There is no contradiction between prioritizing the return of the Israeli hostages and achieving military victory over Hamas. In fact, the two are inextricably tied, as is a third objective: preventing such hostage-taking in the future.

The return of about 50 Israeli captives is set to begin Thursday, will continue over several days, and is expected to concentrate on the release of women and children from Gaza. In return, Israel will pause its offensive in Gaza and release 150 Palestinians serving time in Israeli jails for various offenses.

We don’t know the precise number of total hostages taken, nor do we know which are still alive, but if the initial estimate was around 240 people, that presumably leaves the clear majority still either in captivity in Gaza or unaccounted for. In the days following the return of the first 50, Israel will have the option to again pause the fighting: one day for every 10 additional captives released.

The concern here is that Hamas will dangle the possibility of future releases in order to drag the temporary pause into de facto permanence. Israeli officials say they have no intention of letting the war end here.

That means that going forward, the conflict will be portrayed as an Israeli choice between waging war and retrieving its captives, a narrative that has already occasionally surfaced during the course of the current conflict. But the story so far undermines that framing.

“White House officials said that over the last several weeks, Mr. Biden had concluded that convincing Mr. Netanyahu to accept a dayslong suspension of the fighting — rather than more limited pauses for several hours at a time — would require linking the break to a deal to free hostages from captivity in the tunnels used by Hamas fighters,” reports the New York Times. The Times piece is aimed at giving a hefty dose of credit to Biden by way of crediting the internal appeals to Biden—appeals that came from his left.

But the most important fact pattern the story lays out is one that shows the effectiveness of Israel’s ground war.

The first piece of evidence is the above quote. Israel’s military pressure on Hamas only increased the pressure Democrats put on Biden, which gave him the space to make any significant break in the action conditional on hostage releases.

While seeming to build a case against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for being intransigent on the hostage negotiations, the piece actually gives readers two other nuggets that reveal why Netanyahu and his unity war cabinet were so resistant to letting Hamas up off the mat.

“The first sign of progress came in late October, when U.S. officials received word through intermediaries in Qatar and Egypt that Hamas could accept a deal to release women and children,” the Times reports. “In return, they wanted Israel to free Palestinian prisoners, pause the fighting, and delay a ground invasion.” (Emphasis added.)

When Hamas saw that Israel was serious about sweeping it out of power, the terror group scrambled for a delay. But the Israeli leadership knew Hamas was just playing for time: “Hamas refused to provide any proof of life about the hostages. Negotiations stalled.”

On November 14, Netanyahu let it be known that he was again open to a deal. But Israeli troops had finally made it inside al-Shifa, the largest hospital complex whose caches of weapons, proof of hostage presence, and underground tunnel access Israel had yet to reveal to war skeptics. Hamas understood the damage it could do to the perceived legitimacy of Israel’s mission by somehow getting the IDF out of Shifa before Hamas’s cover was fully blown: “For several days, the militant group demanded that Israeli troops withdraw from the hospital, which Israel refused.”

Eventually negotiations got serious again and the deal began to take concrete shape. Every time Israel was on the verge of a major strategic advance, it had Hamas leadership’s full attention. The more leverage the IDF achieved on the ground in Gaza, the better the chances became that Hamas would follow through on a deal that would bring a significant number of the most vulnerable hostages home.

Hamas does not act out of the goodness of its heart. The mind reels in trying to process the level of savagery the terror group committed on October 7. Hamas has declared war on Israel, and the IDF must ensure the terrorists feel the consequences.

Israel is not choosing between military victory and the safety of its citizens. It is pursuing military victory for the safety of its citizens. And in the past six weeks, it has made undeniable progress toward that goal.

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