Rescuing the hostages held by Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip presents a complex and difficult decision for Israel. It may need to prioritize a military campaign against its adversaries over the immediate rescue of all hostages, say former high-ranking U.S. officials and military officers.
Israel has a history of daring operations to rescue its citizens or eliminate threats, but the current situation is unprecedented. Israel believes that approximately 150 individuals are held captive, and any rescue attempt would likely necessitate a significant military offensive against Hamas, posing a risk to the hostages.
Hamas has threatened to harm hostages in response to Israeli bombings of civilian targets in Gaza, adding to the urgency and complexity of the situation.
Former U.S. officials and experts highlight the enormous challenge of gathering accurate intelligence about the hostages’ whereabouts, given Hamas’ control of the densely populated Gaza Strip and its intricate network of tunnels and hideouts.
The United States is assisting Israel by providing intelligence and expertise on the hostage crisis.
The need for swift action is paramount in the event of precise information about the hostages’ location, requiring rapid response and coordination.
However, rescue operations in such a challenging environment carry high risks for both hostages and Israeli commandos, who would struggle to call for reinforcements in a region familiar to Hamas fighters. The use of booby traps and civilians as human shields is a concern.
The possibility of Hamas attempting to move hostages out of Gaza into Egypt or other countries, including Iran, is also a consideration.
Despite the formidable challenges, Israel’s elite special forces have a strong reputation for high-risk operations. Past feats, such as the Entebbe raid in 1976, have become legendary examples of Israeli commando capabilities.
While confronting Hamas in Gaza differs significantly from previous missions, experts believe that hostage rescue operations remain feasible with adequate intelligence and careful risk assessment.
The current situation may prompt negotiations for the release of some hostages in exchange for imprisoned Palestinians. Hamas is demanding the release of 5,200 Palestinian prisoners held in Israel in return for the hostages.
As Israel contemplates a substantial military operation against Hamas in Gaza, there is still potential for back-channel negotiations, involving countries like Qatar and Egypt, to secure the release of some hostages.
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While hostage-taking by Hamas has sown fear, it is unlikely to deter or delay an impending Israeli military offensive in Gaza, according to experts. The Israeli government is expected to proceed with its operation when its military planners and commanders believe the time is right, regardless of the ongoing hostage situation.