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US may put boots on the ground as hostage drama looms large over Gaza

Israel has declared its intent to completely destroy Hamas in Gaza

The Hamas-Gaza war that began on the Saturday is at an inflexion point with the distinct possibility of the US special forces descending in the war zone to extricate Americans that the Palestinian group  has taken hostage.

The Telegram channel of Russia Today quoted US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin as saying that standby forces are “only a few hours away” by plane from the combat zone.

It is presumed that Hamas has taken 20 Americans hostage following its surprise attack inside Israel close to the Gaza border.

The report added that the US has already sent hostage negotiators to Israel. Besides, in a show of strength and firepower the US has deployed Gerald Ford, its aircraft carrier in the Eastern Mediterranean, from where it can carry air and missile strikes in a large envelope including the Gaza strip.

In anticipation of massive attacks, a defiant Hamas has taken hundreds of hostages, which will be used as bargaining chips for two purposes. First, Hamas is expected to the use the presence of large number of hostages to deter attack. The group has threatened to execute one hostage for every strike on Gaza. It is expected to film gory executions and post them on social media as part of a brutal psy-ops spiral that is expected as lengthy conflict unfolds. Second, it hopes to bargain release of hostages for freeing hundreds of Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israeli jails.

Besides, the Hamas is also expected to leverage the expected large scale civilian killings in Gaza, especially after the Israeli ground operations unrolls to draw external players, including the Iran backed Lebanese Hezbollah, and even Tehran into the fray to counter an adverse military situation.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Ali Barakeh, a member of Hamas’ exiled leadership in Lebanon, acknowledged that Iran and Hezbollah have helped Hamas in the past, but said that since the 2014 Gaza war Hamas has been producing its own rockets and training its own fighters.

He stressed that the Hamas’ assault was driven by a range of actions taken by Netanyahu’s government. This included provocative visits by Israelis to the revered Al Aqsa Mosque, the plight of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and anticipation that Israel planned to kill the group’s top leaders.

Barakeh, acknowledged that his group will use the scores of Israelis it captured in the raid to secure the release of all Arabs detained in Israeli jails and even some Palestinians imprisoned in the United States on charges of funding Hamas.

“There are Palestinians held in America. We will ask for their release,” he said, without specifying who he was referring to.

According to the AP report, a Dallas court in 2009 had sentenced two founding members of the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, once the largest U.S. Muslim charity, to 65 years in prison for funnelling millions of dollars to Hamas. Three other men were sentenced to prison terms ranging from 15 to 20 years for conspiracy.

The Hamas is fully aware that Israel prides itself in security the return of its prisoners and hostages.

For instance, after keeping him in captivity for five years Hamas released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. In the landmark prisoner exchange deal, in 2011, Israel had to release 1,027 mostly Palestinian prisoners. Out of these two hundred and eighty had been sentenced to life imprisonment. Hamas currently has scores in its captivity following Saturday’s operation. Netanyahu has now to make a hard choice between a protracted negotiated settlement and all-out attack, irrespective of risking  domestic consequences in case hostages in large numbers are killed.

Also Read: Why Iran holds the key in deciding the fate of the Hamas-Israel conflict