Skip to content
Israel Faces Renewed Calls for Hostage Negotiations
Go to my account

Israel Faces Renewed Calls for Hostage Negotiations

The IDF’s accidental killing of three hostages sparks protests in Tel Aviv, but Israeli leaders remain steadfast in their desire to see Hamas eliminated.

Happy Tuesday! The Audubon world was rocked by news this week that New York City’s favorite bird—Flaco the owl, who escaped the Central Park Zoo in February—might be a bit of a peeping Tom. The Eurasian eagle-owl’s reputation may never recover.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The trial of Jimmy Lai—a pro-democracy activist, founder of Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily, and frequent critic of the Chinese government—began in Hong Kong on Monday. Lai, 76, was arrested in August 2020 under China’s national security law, adopted in 2020, which aimed to quell democracy protests in Hong Kong. He faces charges of colluding with foreign forces and conspiring to publish seditious material, and if convicted could spend the rest of his life in prison. The trial is expected to last 80 days. 
  • North Korea test fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Monday that reached an altitude of 3,700 miles before falling into the sea west of Japan, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry. The missile has a possible range of 9,300 miles and could reach parts of the U.S., depending on the weight and payload. The launch was North Korea’s fifth such ICBM test this year, and followed a shorter-range ballistic missile test on Sunday.
  • Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was reelected to a third term on Monday, winning 89.6 percent of the vote, according to Egypt’s National Election Authority. Although three little-known candidates ran against him, the incumbent’s chances were never threatened by a serious challenger. With his tenure secured until 2030, el-Sisi—in power since 2014—faces a worsening economic crisis and the challenge of navigating growing regional instability.
  • British Petroleum (BP) paused all oil shipments through the Red Sea on Monday. “In light of the deteriorating security situation for shipping in the Red Sea, BP has decided to temporarily pause all transits through the Red Sea,” the company said, referencing the increasing frequency and severity of Yemen’s Houthi rebels’ attacks on ships in the waterway. If other oil companies also pause their shipments, oil prices could soon shoot up. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Monday announced the creation of a new “multinational security initiative” under the Combined Maritime Forces—an existing multinational partnership designed to secure international waters—to protect commercial vessels in the Red Sea. Nine countries, including the United Kingdom, Bahrain, and France, are part of the initiative. “This is an international challenge that demands collective action,” Austin said.
  • Nippon Steel, Japan’s largest steel company, and U.S. Steel announced on Monday a $14.1 billion deal for Nippon to acquire the iconic 122-year-old American business. U.S. Steel had been looking for buyers since this summer, and Cleveland-Cliffs, a domestic competitor, offered a $7.3 billion takeover deal that U.S. Steel rejected. It’s unclear if the Nippon deal will be completed next year as proposed; the United Steelworkers Union criticized the sale to a foreign corporation, as did Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio and Democratic Sen. John Fetterman of Pennsylvania. If the deal goes through, U.S. Steel is expected to keep both its name and its Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, headquarters.
  • An earthquake struck the Gansu and Qinghai provinces of northwest China on Monday night, killing more than 100 people and injuring at least 200 others. The United States Geological Survey registered the tremor at a 5.9 magnitude, although the Chinese state news agency reported a 6.2 magnitude.
  • The Vatican on Monday approved new guidelines allowing priests to bless same-sex relationships so long as the blessings aren’t treated as a marriage ceremony or performed as part of any church liturgy or service. A brief document published by the Vatican’s doctrinal office affirmed the historic Catholic teaching that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. “It is essential to grasp the Holy Father’s concern that these non-ritualized blessings never cease being simple gestures that provide an effective means of increasing trust in God on the part of the people who ask for them,” the document read, “careful that they should not become a liturgical or semi-liturgical act, similar to a sacrament.”

‘A Sad and Painful Event for All of Us’

Thousands of Israelis gather outside The Museum of Modern Art on November 25, 2023, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
Thousands of Israelis gather outside The Museum of Modern Art on November 25, 2023, in Tel Aviv, Israel. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

On Friday, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) troops mistakenly killed three Israeli hostages who had escaped Hamas’ capture in a tragic accident that prompted renewed calls both abroad and within Israel for the negotiated release of all hostages. Israeli leaders have vowed to continue their war against Hamas until the terrorist organization is eliminated, even as Western allies—including the U.S.—push for a more targeted campaign that puts greater emphasis on protecting civilian lives.

The IDF on Saturday released information on the operation that led to the deaths of three Israelis: Yotam Haim, Alon Shamriz, and Samer Talalka. The three young men reportedly emerged from a building in Shejaiya, a neighborhood in Gaza City that has seen intense fighting and suicide bombers in recent days, near a cadre of IDF soldiers. The trio were shirtless—an effort to show they were not armed and posed no threat—and waved a white flag. An Israeli soldier, seemingly believing the hostages were part of a Hamas trap, reportedly shouted “terrorists!” and fired at the three men, immediately killing two of them and wounding the third, who ran back inside and called for help in Hebrew. The brigade commander then ordered his troops to stop firing, but a final round was fired and the third hostage died as well.

“This is a sad and painful event for all of us,” Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesman, said in a statement. “And the IDF bears responsibility for everything that happened.” The Israeli military is reviewing the incident, which officials have said violated the IDF’s rules of engagement.

Hundreds of Israelis protested the killing in Tel Aviv on Saturday night, calling on their government to prioritize negotiating the return of the more than 100 remaining hostages believed to be held by Hamas. “Within the country, seeing these three men who were so close to getting home was really sort of traumatic,” Enia Krivine, senior director of Foundation for Defense of Democracies’s Israel Program, told TMD. “And it has really sort of reignited these demonstrations within Israel for Israel to go back to the negotiating table.” Approximately 105 such hostages were released in late November during a week-long negotiated ceasefire, in exchange for about 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons and charged or convicted of violent crimes.

But many Israeli leaders see a continued military campaign against Hamas as the best bet at this point to bring the terrorist group back to the negotiating table on acceptable terms. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his sorrow over the tragedy, and insisted that Israel is “more determined than ever to continue to the end—until we eliminate Hamas, return all of our hostages.”

Indeed, as pressure mounts for Israel to return to the bargaining table, some experts are warning against conflating a deal to secure the freedom of hostages with a ceasefire. “It’s important to sort of distinguish between a ceasefire and a negotiation for hostage release, because the two are not the same,” said Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. “The general sentiment here is that there is pressure for the Netanyahu administration to try to make some sort of deal to get back the hostages. Most Israelis, at least the ones that I’ve talked to, also want to continue the war to finish Hamas off as a military entity.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Israel on Monday against this backdrop, tasked with delivering a delicate message to Israeli leaders on behalf of the Biden administration. At a fundraiser last week, President Joe Biden remarked that “Israel’s security can rest on the United States” and had “most of the world supporting them,” but warned that Israel was “starting to lose that support by indiscriminate bombing that takes place.” The administration has since walked those comments back slightly, while stressing the need to move toward more targeted strikes to decrease the number of civilian casualties.

The Biden administration’s recent pivots toward encouraging a lower-intensity campaign highlight a central tension between the two allies. “From the American perspective, there certainly is pressure to try to wrap up major combat operations quicker than from the Israeli perspective,” Cohen told TMD. “I think the Israelis would like several more months of sort of large-scale intensive combat operations to particularly clear out places like Khan Yunis [in southern Gaza], which they’ve only begun to clear out.”

Austin discussed on Monday the need for “surgical operations” in Gaza, and said the protection of Palestinian civilians was “a moral duty and a strategic imperative.” Still, he stressed the U.S. commitment to Israel in its war against Hamas. “This is Israel’s operation, and I’m not here to dictate timelines or terms,” Austin told reporters at a press conference with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. “Our support to Israel’s right to defend itself is ironclad.”

While more “surgical operations” would certainly limit the number of Palestinian civilian casualties in the conflict—currently estimated to be in the thousands, though precise accounting is difficult—they would also come at an increased risk to Israeli forces. About 115 IDF troops have reportedly been killed in action during the current conflict, with one of the deadliest days of fighting coming last week, just days before the accidental shooting of the hostages.

In Warsaw, Poland, on Monday, another American official was advocating for the American perspective on the war in Gaza. CIA director Bill Burns met with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and David Barnea, the head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, to discuss a possible new hostage deal.

Austin’s meeting on Monday—alongside CIA Director Bill Burns’ meeting with Qatari Prime Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and David Barnea, head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency—demonstrate the Biden administration’s desire to see Israel accomplish its goals (removing Hamas from power and securing the release of all its hostages) while minimizing Palestinian casualties and preserving international support. 

But any negotiation with Hamas must, first and foremost, preserve Israel’s security in the future. “That is the major sticking point here … whether or not Hamas remains intact,” said Krivine, arguing this motivation trumps Israel’s desire to adhere to U.S. and international pressure. “Israel’s doing its best to kind of walk the line because it’s so important for it to have U.S. support, not just at the leadership level, not just in Jerusalem, in the Knesset, and in their leadership levels, but also just down to the average Israeli,” she added. “The feeling of U.S. support has been huge, and it is so meaningful for the country as a whole. So they want to keep the U.S. [on their side] and I think they’re trying really hard. But if you’re asking me, will Israel go it alone? The answer is yes.” 

But this is why the accidental killing of the three Israeli hostages has struck such a nerve among Israeli citizens and leaders. “From the beginning of the war, there has always been this inherent tension between executing the war, prosecuting the war aggressively and in the way Israel feels is commensurate with the threat, and the return of the hostages,” Krivine told TMD. “And there’s always been this question of at what point does Israel stop to negotiate, to try and get some of those hostages back, and what executing the war was doing to the safety of the hostages in Israel. And I think that for that dialogue, and for that sort of tension within Israel, this incident was kind of a watershed moment.”

Despite the domestic scrutiny, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant summed up Israel’s approach to the war much the same as he has since the October 7 attacks. “We will prevail and dismantle Hamas,” Gallant said Monday. “Otherwise we won’t be able to exist.”

Ultimately, it is the motivation for preservation that unites Israel. Though Israelis are placing renewed urgency on negotiations for the return of all hostages, popular sentiment remains firmly behind eliminating the terrorist threat. “You’ll see bumper stickers, billboards, some private some public, all of them say, ‘Together to Victory,’” said Cohen. “And that’s sort of a universal sentiment. When you talk to previously left-wing Israelis, many of them who are no fans of the Netanyahu administration, all of them are dead set—you know, they disagree about pretty much everything else—but they’re dead set on removing Hamas as a threat.”

Worth Your Time 

  • Writing for American Purpose, Dalibor Roháč argues that there is a trade-off between pursuing climate policies that reduce oil production and forcefully confronting our adversaries. “The imperative of decarbonization must be and is tempered by other considerations—economic and social, and increasingly also by geopolitical ones,” Roháč writes. “In particular, if there is an extent to which high oil and natural gas prices are driven by our reluctance to expand production further for environmental reasons, then we are unwittingly strengthening regimes that seek to destroy the U.S.-led international system. Our two major adversaries, Russia and Iran, are using oil revenue to fund their respective machines of domestic repression and international revanchism. Allowing their depredations to continue unabated, even though the West has the tools to essentially bankrupt both regimes, represents at least as much of a threat to our future as our supposed complacency about climate change. … Ignore the noise of climate summits, which suggests that climate change has simple solutions impeded only by a lack of political will. In truth, climate change is a ‘wicked problem:’ one that does not have a clear-cut solution because of its incomplete, contradictory, and changing nature. And managing wicked problems in the real world oftentimes requires counterintuitive moves, balancing acts, and hard choices.”

Presented Without Comment

New York City Mayor Eric Adams, asked to describe 2023 in one word: “New York, this is a place where every day you wake up you could experience everything from a plane crashing into our Trade Center to a person who’s celebrating a new business that’s open. This is a very,very complicated city, and that’s why it’s the greatest city on the globe.”

Toeing the Company Line

  • In the newsletters: The Dispatch Politics crew interviewed Kevin McCarthy as he prepares to depart Congress, Kevin argued (🔒) the U.S. doesn’t suffer from lack of a resources but a lack of realism about spending levels, and Nick outlined (🔒) the fraught politics of a potential Donald Trump-Nikki Haley ticket.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David discuss listener comments about last week’s Texas abortion case, unpack special counsel Jack Smith’s delay, and speculate on the second biggest SCOTUS leak on the latest Advisory Opinions.
  • On the site today: Chris delves into the significance of Nippon buying U.S. Steel, and Charles Horton explains the newest sickle cell treatments.

Let Us Know

What do you think of the Biden administration’s approach to Israel at this stage of its war against Hamas? Are officials like Lloyd Austin striking the right balance?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.