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Fateful decisions await northern front and hostages

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What’s happened: After two days of large fires caused by Hezbollah missiles and drones raging in northern Israel, firefighters have now gained control.

  • IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Halevi visited the area and said, “We are nearing the point at which a decision will have to be made, and the IDF is primed and very ready for that decision. We have been attacking here for eight months. Hezbollah has paid a very-very high price and has raised the intensity in the past few days, and we are prepared to pivot to an offensive in the north.”
  • Halevi added, “we are prepared after a very good process of training, up to the level of an IDF General Staff drill, to transition to attack in the north. Strong defence, readiness for offence, we are nearing the decision point.”
  • Defence Minister Gallant also held a situation assessment. According to his office, he “reviewed the operational and intelligence efforts by IDF troops in the face of Hezbollah’s aggression, the ongoing attacks in Lebanese territory to stop terrorists and the troops’ preparations for a high-intensity operation against the Shiite terrorist organisation.”
  • Earlier in the day, Ministers Gantz and Eisenkot met with the representatives of the (northern) Confrontation Line Communities Forum. After the meeting, Gantz said, “The biggest operative challenge today is in the northern theatre and in the country’s north, and the biggest moral challenge is in the south, in the Gaza Strip. Therefore, alongside the fighting, the right thing at this time is to get the hostages back, to act to get the residents of the north back home safely, to get the State of Israel back on track. That isn’t going to be easy. It will have costs; it will be painful; but it is the right thing.”
  • On Tuesday night, Israel’s inner war cabinet convened to discussed Hezbollah’s escalation of attacks on northern Israel.

Hostage negotiations: In parallel, Egyptian, Qatari, and American officials will be meeting today in Doha to discuss ways of reviving the hostage deal negotiations.

  • The sides await an answer from Hamas to the latest Israeli proposal. Israeli officials expect Hamas to respond affirmatively but conditionally, and to demand guarantees about the war’s conclusion. One Israeli official said, “Hamas won’t get a better offer than this.”
  • Israeli media also quoted a senior Israeli official saying, “We won’t submit a better proposal. We’ve stretched the limits of our flexibility.”
  • Hamas continues to demand the agreement guarantees the end of the war and an IDF withdrawal from Gaza.
  • Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke on the telephone yesterday with French President Macron to discuss the proposal. Netanyahu told Macron that “the proposal allows Israel to achieve all of the war’s objectives that it defined, including Hamas’s elimination.” Netanyahu also said, “Alongside freeing the hostages, that was and remains Israel’s fundamental objective in the war, and it is determined to achieve it.”

Context: There is growing pressure on the Israeli government to agree to a hostage deal and improve the situation in the north, either diplomatically or militarily.

  • Hezbollah has increased their level of attack. According to the Shin Bet there were over 1,000 attacks (rockets, anti-tank missiles, drones) in the month of May. There has been a gradual rise: in January they recorded 334 attacks, and in February 534, whilst in both March and April over 740.
  • As a result of the fires, the damage is twice the size of the area that was affected during the Second Lebanon War of 2006. Around 3,460 acres of woodlands has been damaged from rocket and drone fire out of Lebanon.
  • Whilst waiting for Hamas’s response to a hostage deal, both ultra-Orthodox parties have now declared their support for a deal.
  • On Tuesday Shas followed the United Torah Judaism (UJT) support from the day before. According to a Shas statement, “The deal contains far-reaching steps for bringing back the hostages and fulfilling the commandment to redeem captives. Shas supports the proposal and strengthens the prime minister and the war cabinet in withstanding all pressure to finalise the deal and save the lives of many of our brothers and sisters in need in captivity.”
  • The ultra-Orthodox support for a deal is important for Netanyahu to receive their political backing and further dilute the influence of far-right ministers Ben Gvir and Smotrich. It is also serves as welcome unifier for the wider Israeli public, particularly in light of the dispute over their service in the military.
  • There are suggestions that the ultra-Orthodox parties’ announcements came at Netanyahu’s behest, in a bid to keep Gantz in the government. Advancing a hostage deal could be the prerequisite that would say Gantz remain, despite his setting a June 8th deadline for Netanyahu to present a plan for the ‘day after’ in Gaza.
  • In the latest sign of dysfunctionality between the inner war cabinet and the wider security cabinet, according to Maariv the war cabinet asked to meet with the Fire and Rescue Authority commissioner to discuss the fires in northern Israel. National Security Minister Ben Gvir, who has ministerial authority over the commissioner, refused to authorise him to meet with the war cabinet and demanded that he meet with the entire security cabinet.
  • Meanwhile, in the south the IDF launched an operation yesterday into the Bureij area in the centre of the Gaza Strip. The IDF said they made swift progress and already exposed several underground facilities, and weapons storage sites.
  • The speed of IDF advancement is further illustration of the overall incapacitation of Hamas and the IDF’s increasing control in the Strip.

Looking ahead: Today is Jerusalem Day (marking the unification of the city in 1967). Three thousand police have been deployed to secure events marked by the traditional annual march through the old city this afternoon.

  • CIA Director William Burns is scheduled to arrive back in the region in the next few days to try to advance the hostage deal.