Persuasion vs. Coercion: Israel’s Approach to the Hostage Crisis

By: General Mohamed Abdel Wahed

The Israeli military operation to liberate four hostages from the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza has sparked controversy, with opinions divided between those who support it as a military victory achieving part of Israel’s goals in Gaza and those who strongly oppose it due to the excessive use of military force in a densely populated area, resulting in hundreds of casualties.

Israeli Logic

The operation was expected, given the insistence of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right government to adopt military and security approaches to achieve their war goals in Gaza, especially undisclosed “illegitimate” objectives, and their rejection of any political approach that could end the crisis.

Moreover, they have faced severe criticism for the continuous bombing of Gaza without achieving the declared goals, the failure to free captives or eliminate Hamas, the deliberate destruction of Gaza’s infrastructure, and causing hundreds of thousands of casualties. Thus, regardless of the human and material costs, they have been keen to achieve any military victory that justifies their actions, even if it was false.

Real Goals

Israel has undisclosed objectives behind the military operation in Gaza. They include destroying the entire infrastructure of Gaza and disrupting all means of life, paving the way for the displacement of Palestinians and achieving other political, security, economic, and ideological goals.

Therefore, its declared objectives are to eliminate Hamas and free the hostages. This enables Israel to create international justification for the continuation of its military operation in Gaza. In reality, however, these objectives are secondary to Israel. Hence, it is eager to engage in “indirect” negotiations to cover up its violations and primary goals.

Netanyahu and the far-right seek to exploit the operation for political gains and justify the military operation in Gaza. This may encourage the Israeli army to continue similar military operations or expand operations on the northern front with Lebanon or in the West Bank. However, prolonged military operations have a dangerous impact on Israel’s national security future, deepening divisions within the Israeli society, isolating Israel from its regional and international environment, and making it a pariah state.

Nuseirat Operation

The hostage liberation operation drew the attention of many military analysts, especially those specializing in hostage rescue, given the forces involved in the operation were excessive to a dangerously high degree. It included large numbers of Israeli and American elite forces, the 98th Brigade, “Yamam” counter-terrorism unit, Shin Bet, and paratroopers. It was also preceded by the destruction of entire neighborhoods in the Nuseirat camp through aerial, naval, and ground bombardment. Fighter jets, low-flying helicopters, drones, and administrative and technical support units also participated in the assault.

The execution of this operation involved multiple stages. It started with the decision to liberate the prisoners through military action rather than a political agreement or exchange deal. Then, it was followed by Israeli-American-British intelligence cooperation to provide information, selection, preparation, and training of assault forces. Deception and camouflage were also prevalent in this operation, including the use of an American marine pier and the disguise of assault teams as relief workers, using relief vehicles, and continuous bombardment to cover the operation.

Hostage Rescue Operations

Kidnapping and hostage-taking operations have multiple forms, motivations, and different objectives, putting countries in difficult situations and severe pressures. However, the most dangerous of all is when an armed movement, like Hamas, kidnaps hostages from the occupying state, usually to draw international attention to their political demands from the occupying state. Hence, armed movements are willing to die for the cause they believe in and defend.

Therefore, countries of kidnapped citizens must deal with caution, extreme care, and utmost precision to preserve the lives of the hostages. Any mistake could lead to a catastrophe witnessed by international public opinion.

One of the basic general principles to deal with the hostage liberation crisis is to quickly contain the situation, especially in the early hours of the abduction. This includes ensuring continuous communication channels, either directly or indirectly, to calm and alleviate the kidnappers, preserving the lives of the hostages. Deliberately cutting off communication may change the behavior of the kidnappers, making them more aggressive, which could lead to the killing of the hostages or suicide operations.

Persuasion Vs. Coercion

Hostage liberation operations are carried out through “persuasion” via dialogue and negotiations, whether direct or indirect, or by using “coercion,” meaning the use of military force and invasion. Countries often resort to coercion in case persuasion fails. Precise assessments and calculations drive planning and preparing for the invasion, as the failure of the invasion operation puts the hostages at risk, spoils the negotiation process. Unfortunately, Israel manages the Gaza crisis with a kind of superiority and pride, using excessive force to achieve deterrence while simultaneously engaging in negotiations, thus prolonging the military operation.

The science of hostage liberation emphasizes that the highest level of success is liberating hostages without casualties or yielding to the demands of the kidnappers, whether through negotiation or invasion. According to the rules of evaluating hostage liberation operations and the experiences gained from previous operations, the joint Israeli-American military operation in the Nuseirat camp to liberate four hostages was a failure from ethical, technical, security, and military perspectives, given the excessive preparation and size of elite forces and unnecessary cost.

So why all this high cost to liberate only four hostages when there is a possibility to liberate all hostages through diplomatic means, through a deal without shedding a single drop of blood from both sides?


About the Author:

Brigadier General Mohamed Abdel Wahed is an esteemed expert in national security and African affairs. He offers insights into conflict resolution mechanisms and counterterrorism efforts in Africa.

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