Time for Israel to stop gambling and start winning
There must be a definitive end to Hamas’ rule
The bitter harvest of then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s fateful 2004 decision to send 55,000 soldiers to remove 8,000 settlers from Gaza, Israel’s largest military operation since the 1973 Yom Kippur War, has achieved full bloom. The toll of Hamas’ deadly incursion into Israel amounts to some 700 dead (far exceeding America’s death-to-population ratio of 9/11), 2,300 injured and an estimated 100 kidnapped. Images of the invaders freely wreaking havoc for hours stunned the world, eliciting unprecedented sympathy and support for Israel from world leaders, including, thankfully, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
How could such a monumental intelligence failure occur? Israel’s security services have reliable informers in Gaza. Every call there from a mobile phone is routed through an Israeli network. The barrier separating Israel from Gaza — a costly mixture of concrete slabs and metal fencing with implanted sensors — was apparently easily breached or paraglided over without alarm bells ringing. Given the still-haunting experience of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, this security cropper is unfathomable. Particularly since trustworthy experts, such as Yigal Carmon, the founder and president of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), predicted the gruesome scenario in precise, evidence-based detail back in August.
But these are questions for the commission that will be struck when this war is over. It cannot be — hopefully won’t be — a war like the others. There must be a definitive end to Hamas’ rule. There can never be peace with committed jihadists.
Ariel Sharon was convinced that withdrawal from Gaza was a gamble worth taking. In 2004 he told the Knesset, “I am firmly convinced and truly believe that this disengagement… will be appreciated by those near and far, reduce animosity, break through boycotts and sieges and advance us along the path of peace with the Palestinians.”
He took the gamble in good faith that the occupation was the problem, but Israel lost, because the occupation wasn’t the problem. Jews, whether they lived inside or alongside Gaza, were the problem.
Israel’s first and biggest mistake was accepting the election of Hamas to power in 2005. Over the next 15 years, Israel would find that defence against Hamas’ aggression worked to increase the terrorist group’s prestige amongst Palestinians and their allies in the West, while restraint in responding, taken by Arabs (not to mention Iran) as a sign that Israel was scared, also increased its stature.
In none of the subsequent wars — Cast Lead, 2008; Operation Pillar of Defense, 2012; Operation Protective Edge, 2014; border protests (featuring children) 2018-19; Operation Guardians of the Wall, 2021 — did Hamas respect ceasefires Israel was pressured into accepting. Israel lost the PR battle, failing to elicit sympathy or understanding in all but a few western media and governments, mainly the U.S. and Canada, and even there, with diminishing enthusiasm. Israel was routinely accused of “disproportionate” response in killings, (i.e not enough Jews died), even when they gave advance warnings of air attacks, and even when it was known that more Gazans than Israelis die in such conflicts because the concrete Gaza receives in “humanitarian” aid is used for terror tunnels rather than the bomb shelters to which every Israeli has rapid access.
An Israeli sodleir prays standing in front of a Merkava tank on the outskirts of the northern town of Kiryat Shmona near the border with Lebanon on October 8, 2023. PHOTO BY JALAA MAREY/AFP
And yet, stubbornly, leftist Israeli politicians never abandoned the delusion that somehow they would “manage the conflict,” until an accommodation could be found with terrorists who have no interest in peace or a two-state solution, and whose openly stated objective has always been delegitimation of Israel (and worse to Jews). The delusion could be sustained when Hamas only had primitive five-kilogram rockets with a five-kilometre range at its disposal. But it cannot when, in spite of the Iron Dome, whose capacities are not limitless, all Israel is targeted, with warheads of up to 100 kilograms.
Indeed, as Martin Sherman, founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies and veteran of the Israeli defence establishment, writes, “(O)ne can hardly dismiss as implausible the spectre of Israel being subjected, in the not-too-distant future, to attack by a swarm of drones armed with explosive, or worse, unconventional charges. Disturbingly, if the terrorist infrastructures in Gaza are left intact, there is little reason to believe that such a scenario, or an equally harrowing one, will not materialize.”
Another consideration is the strong possibility that this extraordinary trauma will be the final straw for stalwart residents who have endured 20 years of “ordinary” trauma, retreating from the already thinly populated Negev. The choice is stark, but at least, finally, clear. In Sherman’s words: “(A)t the end of the day, (Israel) must face a regrettable but unavoidable dilemma: Eventually there will either be Arabs in Gaza or Jews in the Negev. In the long term, there will not be both.”
The iron is hot. The strike must be as well. Gaza should be viewed through the same lens as Japan in the Second World War: a nation in thrall to a regime of fanatics prepared to sustain endless combat and innumerable deaths rather than surrender or even negotiate terms with a hated enemy. Thankfully, Israel has no need of the nuclear option to vanquish Hamas. A massive conventional operation will achieve that objective.
Above all, Israel must disregard the famous Arab “street” (now more active in North America and Europe than in the increasingly muted Arab world) which gives the false impression that ordinary Palestinians approve of Hamas’ debilitating, hysterical reign. During Cast Lead, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren writes, “After grilling me for minutes about alleged Israeli war crimes, a Palestinian reporter for an Arabic-language station pulled me aside and whispered, ‘Whatever you do, don’t stop until you’ve annihilated Hamas’.” That was in 2009. Stop gambling. Start winning.