Home News Israeli generals running low on ammunition, hope for ceasefire in Gaza

Israeli generals running low on ammunition, hope for ceasefire in Gaza

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Top Israeli generals want a ceasefire in Gaza even if it leaves Hamas in power temporarily, exacerbating a rift between the military and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes a ceasefire that would allow Hamas to survive the war.

The generals believe a ceasefire is the best way to free the approximately 120 Israelis, both dead and alive, still held in Gaza, according to interviews with six current and former security officials.

Multiple officials said the army was ill-equipped to continue fighting after Israel’s longest war in decades, and generals also believed their troops needed time to recuperate if a ground war broke out with Hezbollah, the Lebanese militia that has been locked in skirmishes with Israel since October.

A ceasefire with Hamas could also make it easier to reach a deal with Hezbollah, according to the officials, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive security issues. Hezbollah has said it will continue to attack northern Israel until Israel stops fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s military leadership, collectively known as the General Staff Forum, consists of about 30 senior generals, including the Chief of Military Staff, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, the commanders of the army, air force and navy, and the head of military intelligence.

The military’s approach to the ceasefire reflects a significant shift in its thinking over the past few months as it became increasingly clear that Netanyahu had refused to articulate or commit to a post-war plan. The decision effectively created a power vacuum in Gaza, forcing the military to return to fight in parts of the Strip that had been cleared of Hamas militants.

“The military fully supports the hostage agreement and the ceasefire,” said Eyal Hulata, who served as Israel’s national security adviser until early last year and regularly communicates with senior military officials.

“They think they can always go back and engage Hamas militarily later,” Hulata said. “They understand that a pause in Gaza is more likely to cool things down in Lebanon. And they have less ammunition, spare parts and energy than before — so they also think a pause in Gaza will give us more time to prepare in case a larger war with Hezbollah breaks out.”

It is unclear how directly the military leadership has expressed their views to Netanyahu in private, but their frustration in public, and the prime minister’s frustration with the generals, can already be seen.

Netanyahu is wary of a truce that would keep Hamas in power because such an outcome could lead to the collapse of his coalition, parts of which have said they would quit if the war ends without Hamas’ defeat.

Until recently, the military had publicly stated that the government’s two main war goals could be achieved simultaneously: defeating Hamas and rescuing the hostages taken by Hamas and its allies during the October 7 attack on Israel. Now, military brass have concluded that the two goals are in conflict, and that they were not reached months ago. The generals began to doubt.

Since invading Gaza in October, Israel has routed nearly all of Hamas’ forces and, at one stage in the war, captured much of the territory. But nearly half of the 250 hostages taken to Gaza in October remain in captivity, and the high command fears that further military action to rescue them could risk the loss of others’ lives.

With Netanyahu publicly unwilling to commit to occupying Gaza or handing control over to other Palestinian leaders, the Israeli military fears a “forever war” in which its energy and ammunition will be gradually exhausted while hostages remain captive and Hamas leaders remain at large. Faced with this situation, allowing Hamas to temporarily take power in exchange for the return of the hostages seems to be Israel’s least bad option, Hulata said. Four senior officials who spoke on condition of anonymity agreed with this view.

Asked if it supported a ceasefire, the military issued a statement that did not directly answer the question, saying it was seeking to destroy “Hamas’ military and governing capacity, the return of hostages and the safe return of Israeli civilians from the south and north.”

But in other recent statements and interviews, military leaders have publicly hinted at their private conclusions.

“Those who think we can make Hamas disappear are wrong,” the military’s chief spokesman, Rear Admiral Daniel Hajari, said in a television interview on June 19. “Hamas is an idea. Hamas is a political party. It is rooted in the hearts of the people.”

Admiral Hajari implicitly criticized Netanyahu by saying that to suggest the opposite would be to “confuse the public.”

“What we can do is build something else,” he said, “something that’s an alternative, something that lets people know that someone else is distributing food, someone else is providing a public service. Who that person is, what that is — that’s up to the policymakers to decide.”

The chief of the general staff, General Halevy, has recently been trying to highlight the army’s achievements, a move some analysts say is intended to create an excuse to end the war without losing face.

On June 24, the Israeli army entered the southern Gaza city of Rafah. General Halevy said that the Israeli army “is obviously close to being able to dominate the Rafah Brigade. It can be said that we have completely defeated the Rafah Brigade. This does not mean that the terrorists have disappeared, but that the Rafah Brigade can no longer function as a fighting force.”

The military estimates that at least 14,000 fighters have been killed, the majority of Hamas forces, but officials also believe thousands of Hamas fighters remain at large, hiding in tunnels deep beneath Gaza, guarding weapons, fuel, food and some hostages.

Netanyahu, whose office declined to comment for this article, said in a statement on Monday that Israel was close to “eliminating the Hamas terrorist army” but stopped short of saying that would allow Israel to end the Gaza war.

In a rare TV interview In late June, the prime minister rejected suggestions that the war should end, but conceded that the military should reduce its presence in Gaza to “reduce some of its forces to the north.”

According to military officials, the move was intended to help the army recover in the event of a larger war with Hezbollah, and not because Israel was preparing to invade Lebanon immediately. However, other news reports have said Israel may be planning to invade Lebanon in the coming weeks.

Officials say Israel’s military is short of spare parts, ammunition, power and even manpower as the war, which it did not expect, has dragged on for nearly nine months.

The war is the most intense conflict Israel has experienced in at least four decades and the longest war Israel has fought in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli army relies mainly on reservists, some of whom have been serving for a third time since October, as they try to balance fighting with career and family commitments.

Fewer reservists are reporting, according to four military officials, and five officers say there is a crisis of confidence in the military leadership and growing distrust of commanders, fueled in part by its failure to prevent a Hamas-led attack in October.

More than 300 soldiers have been killed in Gaza, fewer than some military officials had predicted before Israel invaded the region. But more than 4,000 have been wounded since October, according to the military, 10 times the number of casualties during the 2014 Gaza war, which lasted just 50 days. An unknown number of soldiers are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

At least some of Gaza’s tanks are not loaded with all the ammunition they normally carry, according to two officers, as the military tries to preserve stocks in case of a larger war with Hezbollah. Five officials and officers confirmed that the army is running out of artillery shells. The army is also short of spare parts for tanks, military bulldozers and armored vehicles, according to several officials.

All the officers, as well as Mr. Hulata, said Israel had enough ammunition to fight in Lebanon if it felt it had no choice.

“If we were to be drawn into a larger war, we have the resources and the manpower,” Mr. Hulata said. “But we want to do it in the best possible conditions. And right now, our conditions are not ideal.”

Johnson Rice Contributed reporting.

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