As Israel continues its war on Hamas with the intent to deal the terrorist organization a death blow, the Israel Defense Force (IDF) makes every effort to keep innocent civilians safe. In addition, for Israel, the Gaza operation entails finding and rescuing as many as 240 hostages taken by Hamas during its murderous rampage through southern Israel on October 7 and subsequently. Focusing on the return of the hostages, the Biden administration has dispatched an envoy to Israel and whirlwind stops in Belgium and several Arab and Gulf states.
Israel and Hamas Not Morally Equivalent
Discussions in the Middle East regarding hostages and humanitarian assistance to Palestinians trapped in Gaza are always delicate and quickly devolve into some moral equivalence between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization. Any hint of blaming Israel for the Hamas-caused plight of innocent civilians in the Gaza warzone should be avoided. That will be the challenge for President Biden’s Deputy Assistant to the President and Coordinator for the Middle East and North Africa, Brett McGurk. National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson, in a press statement, said about McGurk’s travels:
“In Israel, he will discuss Israel’s security needs, the imperative of protecting civilians in the course of military operations, as well as ongoing efforts to secure the release of hostages, and the need to rein in violent extremist settlers in the West Bank…In Doha, he will also focus on the intensive efforts to secure release of hostages being held by Hamas, including a number of Americans, one of whom is a 3-year-old toddler.”
Writing for Axios, Barak Ravid explained, “McGurk’s trip is part of the Biden administration’s ongoing engagement with key parties aimed at preventing a regional war and getting a hostage deal that includes a longer pause in the fighting in Gaza.” Reports from McGurk’s discussions in Israel indicate if Biden’s envoy thought he would get a warm reception for anything that looked like a ceasefire, he was wrong. “The State of Israel will not stop its operations in Gaza until our troops fulfill their missions: destroying Hamas and returning our hostages home to their families,” The Jerusalem Post reported Defense Minister Yoav Gallant as stating during a meeting with McGurk.”
Israel Continues Its Operations Moving Through Gaza
The no-fuzz response by Gallant indicates Biden’s man tried and failed to suggest a ceasefire to help get assistance to the Palestinians in Gaza. “Notably, the meeting took place as the IDF was mid-operation inside the controversial Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, the center of large amounts of global media coverage of the war for much of the last week,” The Post explained.
One of Mr. McGurk’s stops will be in Doha, Qatar, where he will try to solicit greater cooperation from Qatar, mediating the release of hostages. The US and Qatar have had a mixed-results relationship for several years. Though the Qatari government allows the US military to use the large Al Udeid Air Base southwest of Doha, the Biden administration has been critical of Qatar’s cozying up to Iran. Nonetheless, if Qatar can be helpful in a hostage exchange and return of US and other foreign citizens held by Hamas, it is worth the effort.
Backdoor diplomacy is sometimes the best way to resolve tricky negotiations with foreign entities. It’s more challenging still to deal with terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. Using intermediaries is generally the most effective. If successful, such diplomacy serves two purposes. First, it achieves the immediate objective, in this case, getting hostages released. Second, it accomplishes the goal without giving undue legitimacy to the terrorist side of the negotiations. As Israel achieves operational gains in Gaza, pressure increases on Hamas to be conciliatory. If they don’t, it is clear the IDF intends to ensure there is no Hamas with which to negotiate.
The views expressed are those of the author and not of any other affiliation.