“Of all the possible reactions Hamas may take, the most disconcerting is with regard to the hostages,” wrote the columnist, Nahum Barnea. “The argument that the assassination will soften Sinwar’s position is just a story we tell ourselves,” he wrote, referring to Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza. Instead, he wrote, the killing is more likely to “delay, or even torpedo, the negotiations” for the hostages’ release.
Mr. Netanyahu met with representatives of hostage families on Tuesday evening, around the same time that Mr. al-Arouri was killed, and told them that efforts to free their relatives were continuing. “The contacts are being held; they have not been cut off,” he said.
But many families have been increasingly skeptical of Mr. Netanyahu’s promises to make the hostages’ return a top priority in the war. Now, they fear that the hostages could be mistreated or even killed in retaliation for the assassination.
“Of course this doesn’t help — it hurts,” said Lior Peri, whose father, Chaim, 79, was kidnapped from Nir Oz, an Israeli kibbutz close to the Gaza border. “I don’t know who’s in charge and giving the order, but they’re definitely not thinking about the hostages.”
Some Israelis who are familiar with the seemingly endless cycle of attacks and counterattacks in the Middle East were bracing for retribution.
After the assassination, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, the Israeli military’s chief spokesman, said Israeli forces were “on very high alert on all fronts, for defensive and offensive actions.” But in what some analysts interpreted as an indication that Israel was not seeking a wider war with Hezbollah, Admiral Hagari emphasized that it was “focused on fighting Hamas.”
Israeli public support for destroying Hamas is broad but not unqualified. After almost three months of war, there is growing international outrage over the number of Palestinian civilians being killed. And many Israelis are beginning to openly question whether the goal of destroying Hamas is realistic — and whether the cost of doing so would be bearable.
Most senior Hamas leaders within Gaza have eluded capture, and though Israel has begun pulling some troops out of the enclave in what appears to be the start of a shift toward a more targeted assault, few Israelis were prepared for a conflict of this length and with such heavy casualties.
The Israeli military said on Wednesday that one of the hostages in Gaza, Sahar Baruch, 25, was killed last month during a rescue attempt. It said that it was not yet possible to determine whether he had been killed by Hamas or by Israeli fire.
While the war in Gaza has unified many Israelis, who were in political turmoil before the Hamas attack, tensions have begun to re-emerge.
On Wednesday, the Israeli Supreme Court delayed a new law that would have made it harder for a prime minister to be deemed unfit and removed from office. The court found that the law was designed to help Mr. Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges. The ruling came days after the court struck down a sweeping law that would have curbed the power of the judiciary, in another blow to Mr. Netanyahu.
Euan Ward contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon; and Talya Minsberg and Michael Levenson from New York.