In a public address nearly three days after southern Israel was overrun with Hamas attackers who killed 900 people and kidnapped 100, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had begun a war that would end with the terror group’s defeat but added, “There are hard days ahead of us.”
Netanyahu did not address why the unprecedented attack appeared to take Israel by surprise, leaving towns on the border virtually unguarded for hours, nor did he provide any detail on what his government will do to attempt to rescue the hostages — whom Hamas has vowed to execute if Israeli attacks continue. He said reports that Israel had missed Egyptian intelligence warnings of the invasion were “fake news.”
Hamas killed hundreds of civilians — including in a massacre at an outdoor festival — and has killed or taken hostage entire families. More than 2,000 people are wounded.
“We are in a campaign for our home, a war for the security of our existence, a war we will win,” Netanyahu said in the nearly eight-minute address on Monday. “This war was forced upon us by an abominable enemy.”
Netanyahu compared Hamas to the terror group ISIS and said that Israel would defeat Hamas in the same manner as a coalition of countries defeated ISIS. But he cautioned that the war would be long and painful.
“We all want results here and now,” he said. “It will take time but I promise you, dear citizens, at the end of the campaign all of our enemies will know it was a terrible mistake to attack Israel.”
Israel has already formally declared war, itself an unusual step, and has called up 300,000 military reservists. Netanyahu reportedly told President Joe Biden that a widely expected ground invasion of Gaza is imminent. Israel has already been hitting the coastal territory with airstrikes.
Netanyahu vowed to “cleanse” the south of Hamas fighters, though he said “a low number of terrorists” is still in the country. He also pledged a “massive attack” on Hamas and to shore up international support. Facing threats on Israel’s other borders — including from the north, which saw a small incursion of attackers on Monday — the prime minister promised to “fortify the rest of the fronts” of the country.
He said a priority of “prime importance” to him was to unify the country — and referenced the social turmoil that has coursed through Israel this year in response to his government’s effort to weaken the judiciary.
Netanyahu called for his political opponents to join him in an emergency unity government, something Israel’s leaders formed ahead of the Six Day War in 1967, though he did not pledge to halt the controversial judicial legislation or agree to any other political concessions. Opposition leaders have indicated that they would join an emergency wartime coalition if Netanyahu agrees to certain conditions.
“The rift between us is over,” Netanyahu said. “We are all united, and when we are united, we win. The nation is united, and now the leadership needs to unify.”
Netanyahu announced that he was appointing Gal Hirsch, a brigadier general in the reserves who served in a senior post in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, as the government’s point person on addressing the Israelis who are kidnapped and missing. Netanyahu expressed solidarity with their families but did not elaborate on the government’s plan to save them. Families of the missing have criticized the government since Saturday, demanding more information on their loved ones’ whereabouts.
“We will do everything for them,” he said. “All of our hearts are with the families of the kidnapped. All of our hearts are with the families of the fallen.”