Israel's Daring Rescue Operation Proves: There Are Hostages Still Alive, Only a Deal Will Save Them

Anshel Pfeffer / Haaretz
Israel's Daring Rescue Operation Proves: There Are Hostages Still Alive, Only a Deal Will Save Them Almog Meir Jan, a hostage rescued from the central Gaza Strip on Saturday. (photo: Marko Djurica/Reuters)

Benjamin Netanyahu rushed to Sheba Hospital on Saturday to have his picture taken with the released hostages, while he hasn't met yet with families of the hostages announced dead last week. At the same time, the Prime Minister's mouthpieces were already utilizing the rescue operation to smear their leader's rivals

The rescue of hostages Noa Argamani, Andrey Kozlov, Almog Meir Jan and Shlomi Ziv on Saturday morning in the operation in Nuseirat gave Israelis a very rare Shabbat of joy since October 7's Shabbat of horror. It wasn't just the result. Four live hostages returned to their families 245 days after they were captured by Hamas at the Nova music festival.

The combination of accurate intelligence, intensive planning and coordinated execution was an essential reminder, so needed by Israelis, of their military and security services' capabilities that had been tarnished by the failures of the past eight months.

But the surge of feelings, elation and relief at the hostages' return could obscure only for a short while the fact that 120 hostages still remain in Gaza, 43 of whom have already been declared dead by Israel, with the actual number assumed to be considerably higher. The four hostages brought back alive have more than doubled the number of those rescued by Israeli forces – now it's seven, along with Ori Megidish, located and rescued early on in the war, and Louis Har and Fernando Marman, who were saved in Rafah back in February.

Seven out of 135 who have been returned, including 19 bodies and 109 released by Hamas, four of them early in the war following pressure from Qatar and 105 as part of the truce at the end of November.

Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu were quick to post online after news of the successful rescue a clip of Gadi Eisenkot from an interview he gave in January, when he said there was no chance of an Entebbe-style rescue of the hostages because "they are scattered in such a way, also underground mainly, that the possibility [of their rescue in a military operation] after Ori Megidish is very low. We need to say with honesty that we probably cannot return the hostages alive in the near future except through a deal, and anyone [who says otherwise] is conning the public."

Eisenkot of course didn't say it would be impossible to save any of the hostages. He was talking about all the hostages still remaining in captivity. His assessment is shared by the entire security establishment, who believe that while some hostages may be rescued in special operations, they can only be released in their entirety as part of a deal with Hamas.

If anything, the numbers of hostages released so far, seven in special operations and 109 in deals with Hamas, only proves that. But facts are not important when politics takes precedence.

The speed with which Netanyahu's mouthpieces have tried to utilize the hostages' rescue to slime their leader's rivals can only be compared to the speed with which Netanyahu, who as prime minister is by convention not supposed to engage in public activity on Shabbat, rushed to Sheba Hospital to have his picture taken with the released hostages.

Interestingly, he has yet to meet many of the families of the hostages in the eight months since their capture, or the hostages who were released as part of the deal in November. He didn't even pick up the phone to the families of the four hostages – Amiram Cooper, Yoram Metzger, Chaim Peri and Nadav Popplewell – who were declared dead last Sunday.

Partly it's because they, unlike the four hostages who were rescued this Saturday, are mostly members of kibbutzim and can be expected to publicly blame him. Mainly, it's because Netanyahu only takes responsibility for success stories.

The fact that four hostages were rescued and were still in relatively good health is proof that a deal is vital to save the others who are still alive. Netanyahu and his partners want Israelis to ignore the fact that waiting in hope of a similar combination of intelligence and operational circumstances coming around yet again will only seal the fates of most of them.

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