Netanyahu assumes he will be held accountable after the war for failures that allowed the Hamas attack

The Israeli Prime Minister confirms that he is preparing an invasion and stresses that only the government will decide when, while Biden denies pressure from the U.S. to postpone the operation. Rather, it seems it is the negotiation over the hostages captured by Hamas and the fear of the outbreak of a conflict in the region slowing down the military advance on the Strip

An Israeli soldiers walks past a M109-type self-propelled howitzer, upgraded version for IDF called 'Doher
An Israeli soldier walks past an M109 self-propelled howitzer at an undisclosed location in Israel near the border with Gaza on Wednesday.HANNIBAL HANSCHKE (EFE)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Wednesday in a televised message to the nation that Israel is preparing a ground invasion of Gaza, although without specifying a date. Netanyahu assured that the decision as to when the armed forces will enter the Strip will be made by the government. “The timing of the military operation will be decided by consensus by the war cabinet,” he said. Nearly 20 days into the state of war with the Hamas militia, the Israeli army maintains an imposing deployment ready for immediate action on the border of the Palestinian Strip, without yet launching the announced invasion to eradicate the Islamist movement that killed 1,400 Israelis and kidnapped 220 others on October 7, in the deadliest attack suffered by the Jewish State in its 75 years of existence. In this way, Netanyahu responds to reports of alleged U.S. pressure to delay the ground invasion of Gaza.

In his message, the Israeli head of government also encouraged civilians in his country to carry weapons and assumed that he will have to give answers about his political responsibility for the Hamas attack: “October 7 was a black day [...] The mistakes will be investigated to the end. Everyone will have to give answers, including me. But all that will happen only at the end of the war.”

The negotiations to release the hostages with the mediation of Qatar and the fear of the expansion of the conflict on a regional scale, following threats against U.S. bases in the Middle East, have slowed down the military advance. Netanyahu seems to have accepted to postpone an invasion that in the days following October 7 seemed imminent. The aim would be for the US to be able to protect its military facilities in Iraq and Syria with a dozen anti-missile shields, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday, citing Israeli and U.S. officials. The need to guarantee the entry of humanitarian aid into the coastal enclave, where 2.3 million have been under a complete blockade for more than two weeks, is also behind the decision to postpone the ground offensive.

“Our goals are to eliminate Hamas’ military and government capabilities and bring back the hostages,” the prime minister assured. “We are preparing for a ground invasion. I will not specify when, how or how much. Nor the various considerations we are making, most of which the public does not know, and this is how it has to be, so that we can preserve the lives of the soldiers,” he emphasized.

Despite reports of pressure from Washington, President Joe Biden has denied that he had asked Netanyahu to delay the offensive in Gaza. Instead, he says, he pointed out to the Israeli leader the need to do everything possible to secure the release of the kidnapped hostages. “What I have indicated to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] is that, if it’s possible, to get these folks out safely that’s what he should do. It’s their decision. I did not demand it,” Biden stressed.

At a press conference in the White House Rose Garden with Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, Biden on Wednesday defended the need for a solution to the Middle East conflict that includes the establishment of two states, Israeli and Palestinian, in peaceful coexistence. In his most favorable statement to the Palestinian positions since the beginning of the current crisis, he again insisted that Israel “has a responsibility” to defend its citizens, but stressed that in doing so it must also protect innocent civilians in Gaza.

“There’s no going back to the status quo as it stood on October the 6th,” insisted the U.S. president, stressing the need for world leaders to rally behind his solution, enshrined in the Oslo accords and official American policy, which has never been a reality on the ground. Biden also launched a call to stop attacks by “extremist” Israeli settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank.

The U.S. president has stressed the need for Israel’s integration in the region and the normalization of ties with the Arab states. Before the outbreak of the crisis, the United States was mediating to try to bring about the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, the economic leader of the Arab world and custodian of the Muslim holy sites.

Qatar negotiations

Washington has also called on Israel to halt its plans for a ground operation in Gaza after Qatar, which is mediating the release of 50 hostages, warned that an Israeli invasion would put an end to its negotiations. Qatari Prime Minister Abdulrahman al-Zani said Wednesday that he hoped to announce advances soon. “There is progress. We are hopeful,” he added.

In his televised message, Netanyahu further stated that he is doing “everything possible to bring the hostages home.” He also insisted that civilians in Gaza must move south, as the army has been urging them to do in recent days. The area, however, is not exempt from Israeli shelling, which is taking place throughout the Strip.

The concentration of infantry, tanks and artillery around the strip on the Mediterranean has been completed for days. The military commanders are now only waiting for the order to advance. In the meantime, the air force is relentlessly bombing Ezedin al Qasam militia targets in the densely populated territory. More than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed since the start of hostilities, according to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Health Ministry. Of these, more than 2,700 are children. In Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas, its deadliest yet, more than 2,200 Palestinians were killed, of whom 538 were minors.

Some 400 children are being killed every day in the Gaza Strip as a result of the bombardments launched by Israel since the beginning of the war, according to UNICEF on Wednesday. The de facto authorities in Gaza have accused Israel of concentrating attacks in the south of the enclave, where they claim that 65% of the victims have been recorded this week, despite having ordered the evacuation of the north of the Strip on the 13th to supposedly avoid harming the civilian population.

Humanitarian aid is barely reaching the 2.3 million Gazans, of whom 1.4 million are now internally displaced, according to UN estimates. Only one-twentieth of the daily needs are coming through the Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt. Faced with a lack of fuel, essential to power electricity generators, UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, has announced that it will have to halt its operations as of Thursday. Six hospitals in the Strip have already had to suspend operations due to lack of fuel.

The Israel Defense Forces are relentlessly pursuing their invasion plans in the meantime. “We are preparing the area for a significant increase in military activity,” assured Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, one of the international military spokesmen. “That will happen in the second phase, so we are telling civilians to head south,” he added.

In an unexpected turn of events after nearly three weeks of war, Hamas launched two long-range rockets from the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. One in the direction of Haifa, 140 kilometers north on the Mediterranean coast, and the other toward Eilat, 300 kilometers south on the shores of the Red Sea. On the northern front, the Israeli army said it had attacked five Hezbollah units preparing raids from Lebanon. And in the West Bank, four Palestinians were killed by Israeli drone fire in a refugee camp in Jenin.

Washington increases its military deployment in the region

Since the outbreak of the latest Middle East crisis, the United States has been stepping up its military deployment by leaps and bounds, with its sights set on Iran. Its motives: to serve as a deterrent force so that Iran and the militias sponsored by its regime do not intervene in the conflict and aggravate it or spread it to other countries. And to protect the troops it currently maintains in the area, which have already detected an escalation in the attacks by proiranian guerrillas against their positions.

The Pentagon has recorded a dozen attacks in Syria and Iraq since the outbreak of the crisis and recognizes its concern about the possibility that these incidents will become increasingly serious and numerous.

"We have had troops in the region since 9/11 to go after ISIS and prevent its reemergence," Biden said. "My warning to the Ayatollah [Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran] was that if they continue to move against those troops, we will respond, and he should be prepared. It has nothing to do with Israel."

Washington is hastily trying to complete the deployment of its advanced THAAD anti-aircraft defense system -similar to the one it has deployed in South Korea- and Patriot anti-missile systems. It has also sent to the area an amphibious group led by the Bataan warship, a specialized communications detection ship, and two aircraft carriers. The Gerald Ford, the world's largest of its kind, is in the eastern Mediterranean on a mission to deter the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah from opening a second front against Israel. While the Dwight Eisenhower is en route to the Persian Gulf.

In addition, the Department of Defense has placed more than 2,000 military personnel on alert for their possible deployment to the Middle East, who would have there its mission is to participate in support operations — not combat — to Israeli forces. It has also reinforced its deployment of fighter aircraft, including F-16 and F-35.

In a speech at the UN Security Council, Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Tuesday: "If Iran or its proxies attack U.S. personnel anywhere, make no mistake, we will defend our people, we will defend our security swiftly and decisively,"

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS