why the massive hostage-taking by terrorists puts the Israeli government in a delicate position

At least 130 people have been captured by Hamas and Islamic Jihad since the attack on Israel on Saturday. An “unprecedented” situation for the Jewish state.

Three days after the deadly attack launched by Hamas on Israel, the Palestinian Islamist movement and another armed group, Islamic Jihad, claim to hold at least 130 hostages. “Never in the history of our country have there been so many Israelis in the hands of terrorist organizations”, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces told the American channel CNN on Saturday. Among these hostages, women, children and the elderly. On the evening of Monday, October 9, Hamas threatened to execute hostages in response to Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip, the Jewish state’s response to the massive offensive launched by the Palestinian Islamist movement.

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Franceinfo deciphers why this hostage taking on an unprecedented scale puts the Israeli government in a complicated situation.

Because the attack reveals an unprecedented security failure

Despite its “iron dome”, Israel no longer conveys the image of an impenetrable fortress. Israeli intelligence and security services were visibly overwhelmed by the Hamas attack. This is’“a huge disavowal in terms of security”estimates Etienne Dignat, researcher at the Center for International Research (Ceri) at Sciences Po, author of The Ransom of Terror (PUF, 2023). “You can imagine that Hamas could capture an Israeli soldier. But 100 to 150 people is unheard of,” he notes. “The only times this happened was in countries much less structured than Israel: the kidnapping of the Chibok high school girls by Boko Haram in Nigeria (in 2014) or the kidnappings by the Farc in Colombia”illustrates the researcher.

“Families will call the government to account because it has failed to protect its nationals. Even in the event of a peaceful outcome, the government’s image will remain tarnished”, anticipates Hasni Abidi, director of the Center for Studies and Research on the Arab and Mediterranean World (Cermam) in Geneva. Furthermore, by capturing women, children and the elderly, Hamas “broke a taboo”underlines Etienne Dignat.

Because the hostages risk being used as human shields

In the event of an operation against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli army places the hostages at high risk. “Hamas thought of the next move: using these hostages as human shields to delay air attacks by Israel or the reoccupation of Palestinian territory”analyzes Hasni Abidi.

According to a report (PDF) of NATO published in June 2019, Hamas is familiar with this strategy. Since 2007, the ruling organization in the Gaza Strip has positioned its infrastructure in highly populated areas and regularly clashes with Israeli forces near commercial and residential areas. This method, which exposes the Palestinian civilian population, is nevertheless prohibited by the Geneva Convention and can be qualified as a war crime.

The use of force by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, a highly populated area, therefore promises to be complicated. “It’s almost insoluble on a military level”estimates General Jérôme Pellistrandi, editor-in-chief of the National defense magazine, on franceinfo. “Massive strikes could cause the death of these hostages.”

According to the French soldier, the primary objective of the Israeli Air Force remains to bomb military targets in the Gaza Strip. “The problem is that intelligence must know where the hostages are. It seems that they are in the underground network that Hamas has been building for years. It is extremely difficult to locate them”, explains Jérôme Pellistrandi. For now, Tel Aviv is putting pressure on the Palestinian territory. The Israeli defense minister warned that a “complete seat” would be imposed on the Gaza Strip.

Because the “cost” of Israeli hostages is high

Israel’s recent history shows that possible negotiations promise to be delicate. In 2008, the remains of Israeli soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were repatriated in exchange for five prisoners, including Samir Kantar, a Hezbollah figure, detained for thirty years in Israel for having carried out an attack. In 2011, Franco-Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was released against 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, after five years of detention in the Gaza Strip. “When you start on these bases, the negotiation for 150 people seems insane”warns Etienne Dignat.

“The negotiation promises to be very complicated because the Israelis have set the bar very high in previous negotiations.”

Etienne Dignat, researcher at Ceri

at franceinfo

One of the leaders of Hamas, Saleh al-Arouri, assured Saturday in an interview with Al-Jazeera that he had kidnapped “senior officers” Israelis and have enough hostages to free all the Palestinian prisoners. The Israeli NGO B’Tselem, specializing in the defense of human rights in the occupied territories, counted 4,500 Palestinian detainees in Israel at the end of June 2023. The most famous of them is Marwan Barghouti, one of the leaders of the Palestinian nationalist party Fatah. , sentenced in 2004 to life imprisonment.

Because Israel has the doctrine of never letting go of its hostages

“Since the creation of the State of Israel, a doctrine has been built on the objective of offering a secure home to all Jews, wherever they are in the world”, notes researcher Hasni Abidi. This heritage even goes back to the origins of Judaism. “There is this duty to redeem captive Jews to prevent them from being forcibly converted”, explains Etienne Dignat. This religious duty, called pidyon shvuyim or “redemption of the captives” in French, is inscribed in the Talmud, one of the fundamental texts of Judaism, and theorized by Rabbi Moses Maimonides since the 12th century.

“This duty to rescue hostages is very important in Jewish thought. This concerns civilians as well as the military, especially since in a country of 9 million inhabitants, hostages quickly become loved ones.”, analyzes Etienne Dignat. This commitment also constitutes, for the government, a means of making the population accept the existence of compulsory military service in Israel, according to the political scientist.

Will the Jewish state manage to keep this complex promise? “What is most likely is that the Israelis manage to rescue hostages by force, at a cost, and that they negotiate another part with very strong concessions which risk amplifying Israeli psychosis”, continues the Ceri researcher. In these negotiations, believes Hasni Abidi, “the international community must advocate for the release of the elderly, women and children”, whose protection is provided for by the Geneva Convention.

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