As intense fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants continues for the third day, a former Israeli counterterrorism operator has warned that time is running out to rescue Israeli hostages held in Gaza.
Aaron Cohen, who previously served in the Israeli Defence Forces special forces unit, said in an interview with i24 News that every passing hour makes the hostage rescue operation more difficult. “The situation on the ground is deteriorating rapidly. Hamas is embedding the hostages deeper within Gaza’s civilian population to make them harder to extract,” said Cohen.
As the death toll from Israeli airstrikes in Gaza mounts over 200, including dozens of children, Hamas is under pressure from its support base to respond harshly. There are fears the hostages could be killed in retaliation for Israeli attacks. “Time is of the essence here. The longer Israel waits, the more complex the mission becomes as Hamas moves the hostages around,” added Cohen.
Lessons from previous hostage rescues
Cohen, who was involved in several special operations during his military service, said Israel has proven expertise in hostage extractions gained from missions like the famous 1976 Entebbe rescue. 76 hostages were freed from Ugandan terrorists with minimal casualties thanks to precision Israeli planning.
“The Israeli special forces are world-class in these types of operations. They have detailed intelligence maps of Gaza tunnels and will use disguise, speed and tactical surprises to achieve their goals,” said Cohen. He believes a rescue attempt inside Gaza is highly likely in the next 48 hours.
However, extracting hostages from densely populated Gaza presents unique challenges compared to past missions in other countries. Hamas is deeply embedded in civilian areas and can rapidly reposition hostages to thwart Israeli attempts. International pressure is also mounting on Israel to end operations due to rising Palestinian casualties.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a late-night address that Israel will do “whatever it takes” to return its captives home but exercise restraint to avoid civilian harm. A successful hostage rescue inside Gaza could help end the latest flare-up, but failure risks further escalating tensions. The clock is ticking for diplomats to negotiate a solution as risks grow by the hour.
Social media reaction
Israeli rescue of Gilad Shalit in 2011 from Gaza was praised as a “miracle” by fans on Facebook. But the aftermath, with over 1,000 Palestinian deaths, was condemned by rights groups. As risks escalate today, all sides will be hoping for a peaceful resolution this time.
The international community has urged de-escalation and called on Israel and Hamas to halt fire immediately through diplomacy. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he is “deeply concerned” by the worst outbreak of hostilities in years and “saddened” by loss of lives. Both the USA and European Union have offered to mediate indirect talks for a ceasefire and long term peace deal.
As night falls again on another grim day in Gaza and Israel, hopes are fading fast for diplomacy to succeed before potentially catastrophic hostage rescue operations commence. The coming hours will be critical in determining whether this escalation ends in further bloodshed or a breakthrough to peaceful negotiations.