The Mossad has been instructed to act against Hamas leaders wherever they are, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters on Wednesday night as he defended a partial hostage deal that includes a four- to nine-day pause in the Gaza war.
“It was a hard decision, but the right decision,” Netanyahu said regarding the deal.
He spoke one day after the government approved an agreement by which up to 98 hostages would be freed in exchange for the first pause in the war and the release of three times as many jailed Palestinian women and minors.
Netanyahu struck a harsh note as he assured reporters that Israel’s security services had Hamas in its scope.
“I instructed the Mossad to act against Hamas leaders where they are,” Netanyahu said as he hinted that Israel could target them outside of Gaza, including in Qatar.
On Tuesday, Hamas told Lebanese media that the deputy commander of the Lebanese branch of its al-Qassam Brigades, Khalil al-Kharaz, was killed in an Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon.
According to Lebanese reports, Kharaz's vehicle was targeted south of the Tyre peninsula on a road between Chaaitiyeh and Qlaileh, 14 km from the Israeli border.
Netanyahu ducked a direct question about whether Israel would attempt to assassinate Hamas leaders during the pause or freeze its efforts until the pause was over.
He hit a harsh note as he assured the Israeli public that the pause would be temporary and that Israel’s military campaign to oust Hamas from Gaza would resume when it was over.
“The war is continuing… until we achieve all of our goals: return all of the hostages, eliminate Hamas, and ensure that on the day after Hamas, no element that supports terrorism, educates its children for terrorism and pays terrorists or their families, will control Gaza.
“Gaza will no longer constitute a threat to Israel. We will restore security in both the south and the north. We are winning and will continue to fight until absolute victory,” he stated.
Gaza hostages deal
Netanyahu spoke as Mossad chief David Barnea was reportedly in Qatar, a country that – along with Egypt – had mediated the agreement to free 50 to 98 out of the over 239 hostages held in Gaza since October 7.
Netanyahu also promised that all the hostages would be released, including the two Israeli captives Hamas has held since 2014 and 2015: Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed. He also referenced the two soldiers believed killed in the 2014 Gaza war: Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul.
“We will return everyone home. And when I say everyone, I mean everyone,” he said.
Hamas had seized the hostages when it infiltrated southern Israel, killing over 1,200 people. Israel has since conducted a military campaign to oust the genocidal terrorist group from Gaza.
Netanyahu thanked US President Joe Biden for his efforts to secure and expand the deal, even as he took credit for Biden’s increased involvement.
“We conducted difficult negotiations; we fought to improve the outline," Netanyahu said. "I have just spoken again with President Biden and thanked him for acting, as per my request, with the intermediaries to significantly improve the outline; such an improvement has been achieved."