Delayed hostage release shows Hamas still very much in control

Opinion: Anxious wait teaches Sinwar maintains hold over Gaza, hostage deal open to interpretations and politicians still looking out for themselves amid war

Nahum Barnea|
For hours on Saturday, 13 women and children, once again sat anxiously in Gaza, hoping to be saved as they had done on October 7, while Hamas threatened to suspend their release, while in Israel their families experienced the excruciating agony, fearing their hopes to be reunited with their loved ones, would be crushed.
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The families of the remaining 200 hostages shared their pain wondering what would become of their relatives. When at last they crossed into the hands of the Red Cross, the sigh of relief was shared by all but there is no assurance that the same would not occur in the remaining days of the deal to release 50 of the hostages Hamas imprisoned. I am personally attached to six of the freed and am as overjoyed as I can be to see them home.
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המפונים מקיבוץ בארי צופים בהשבת החטופים
המפונים מקיבוץ בארי צופים בהשבת החטופים
Residents of Be'eri wait anxiously to hear if hostages to be released on Saturday
(Photo: Shalev Shalom)
But after the drama on Saturday, there are lessons to be learned. The first is that Hamas is still in control and led by Yahya Sinwar. Any talk of the terror group's defeat was premature and an expression of wishful thinking rather than reality-based facts. Its power was evident in its haggling over the Saturday release and the demands made concerning all of the Gaza Strip including the areas now under some IDF control. During the truce, Hamas will only increase its hold on the ground.
Another lesson learned is that the agreement negotiated by Qatar and the United States is not firm and there are different interpretations of its components. More obstacles and demands are likely to be made, on the backs of those destined for release. The distrust between Israel and the terror group is expected but there is no mediator who can enforce the deal or is trusted enough by both sides.
The third lesson learned is that the Israeli government will struggle to end the deal, if broken, after it committed to it, because of public pressure and the emotional connections Israelis have forged to the hostages and their families. Any delay is met with extreme disappointment, frustration and a sense of failure, putting the government in a position it would have preferred to avoid. The threat that should Hamas violate the deal, Israel would resume its fire, was rash and empty. It would take much more for such a dramatic decision to be made, that involves the lives of so many.
Hamas is a murderous terror organization that has no qualms about extorting concessions based on lies but since the start of the war, I have urged to accept with a grain of salt, any messaging given by "senior officials, or senior security officials in Israel. Members of the government are fighting for their own political survival at the same time they are leading the fight on Gaza because of their responsibility in facilitating the massacre. They are cutting corners accordingly.
One example that has not received adequate attention was during a press conference announcing the deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the agreement includes Red Cross visiting the hostages. he claimed there was a commitment from Hamas to allow such visits. He even pulled a piece of paper out claiming the visits were written into the deal.
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מהצהרת נתניהו, גלנט וגנץ: "ניהלנו משא ומתן קשוח. הודתי לביידן"
מהצהרת נתניהו, גלנט וגנץ: "ניהלנו משא ומתן קשוח. הודתי לביידן"
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing hostage release deal on Wednesday
I was surprised. That was a critical question on the minds of Israelis and would have entirely altered the situation of the families who had no information about their loved ones. Had such visits taken place, Israel would have had knowledge of their whereabouts and Hamas would have lost much of its bargaining power.
I checked. I found out there was such an item written into the deal, but it did not include a commitment from Hamas. In fact, both sides understood there was no validity to the words and were probably inserted to appease Netanyahu's coalition partners on the far-right or to convince the hostage families to tune down their demands to see their loved ones released.
Claiming the Red Cross would be allowed to visit the hostages was no different that the claims of past coalitions, who said Hamas would be eradicated, in past years. The made a commitment but did not commit to carry it through.
Netanyahu knew he was pushing empty words, when he pulled out the piece of paper in front of cameras. He is no fool, but he believes his voters are. I went back to view the footage from that press conference. I saw the expressions of wonder on the faces of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Minister Benny Gantz. They were not amused. You do not win wars with false promises.
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