Media Summary

The BBC and Sky News both lead their Middle East reportage with Israel significantly reducing its number of troops in the southern Gaza Strip.


The BBC and Sky News both lead their Middle East reportage with Israel significantly reducing its number of troops in the southern Gaza Strip. The BBC reports that while stressing that a “significant force” would remain in the coastal enclave, IDF spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said: “This is another stage in the war effort” implying that the decision was tactical “rather than a sign the war may be moving closer to its end”. Lieutenant Colonel Lerner also confirmed that this decision had been made given the IDF completing its mission in Khan Yunis and that “The war is not over. War can only be over when they [hostages] come home and when Hamas is gone.”

The BBC also reports that “Marking six months of the war, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ‘one step away from victory’ but insisted there would be no ceasefire without the release of Israeli hostages.”

Sky News quotes a senior source in the Israeli government who says that the withdrawal is linked to ongoing hostage release negotiations and that Prime Minister Netanyahu is “desperate” for a ceasefire deal.

The Times reports that the Deputy Prime Minister, Oliver Dowden, has confirmed that “Britain can continue selling weapons to Israel lawfully despite the death toll in Gaza”. Following the death of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers in a drone strike last week, there have been increasing calls for the UK to suspend its arms sales to Israel. Mr Dowden also said it was “not appropriate” to publish legal advice the government had received on whether international law had been broken in Gaza.

The Guardian and Reuters both report that indirect ceasefire negotiations between Israel and Hamas taking place in Cairo have made “significant progress” with more talks due to be held in coming days. According to a senior Egyptian source, “all parties have agreed on basic points” while Israel has “voiced cautious optimism about the latest round of mediated negotiations”. Reuters also quotes Israeli Foreign Minister, Yaakov Katz, as having “described the Cairo talks as the closest the sides have come to a deal since a November truce under which Hamas freed dozens of hostages”.

Writing for The TelegraphCon Coughlin says that “Iran’s paper tiger has finally been exposed”, and that “the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) were entirely justified in launching Monday’s missile strike on the base, which succeeded in killing several senior IRGC commanders” (Israel has not directly commented on this strike, neither confirming nor denying its responsibility). Suggesting that Iran’s Damascus consulate which was destroyed in an air strike last was functionally a front for the IRGC’s operations in the country, Coughlin also questioned “how much Iran will want to escalate tensions in the region” given its somewhat lacklustre response to Qassem Soleimani’s 2020 assassination.

The BBC also reports that “Israel’s military has said it is prepared for any Iranian threat, as tension builds after Monday’s attack on an Iranian consulate in Damascus, that an Iranian official had threatened Israeli embassies saying they were “no longer safe”, and that “US and Israeli forces in the region have been put on high alert in anticipation of a possible attack.”

Army Radio reports that Ali Ahmad Hussein, a commander in Hezbollah’s elite Radwan Force in charge of attacks on the Kiryat Shmona area, was killed in an Israeli strike on the southern Lebanese village of Sultaniyeh last night. Two other terrorists were also killed. Hussein’s is the fifth time a brigade commander-level Hezbollah fighter has been killed since the war began.

Many Israeli commentators focus on the IDF’s announcement of the withdrawal of large numbers of its ground forces from southern Gaza. “In the IDF’s operational plans,” writes Yediot Ahronot’s Nahum Barnea, “Gaza is now like Jenin: a target for pinpoint raids; not a target for operations, not a target for conquest… The [Israeli] decision-makers’ heartfelt wish,” he continues, “is that a huge number of Gazans will now move from Rafah to Khan Yunis and clear Rafah for an Israeli strike. America will welcome this and the world will accept it. Like all heartfelt wishes during wartime, this one does not take into account the reality in Gaza or our situation in the world. Israel is operating from inside walls of mistrust.”

Summarising the achievements of the war so far, Barnea says, “In the six months of war, we failed to achieve even a single one of the objectives that were laid out at its start. This refers both to the ambitious, untenable objectives that Netanyahu presented, and the more realistic objectives that the military leadership presented.” “War prosecution requires strategic thinking, not just heartfelt wishes. Netanyahu was laid bare in all his blindness: someone who has pretensions of destroying a regime that controls territory and a population, must prepare an alternative regime. There are 5,000 people in Gaza, perhaps more, who were involved in the past in administering the Gaza Strip under the Palestinian Authority. Ostensibly, their hands are not stained with terrorism. Their names are known to Israel. Netanyahu cast a veto on any initiative that mentioned them, in fact, he vetoed any initiative that sought to lay the groundwork for the day after.  He will not admit it, but he preferred a vacuum and chaos in Gaza. There were some who warned him: everywhere in the Middle East where chaos is created, the result is that Iran seizes control. That is what happened in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen. He refused to listen. Even after October 7, he still considers Abu Mazen to be a worse enemy than Hamas.”

Maariv’s Ben Caspit calls the withdrawal “a farce” – one he blames on Netanyahu’s handling of deteriorating relations with the US. “Just think,” Caspit says, “what would have happened had Netanyahu agreed to” large-scale humanitarian aid to Gaza “on day-one. Had he phoned President Biden and told him, Mr. President, I thank you for coming to our assistance so incredibly. In return, we will authorise all possible humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip. We won’t deny them anything. Netanyahu could have struck the following deal with Biden: Israel’s freedom to continue to fight until Hamas’s defeat in exchange for unlimited humanitarian aid throughout the entire duration of the fighting. Biden would have come away from that looking great and Israel would have come away from that looking great. Sharon would have reached an agreement of that kind with Biden. So would have Bennett. Every Israeli leader who is also a patriot would have come to that kind of agreement with Biden.”

Yediot Ahronot’s Nadav Eyal is similarly critical. “The failure is entirely owned by the politicians,” he says. “They were not worthy of the troops and failed to do their job. Wars are not won only by killing the enemy. There must be complementary political and diplomatic steps. Regional and global alliances must be maintained. Thought must be given to international law and to long-term strategy. Public opinion must be considered with caution. War requires sophistication and cunning. In all these spheres, which are under the government’s purview, under the prime minister’s purview, Israel has failed.”

Israel Hayom’s Ariel Kahana positions the withdrawals as a push to secure a hostage deal with Hamas. With its actions, “Israel effectively met two of the primary demands Hamas has made throughout the entire negotiations… Ahead of critical talks, the Israeli capitulation was designed—without saying so explicitly—to signal to Hamas that Israel was being very forthcoming with it from its perspective. To that, one needs to add Israel’s longstanding willingness to free hundreds of terrorists for the hostages, and to stop the fighting for six weeks. In other words, in practice, Israel has accepted most of Hamas’s demands in its effort to reach a deal. If Hamas responds positively in the course of the coming day, that means that the IDF is out of the Gaza Strip, has agreed to halt the fighting for an extended period of time that Hamas will certainly use to regroup, while Hamas will receive hundreds of terrorists, as it wanted from the get-go. Those will be historic achievements [for Hamas].”

Haaretz’s Amos Harel speculates that “it’s reasonable to assume that Sinwar and Deif will eventually be killed or captured, given the effort being invested in this. Hamas’ No. 3 in Gaza, Marwan Issa, was killed in an airstrike last month after he violated the rigid security protocols adopted by senior Hamas officials. It’s even still possible that there could be a breakthrough in rescuing the hostages. But the public should be told the truth: The enormous death and destruction the IDF is leaving behind in Gaza, alongside quite a few losses on our side, aren’t currently bringing us any closer to achieving the war’s goals. Hamas’ military and governmental capabilities are gradually being degraded, but the organisation isn’t close to being defeated. We aren’t one step away from victory, as Netanyahu once again claimed on Sunday with no basis in reality, to the dismay of officers and soldiers who, regardless of their political views, can spot the deception.” Regarding the prospects of a hostage deal, Harel worries that “Sinwar can see the growing rift between Jerusalem and Washington, and this could spur him to harden his positions.”

In favour of the withdrawal, Ynet’s Ron Ben-Yishai writes that “The shift to a new strategy offers two key advantages: First, it reduces the forces’ vulnerability to terrorist attacks by avoiding static positions, and second, it enables them to reach any current location in under an hour… The current pressure,” he continues, “stems not from the perpetual IDF presence posing a threat to forces in Khan Younis, but from the fear of surprise raids like the one on Al Shifa, which dealt a severe blow to Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip.” Contrary to Caspit’s assessment, Ben-Yishai argues that “highly reliable sources say that the move of the 98th Division tout of the area has been planned for several weeks, and has nothing to do with the political crisis in relations with the U.S. government.”

In other news, Israel Hayom reports on a terror attack yesterday morning, in which a Palestinian gunman opened fire on vehicles on Highway 55 in the northern West Bank. A 19-year-old woman was seriously wounded and a 50-year-old man suffered light to moderate injuries. Ynet adds that the attacker’s car contained a large explosive device. He remains on the run.