Thursday, May 30

Israel Faces Hostage Dilemma in Gaza

Mr. Netanyahu called the Hamas video “cruel psychological warfare.”

Hamas is prepared for a long, bloody fight, and its fighters have turned Gaza into a labyrinth of tunnels, stocked with weapons and food. Some of the hostages are hidden in the tunnels, many of which are likely booby-trapped.

After pounding Gaza and its people with artillery and bombs, the Israeli army moved in on Friday. So far, the Israeli military has advanced to the outskirts of Gaza City but not entered the Hamas stronghold. Fierce urban fighting is expected when they do.

Rob Saale, the former head of the F.B.I.-led Hostage Recovery Fusion Cell, said Israel was facing an unprecedented situation.

“There are no easy solutions,” Mr. Saale said. “I think the Israelis are pursuing the right course. You can’t let the hostages dictate what you are doing. Continuing to put a lot of pressure on Hamas is probably the best way to get them back. Hamas isn’t going to free hostages from a position of strength.”

Lt. Gen. Mark C. Schwartz, a retired Special Operations commander who formerly served as U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said that Israel has likely embedded commandos within its advancing ground units so that they can act quickly if they receive fresh intelligence on hostage locations.

Other former senior officers who have served combat tours in the Middle East painted a grim picture of trying to recover the hostages — either through negotiations or military rescue — as Israeli forces pushed deeper into Gaza.

Gen. Richard D. Clarke, a retired head of the U.S. Special Operations Command, said the conditions in Gaza — an active war zone, the large number of hostages, scarce intelligence on their exact locations and Hamas’s preparations to defend against an Israeli assault — make any hostage recovery operation “extremely challenging.”

“Getting the hostages out will be very difficult,” said Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., a retired head of the U.S. military’s Central Command. “Hamas will try to create dilemmas for the Israelis — putting them near command posts, rocket launching sites and ammo dumps — as long as they can.”

The three generals all predicted a lengthy fight, possibly taking months.

“I do not think Hamas will fold,” said General Schwartz. “They want to kill Israeli soldiers, and I expect there to be brutal fighting.”

Yair Golan, a former deputy chief of staff in the Israel Defense Forces who helped rescue partygoers at a music festival that was attacked on Oct. 7, said the hostages have to be a priority as Israel conducts the war against Hamas.