Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah against attacking Israel as he touted the IDF’s success in Gaza, insisting that Israel won’t agree to a ceasefire without the release of the hostages.
“We will not accept a reality in which Hezbollah or its henchmen Hamas-Lebanon will harm our communities and citizens” on the northern border with Lebanon, Netanyahu stated in a video address to the Israeli public.
He spoke as the IDF struck at Hezbollah targets, after the Iranian proxy group fired 20 rockets at Israel from Lebanon on Tuesday afternoon.
“We will continue to respond with strong fire to any attack against us. We have attacked many Hezbollah targets. We eliminated many terrorists,” Netanyahu said.
The Biden administration on Tuesday continued with its efforts to contain the Gaza war and to prevent a two-front war that would include Hezbollah.
US special envoy Amos Hochstein visited Lebanon in an effort to underscore that message as he met with Lebanese officials, including caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
In Washington, US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters, “We have been trying to send a strong signal of deterrence to any other actor in the region, be it a nation-state or a terrorist group, that now is not the time to think about widening and escalating and keeping this conflict.”
Regarding the Hezbollah rocket launches in the North, “that does not necessarily mean that the war is widening and that these other actors have decided to go all in to help Hamas out,” Kirby said.
“We do believe we have sent a strong signal about how seriously we take our national security in the region,” he said, adding that the US has beefed up its military in the region.
In Israel, Netanyahu said in his video address, “If Hezbollah chooses to enter the war – it will make the mistake of its life.”
In addressing the situation in the South, “The war in Gaza is progressing with an intensity that Hamas has never known,” Netanyahu said.
PM: we are increasing the pressure on Hamas every hour, every day
“Gaza City is surrounded. We are operating within it,” Netanyahu said, emphasizing that “we are increasing the pressure on Hamas every hour, every day.”
He repeated statements he had said since the start of the war, that Israel would not accept any ceasefire until Hamas releases the hostages.
On Monday night, he did acknowledge that Israel could consider a small tactical pause to the war for an hour or so, in an interview he gave to David Muir of ABC’s World News Tonight program.
“As far as tactical little pauses, an hour here, an hour there, we have had them before,” Netanyahu said.
“We will check the circumstances in order to enable humanitarian goods to come in or individual hostages to leave,” he stated on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, he spoke with US President Joe Biden about the possibility of such a pause to the war, which was sparked on October 7, when Hamas killed over 1,400 people in southern Israel and kidnapped over 240 others.
According to the White House, “The two leaders discussed the possibility of tactical pauses to provide civilians with opportunities to safely depart from areas of ongoing fighting.”
Such pauses, the White House said, would “ensure assistance is reaching civilians in need, and… enable potential hostage releases.”
Israel: any ceasefire must include release of all hostages
Israel has insisted that any ceasefire must include the release of all the hostages, and that even then it could happen only with the understanding that the IDF still intends to pursue its military campaign to oust Hamas from Gaza.
The United States has backed Israel on that point, but the two sides have differed on a mechanism for humanitarian pauses, with Israel fearing that such a break in the fighting could become a de facto ceasefire.
Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that the US had not put any redlines on Israel’s military operation in Gaza. He noted that if anything, it has used only a small tactical force to enter Gaza City.
Netanyahu, in defending the continuation of the military campaign, told ABC, “A ceasefire would be a surrender to Hamas. It would be a victory for Hamas and you would no more have it than you would have a ceasefire after the al-Qaeda bombings of the World Trade Center” in New York in 2001.
“There will be no general ceasefire in Gaza without the release of our hostages,” he stressed.
A ceasefire would hamper the “war efforts” as well as efforts to secure the release of the hostages, he said.
“The only thing that works on these criminals in Hamas is the military pressure we are exerting,” Netanyahu said.
PM: ground op created pressure to release hostages
“Until we started the ground operation there was no pressure on them to release hostages. What we see is that the minute we started the ground action there was pressure,” he added.
Netanyahu also appeared to indicate that Israel might have some intelligence on the location of the hostages.
He also addressed the civilian cost of the campaign to Palestinians in Gaza, in light of the UN’s reporting that some 1.5 million of the 2.7 million people living in the coastal enclave have been displaced due to the war. Hamas has asserted that over 10,000 people have been killed.
Netanyahu said the number included at least several thousand Palestinian combatants.
“Every civilian lost is a tragedy. We are fighting an enemy that is particularly brutal. They are using their civilians as human shields,” he said, referencing the fact that Hamas places its infrastructure in civilian areas.
“It’s important to understand that there is no way to defeat terrorists” embedded in civilian areas without incurring civilian casualties, he stated.
Muir also asked Netanyahu if he took responsibility for the Israeli security failure that led to the October 7 attack.
“The responsibility of the government is to protect the people and that clearly was not met,” Netanyahu said, but he added that the issue was best addressed after the war.
Netanyahu agreed with Muir that he needed to take responsibility but not while conducting a military campaign.
When the war is over, he said, “tough questions are going to be asked and I am going to be among the first to answer them.”
In Brussels on Tuesday, met with Jordan’s King Abdullah and accused Israel of disproportionally attacking Gaza.
“Bombing down a refugee camp because it allegedly houses one Hamas leader is completely disproportionate. It is never acceptable that so many civilian casualties are caused trying to eliminate one person,” De Croo said.
“Civilians and civilian places must be protected, but of course Hamas cannot use them as a shelter either because that only complicates matters.”
He also said both Israel and Hamas disregard international humanitarian law on a daily basis.
He added that Hamas should also release as soon as possible innocent hostages, saying it could be an important part of halting the “spiral of violence.”
Reuters and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.