuring it with ceasefire demands that will only slow it down.
This is not the first time the U.S. has delayed Israel’s response to Hamas’s October 7 attack. The U.S. first pressed Israel to delay its ground offensive while the U.S. rushed missile defense to U.S. bases throughout the Middle East, in anticipation of possible attacks by other Iranian-backed militias. (Those attacks have come, but they have done only minor damage.) By accommodating the Biden administration’s request, Israel missed an opportunity to enter Gaza at least a week earlier, and had to content itself with continued airstrikes — which only plays into the pro-Hamas propaganda of international media.
These strange diplomatic moves attempt to inject American political concerns into Israel’s conduct of the war. They either reflect an administration that fails to grasp the need for speed in modern warfare, or a calculated effort to deliberately slow down Israel.
Fortunately, Israel has chosen to continue its war of survival despite global disapproval. Its recent pledge to declare four-hour pauses indicates it is seeking ways to accommodate the inexplicable demands forced upon it by its closest ally and supporter, but in ways that are consistent with its own military objectives.
“We ought to support Israel and their ability to and their right to defend itself and to destroy Hamas,” said Johnson, “and leave it up to Israel in terms of how they’re going to go about doing that.”
Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.