Netanyahu under pressure over Israel troop losses, hostages

JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a mounting crisis after Israel’s worst day of troop losses in the Gaza war as well as growing protests over his failure to bring hostages back.

The military’s strategy in the Palestinian territory is under intense scrutiny following the death of 24 troops on Jan 22, Israel’s biggest one-day loss since its ground offensive in Gaza started in late October.

Among those killed were 21 reservists, who died in a single incident.

The incident, which saw rocket-propelled grenade fire hit a tank and two buildings the soldiers were trying to blow up, was deemed a “disaster” by Mr Netanyahu.

Mr Emmanuel Navon, a lecturer at Tel Aviv University, told AFP the troop losses “affect everybody, because almost everybody in the country has a son or brother or a relative (fighting in Gaza)”.

Israelis would now be increasingly asking “what is the strategy… Do we really keep going until we finish Hamas?”, he added.

At the same time, splits have emerged in Mr Netanyahu’s war Cabinet following protests in Tel Aviv and outside his Jerusalem home, where relatives of hostages staged a rally on Jan 22 chanting “everybody and now” to urge the return of captives.

“The current mood in the war cabinet is very bad,” said Ms Julia Elad-Strenger, a lecturer at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

Mr Netanyahu’s steadfast vow to eliminate the Palestinian militant group Hamas in response to the Oct 7 attack is increasingly seen within the Cabinet as incompatible with returning hostages held in Gaza, experts told AFP.

War cabinet divided

Two members of the five-person war Cabinet, Mr Benny Gantz and Mr Gadi Eisenkot, have rejected Mr Netanyahu’s stance that only military pressure on Hamas will allow the return of hostages, the experts said.

“According to Netanyahu there can be no victory with Hamas left standing, according to Gantz and Eisenkot there can be no victory with hostages lost,” said Professor Reuven Hazan, a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Mr Eisenkot, whose son died fighting in Gaza, gave an interview last week in which he split from Mr Netanyahu’s long-held position.

“It is impossible to return the hostages alive in the near future without an agreement (with Hamas),” he told Israeli broadcaster Channel 12.

Mr Netanyahu has vowed “total victory” over Hamas in response to the attack by its fighters on Oct 7 that resulted in the deaths of about 1,140 people, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.

The gunmen seized about 250 hostages and Israel says around 132 remain in besieged Gaza, including the bodies of at least 28 dead hostages, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli data.

In response to the attack, Israel has launched a relentless offensive in Gaza that has killed at least 25,400 people, according to the latest toll issued on Jan 23 by Gaza’s health ministry.

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