Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu said Saturday that defeating Hamas was an “existential test” for Israel, charging that 90 percent of the group’s military budget came from Iran.
“We must defeat Hamas because the test is an existential test for us,” Netanyahu told a news conference.
“Iran supports Hamas. I think that 90 percent of Hamas’ military budget comes from Iran. It funds, it organizes, it directs it.”
Netanyahu said that fighting inside the Gaza Strip would be “long and difficult,” as Israeli ground forces operate in the Palestinian territory for more than 24 hours.
“The war in the (Gaza) Strip will be long and difficult and we are prepared for it,” Netanyahu told a news conference after meeting families of hostages held in Gaza since surprise Hamas attacks on southern Israel on October 7.
Netanyahu, who announced that the war had moved to a second phase, said efforts to secure the release of more than 200 hostages will continue even during the ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza.
Asked whether contacts to release the hostages would continue even during the ground offensive, Netanyahu replied: “Yes.”
He said the idea of a swap deal of hostages for Palestinian prisoners had been discussed within the Israeli war cabinet but declined to elaborate, saying revealing any details would be counterproductive.