News Digest — 2/20/24

Hungary Twice Blocks EU Consensus Statement Against IDF Rafah Offensive

Hungary has twice blocked a European Union consensus statement against the IDF’s impending military operation against Hamas in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, a consensus that called for an “immediate humanitarian pause” to the war, leading to a permanent ceasefire, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

“Hungary stood alone in the EU,” senior diplomatic sources said.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell had twice attempted to issue a consensus statement with the support of the 27 member states of the bloc.

He first tried to issue such a statement on the sideline of the Munich Security Conference in Berlin over the weekend and again during a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday (19th).

The Post has learned that Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who was at the Munich Security Conference, had personally called Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto and asked that he help Israel block the statement.

According to senior diplomatic sources, Saijjarto  then called Katz back to assure him that Hungary had backed Israel, explaining that he had prevented it,” Katz then updated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The content of the statement would have been “dramatic” and could have caused “severe damage” by looking to prevent the “option and possibility of IDF action in Gaza,” the diplomatic sources said.

The sources added that the EU has been more emboldened to take steps against Israel in light of public US criticism toward Jerusalem.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting Monday (19th), Borrell explained that he had received the support of 26 member states for the statement but did not name the member state that opposed it.  

Still, he said, the backing of 26 members out of 27 is significant.

“I know that if there isn’t unanimity, then there is not an EU position,” Borrell said.

“But there can be a position that is based on a big majority, and without being a formal EU position, it is nonetheless a majority position.  And 26 out of 27 is indeed a majority position,” Borrell stated.

Those 26 member states “were asking for an immediate pause to the war.  That means a halt in military operations, an immediate pause that would lead to a sustainable ceasefire,” Borrell said.

“That is as much as we could get, but I think it is significant,” Borrell said, “given how dramatic the situation is.”

The international community has been concerned about Rafah, given that there are 1.3 million Palestinians there, many of whom fled to escape the bombing in northern Gaza.

Israel has insisted that it must be allowed to destroy Hamas’ last stronghold, which is Rafah, or it would be impossible to defeat the terror group.  The Israeli military has said it would allow the civilians of Rafah to evacuate to the northern areas of Rafah where there will be no military action, before any offensive would take place.

The statement approved by the 26 EU states asked the IDF not to “take military action in Rafah that would worsen a humanitarian situation and prevent the urgently needed provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance.”

Borrell also reported that the EU lacked consensus to adopt sanctions against West Bank settlers who have acted against …Palestinians, again failing to name the countries that objected.  

The Post also learned that Hungary objected to the issuance of such sanctions.



IDF Jets Strike Deep Inside Lebanese Territory

IAF fighter jets attacked Two Hezbollah weapons storage facilities near the city of Sidon in Lebanon, the military said on Monday (19th).

The strike was in response to the launch of a UAV toward the Lower Galilee on Monday (19th), the IDF added.

The IDF also said it conducted strikes on Hezbollah infrastructure in the Meiss El Jabal and al-Adisa areas in Lebanon.

This comes following reports in Israeli media, citing the Hezbollah affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper, of Israeli jets attacking near Sidon.  The two strikes occurred  in the region of Ghaziyeh some 37 miles from Israel’s northern border.

Earlier on Monday (19th), IAF jets targeted Hezbollah infrastructure in the Dharya region in southern Lebanon.

On Sunday (18th) , Israeli intelligence identified a terrorist entering a Hezbollah structure in the Ayta ash-Shab region.  Following this, fighter jets were dispatched to attack the building where terrorists were staying.

In the past day, the IDF targeted a Hezbollah launch site in the area of Aitaroun alongside a terrorist infrastructure in the al-Adisa area, in addition to firing artillery in other areas in Lebanese territory, the military added.

Furthermore, earlier on Monday (19th), the military identified the remains of an aircraft in the Lower Galilee.  The incident is under investigation.

Also on Monday (19th), Hezbollah fired at a military post in Israel’s north, taking responsibility for it later on in the day, according to Ynet.



Netanyahu Tells US Jewish Leaders ‘We Have To Finish The Job’ Of Eliminating Hamas

Netanyahu addressed American Jewish leaders on Sunday night (18th) and insisted that the operation in Rafah  was necessary to “finish the job” of eliminating Hamas.

Speaking at the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem on Sunday (18th), the Israeli Prime Minister recounted Israel’s determination to eliminate the terror group after the Hamas massacre on October 7th that left 1,200 Israelis dead and 253 taken as hostages. 

He said, “When we set out to do this, even our best friends said to us, “It can’t be done.”

The Prime Minister described proudly the success the IDF has had in removing Hamas from power in northern Gaza and dismantling the terror group’s headquarters in Khan Younis.  He also expressed great satisfaction with the successful rescue of 2 Israeli hostages by the IDF in Rafah.

“Our brave soldiers are in the tunnels demolishing the infrastructure of these killers,” he said.

Netanyahu repeated his insistence on “total victory” and said that Israel should not be expected to be satisfied with destroying three-quarters of Hamas’ military capabilities while leaving the remainder intact.

“We cannot leave a quarter of Hamas’ terror battalions intact.  No one would do that in the case of fighting ISIS,” he said.

“You wouldn’t leave a quarter of ISIS intact in a defined territory.  You wouldn’t even think about that,” Netanyahu added.

“America finished  the job with its allies, we will finish the job here, with our brave soldiers.”

Netanyahu’s remarks were delivered at a time in which the Biden Administration, which has backed Israel since the massacre on October 7, has become increasingly critical of Israel’s military operations.

President Joe Biden said on Thursday (15rh) that he didn’t expect Israel to initiate an operation in Rafah where over a million Gazan civilians are staying and has discouraged Israel from fighting in the area.

Concerning the operation in Rafah, Netanyahu said, “There is no way to achieve total victory without destroying the battalions in Rafah, and we will do so.”

Regarding the evacuation of civilians in Rafah, Netanyahu explained, “There’s a lot of space north of Rafah” to evacuate the civilians.  “There will be space for evacuation.”

“We have to do this in an orderly fashion – and that’s the instruction I’ve given to the IDF.”

On the subject of hostages after an impasse in negotiations, Netanyahu declared he is committed to ensuring the release of the hostages “through military pressure and strong negotiations.”

He added that even if Israel secures a Hostage deal “we will still go to Rafah.”



 October 7th: Hamas Planned To Attack Prison, Free Terrorists

According to Asharq Al-Awsar, the Hamas plan for the October 7th massacre is reported to have included preparations to storm the Shikma Prison in Ashkelon and free the hundreds of terrorists incarcerated within it.

The plan failed after the terrorists tasked with taking the prison failed to make their way there. 

Senior Hamas officials stated that the squads assigned to the prison included 23 terrorists that were supported by dozens of additional terrorists who had been ordered to break into a military base in Ashkelon, and also failed in that mission.

The report claims that the plan was based on attacking the main gate of the prison with IEDs and anti-tank missiles.  Additionally, following a signal that the terrorists had reached the prison, a rocket barrage would be fired at it from Gaza.

The combined attack was intended to destroy large parts of the prison gate and wall, making it easier to free the prisoners and remove the guard towers around the prison perimeter,



Israel’s War Is Just, Hamas Must Be Eliminated – Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper  (National Post – Canada)

• The systemic nature of the killing in Israel on Oct. 7 and the evident glee with which it was being undertaken by its participants betrayed something darker.  These were acts of extermination – the killing of those who, in the killers’ eyes, were less than human.  It was the urge to commit genocide at its most evil.

• Nor can this be regarded as some isolated episode of anti-Israeli violence.  It was the consequence of decades of institutionalized anti-Semitic indoctrination of a population – to the point where such murderous acts become regarded as necessary and praiseworthy.

• Israel’s war objective – the elimination of Gaza’s Hamas regime – is essential.  Leaving the job unfinished, with Hamas tolerated and its actions contained, has been tried, and it has failed.  The Israeli people cannot be reasonably asked to return to the pre-war status quo.

• I say to Israel’s friends, stop asking it to stop short of victory.  Instead, bring pressure to bear on Hamas, directly and through its allies and partners, to force its capitulation.

• Yes, we helped Germany to rebuild after the Second World War.  But we also insisted it deconstruct the ideologies that led to its aggression.  And we demanded it fully embrace the ethics of peaceful coexistence.  By that standard alone, suggestions that a victorious Israeli army should simply walk out of Gaza and assume some harmonious “two-state solution” will emerge out of thin air, is beyond foolish.

• A two-state solution  will not magically take root now for the same reason it has not happened since 1947 – it is rejected by way too many Palestinians.  The core problem is not Israel.

• Generations of Palestinians have been inculcated to reject the right of a Jewish state to exist on any piece of the land of the former Mandate for Palestine.  We must stop pretending that a two-state solution can be pursued in the face of the continued propagation of such a view.



German Minister Of Justice Expresses Support For Israel – Tamar Uriel Beeri

German Minister of Justice Dr. Marco Buschmann spoke this week on the challenges that have arisen in the wake of the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel and the resulting war.  “Jews were so indisputably the victims” on Oct. 7, he explained.  He said the German government “has banned the use of the slogan, ‘From the River to the Sea/Palestine will be Free.”’

“Anti-Semites hate Jews, but in doing so,  they hate people.  In fact, they hate humanity itself because those that oppress a particular group of people would do the same to another.  In this conflict, we stand beside Israel.  That is where Germany belongs.”

He said those who say Germany should look at both sides of the conflict must know that is “exactly what we do.  On the one side, we see a fanatical Islamist regime, on the other, we see a liberal democracy.  We know exactly where we stand.  We stand with the victims, with liberal democracy, with the Jews; we stand with Israel.  We stand with Israel because we know who started the terror on Oct 7.”



Will Hamas Be Allowed To Win The War – Alan M. Dershowitz

What will happen if Hamas is allowed to win the war?  Hamas will be encouraged to repeat its barbarisms of Oct.7, not only in Israel but in other Western nations.  If a crime pays, it will be repeated.  That is one reason why we punish crimes.

President Joe Biden has correctly warned that if Putin is allowed to benefit from his attack on Ukraine, he will be encouraged to attack other nations.  Why hasn’t he said the same thing about Hamas?  The world will be a far less safe place if Israel is prevented from defeating Hamas and dismantling its military capabilities.  American policy should be to help Israel to defeat Hamas and prevent the recurrence and spread of its terrorism against civilians, rather than to help Hamas secure a victory by tying Israel’s hands. 

The tragic reality is that Hamas is winning the war – by its own definition of winning.  It has turned world opinion against Israel, especially among the young.  It has caused a rupture in Israel’s relations with America.  It has gotten the International Court of Justice and the UN involved.  It has damaged the prospects of Peace with Saudi Arabia.  It has hurt relations between Israel and its neighbors.  And it has strengthened support for Hamas among Palestinians in the West Bank.

Unless the US administration changes course and encourages Israel to achieve its legitimate military goal of defeating Hamas, terrorism will win and civilization will lose.

The writer is Professor of Law, Emeritus at Harvard Law School.