Netanyahu accused of lying over claim Hamas can be defeated by military means

Israeli cabinet minister and former military chief Gadi Eizenkot delivers an eulogy during the funeral of his son Gal Meir Eisenkot, 25,
Gadi Eisenkot (pictured), said: ‘Whoever speaks of absolute defeat is not speaking the truth.’ - REUTERS
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

A member of Israel’s War Cabinet has accused Benjamin Netanyahu of lying by claiming that Hamas can be defeated militarily.

In his first public statement on the course of the war, Gadi Eisenkot, a former army chief, said: “Whoever speaks of absolute defeat is not speaking the truth.

“That is why we should not tell stories,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 television. “Today, the situation already in the Gaza Strip is such that the goals of the war have not yet been achieved.”

“You have to show leadership in the ability to tell the truth to people, the ability to chart a path,” he said.

‘Hostages only return alive if deal’

Mr Eisenkot also suggested Israelis were being misled by claims that military pressure would lead to the release of the dozens of hostages still being held in Gaza, saying only a ceasefire deal would secure their freedom.

“The hostages will only return alive if there is a deal, linked to a significant pause in fighting,” he told Israel’s Channel 12 television.

Claiming the hostages can be freed by any other means “is to spread illusions,” said Mr Eisenkot, whose son was killed in Gaza in December.

Both Mr Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant have said the fighting will continue until Hamas is crushed, and argue that only military action can win the hostages’ release.

Dramatic rescue operations unlikely

Dramatic rescue operations, Mr Eisenkot said, were unlikely because the hostages are spread out, with many of them remaining hidden in Hamas’s underground tunnel network.

In a thinly veiled criticism of Mr Netanyahu, Mr Eisenkot also said strategic decisions about the war’s direction must be made urgently, and that a discussion about an endgame should have begun immediately after the war began.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Mr Netanyahu (pictured), and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant have said the fighting will continue until Hamas is crushed - AP Pool

He also dismissed suggestions that the military has delivered a decisive blow against Hamas.

Mr Gallant has said Israeli forces disabled the Hamas command structure in northern Gaza, from where significant numbers of troops were withdrawn earlier in the week, and that the focus is now on the southern half of the territory.

“We haven’t yet reached a strategic achievement, or rather only partially,” Mr Eisenkot said. “We did not bring down Hamas.”

The militant group has continued to fight back across Gaza, even in the most devastated areas, and launched rockets into Israel.

‘Necessary to return Israeli voter to polls’

Mr Eisenkot’s interview was aired hours after Netanyahu rejected the idea of holding elections in the middle of a war.

The former army chief said elections should be held within the coming months to renew the public’s trust in its leaders.

“It is necessary, within a period of months, to return the Israeli voter to the polls and hold elections in order to renew trust because right now there is no trust,” he said.

Mr Eisenkot said he is examining every day whether he should remain in the War Cabinet, which includes Mr Netanyahu, Mr Gallant and Benny Gantz, the former Defense Minister and opposition leader.

Mr Eisenkot is a member of parliament in the opposition National Unity alliance headed by Mr Gantz. Both joined Mr Netanyahu to help lead the war.

Latest sign of disagreement

“I know what my red line is,” Mr Eisenkot said when asked at what point he would quit. “It’s connected to the hostages, that is one of the objectives, but it’s also connected to the way in which we need to run this war.”

Mr Eisenkot’s comments were the latest sign of disagreement among political and military leaders over the direction of Israel’s offensive on Hamas, now in its fourth month.

Speaking in a news conference on Thursday Mr Netanyahu reiterated his long-standing opposition to a two-state solution, arguing that a Palestinian state would become a launchpad for attacks on Israel.

Israel “must have security control over the entire territory west of the Jordan River,” Mr Netanyahu said, adding: “That collides with the idea of sovereignty. What can we do?”

Washington has also called for steps toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. The Palestinians seek Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem for their state. Those areas were captured by Israel in 1967.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.