Sherwin Pomerantz

The 181st Day of War in Israel

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh on Wednesday ruled out a compromise with Israel for a hostage deal, doubling down on the terror group’s demands which Israel has already ruled out.  Speaking in a televised address marking Al-Quds Day, Ismail Haniyeh, chairman of the Hamas politburo in exile in Qatar, said the terror group would not agree to a hostage deal without the total withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza, the full return of Gazans to all portions of the Strip, an end to the security blockade of Gaza, expanded aid permitted into the coastal enclave, and the reconstruction of Gaza.

“We are committed to our demands: the permanent ceasefire, comprehensive and complete withdrawal of the enemy out of the Gaza Strip, the return of all displaced people to their homes, allowing all aid needed for our people in Gaza, rebuilding the Strip, lifting the blockade and achieving an honorable prisoner exchange deal,” Haniyeh said.  The terror chief accused Israel of continuing to “evade, resist” responding to Hamas’ demands.

Israel has offered a six-week truce and the release of hundreds of jailed terrorists, including a number of high-profile terrorists convicted of major offenses, in exchange for the release of approximately 40 Israeli captives held hostage in Gaza since October 7th.  There are a total of 134 Israeli hostages still in Gaza, though as many as half may no longer be alive, according to an Israeli official who spoke with Ha’aretz.  Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have repeatedly ruled out a permanent ceasefire and vowed to carried out the IDF’s much-anticipated ground operation in Rafah, the last remaining Hamas stronghold in the Gaza Strip.

It is, of course, very strange that no one in the western world is “outraged” over the intransigence of Hamas, the organization that caused this war in the first place.  Prime Minister Netanyahu was correct when he described the demands of Hamas as “delusional.” The unmitigated gall of the defeated partner to the war to now demand that everything must go back to where it was on October 6th in order for the war to stop and that the responsibility for making that happen is on the shoulders of Israel in cooperation with a host of other nations is simply madness.

 Israel should go to the polls in September, National Unity leader and War Cabinet Minister-without-Portfolio Benny Gantz said at a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, marking the first time that he has called for early elections since joining the wartime government six months ago.

“Setting such a date will allow us to continue the military effort while signaling to the citizens of Israel that we will soon renew their trust in us,” he said in the speech, citing the need to “maintain unity.”  Gantz claimed that he discussed the matter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and plans to “continue dialogue on the subject.”

Gantz and party colleague Gadi Eizenkot, both former Israel Defense Forces chiefs of staff, joined the Netanyahu-led government from the opposition and became members of the War Cabinet following Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 people in the northwestern Negev.

In an address to the nation on Sunday, Netanyahu had already rejected the suggestion that elections be held during the war, saying it would paralyze hostage negotiations and prevent the defeat of Hamas.  “The first who would welcome this is Hamas, and that says everything,” he said. “I’m committed to bringing everyone back, all of our men and women, soldiers, civilians—I will not leave anyone behind.”

Gantz issued his call following large anti-government protests in Jerusalem on Tuesday in which the crowd called to “burn down the country” and tried to storm Netanyahu’s official residence. Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) chief Ronen Bar issued a rare warning Wednesday morning, describing the chaos as a  “beyond acceptable” protest. “There is a clear line between legitimate and illegal protest. This worrying trend could lead to dangerous places,” said Bar.

On the economic front. Turkey has been blocking exports to Israel recently, Hebrew-language business news site Globes reported on Tuesday, citing a source familiar with the matter. The government in Ankara has delayed or not approved shipments since March 12, according to agencies working with Israeli importers, and there is no timetable for when the obstructions will end.  In addition, Globes reported that it has not been possible to pay export duties for such deliveries, with the Turkish website providing an error message only for Israel-bound exports.  Ships have thus been stalled in port as shipping companies wait for a resolution to the issue.  This is the first time in recent memory that diplomatic relations between the two countries have affected the business sector as well.

The IDF halted leave for all combat units on Thursday, it said in a statement, amid concerns of possible escalation after the killing of Iranian generals in Damascus this week that drew threats of retaliation.  “In accordance with the situational assessment, leave will be temporarily paused for all IDF combat units.  The IDF is at war, and the deployment of forces is under continuous assessment according to requirements,” the military said in a statement.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Wednesday urged Israel to take concrete steps to protect aid workers and Palestinian civilians in Gaza “after repeated coordination failures” when he spoke with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Thursday, the Pentagon said.  The call for steps following the accidental killing of seven World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza this week.

Austin also urged Gallant to conduct “a swift and transparent” investigation, to share the conclusions publicly, and to hold those responsible to account, the Pentagon said.  US President Biden is also scheduled to speak with Prime Minister Netanyahu later today, the first time they will have spoken since March 18th.

About the Author
Sherwin Pomerantz is a native New Yorker, who lived and worked in Chicago for 20 years before coming to Israel in 1984. An industrial engineer with advanced degrees in mechanical engineering and business, he is President of Atid EDI Ltd., a 32 year old Jerusalem-based economic development consulting firm which, among other things, represents the regional trade and investment interests of a number of US states, regional entities and Invest Hong Kong. A past national president of the Association of Americans & Canadians in Israel, he is also Former Chairperson of the Board of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and a Board Member of the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce. His articles have appeared in various publications in Israel and the US.