It seems like the current war is already lost. It will end in another few days, or perhaps a week or two, with a whimper – yet another cease-fire that leaves Hamas in place, just as happened after previous rounds. Moreover, it seems this war will even increase Hamas’ political and military power, as it has managed to portray itself both as a victim deserving of the world’s compassion and as a hero of the resistance against the Zionist entity. (All the talk of “disarming” the Gaza Strip and stationing Palestinian Authority policemen at the border crossings is so much hot air. As long as Hamas remains standing, it will not lay down its arms and will not let anyone else restrict its sovereignty over its territory.)
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Gaza’s status as the victim will win it large helpings of cash from the Arab oil kingdoms and European states. This money will fund the reconstruction of its civilian infrastructure and destroyed houses. Of course, just as happened with the cement that entered the Strip in previous years, some of this money – if not the majority of it – will be diverted by Gaza’s rulers into rebuilding the tunnels and factories that make the rockets. In a few months, the tunnels leading into Israeli territory will resume operation and the missile stockpiles will be replenished, perhaps with new and improved homemade models (or even smuggled ones).
Therefore, the next war will surely come. It will come in another year or two, or perhaps even sooner, because Hamas wants to eradicate the State of Israel (if not to eradicate all Jews, at least in the Middle East), and also because Palestinians in general, as a nation, want the State of Israel to disappear. It’s not pleasant to say this, because many people prefer not to hear it. But even a brief glance at the Hamas charter (1988), the Fatah charter (1964) and the Palestinian National Covenant (1964) – which was never replaced by an enlightened, conciliatory covenant, as Yasser Arafat promised – proves it.
After 1948, 1967, 1973 and 2000-2005, the Palestinians understood that the Arabs aren’t capable of destroying Israel in one blow. Perhaps an Iranian bomb will succeed in doing so in the future, but they can’t count on it. Thus, they adopted a tactic of taking partial but frequent bites that, over time, will gradually weaken the Jewish state.
Our talented young people will move to Berlin or California, tourists and foreign investors will stay away, and potential immigrants will stay where they are, or head for more attractive shores. Who would want to raise his children in a country under constant missile fire, even if, for the moment, very few rockets actually hit their targets? And who would want to tour or invest in a country battered by terrorism?
Just as the Muslims gradually wore down the Crusaders and finally defeated them, so too the Palestinians will wear down and defeat the Jews and, in the end, they’ll return to their places in the Diaspora.
The Israeli government was dragged into the current war against its will. It didn’t prepare for it, but it received a golden opportunity – with comfortable political, international and regional circumstances (Hamas “started it”; they rejected a cease-fire; Egypt is with us; Europe is busy with Ukraine) – in which to destroy Hamas and clean out Gaza.
But the government preferred to take the easier route and exit with “quiet in exchange for quiet,” i.e., a tie, which means continued bouts of violence with Hamas. In recent decades, Israeli governments and the Israeli people have turned into carbon copies of the West: All they want is peace and to hide their heads in the sand; there’s no willingness to sacrifice soldiers (and no willingness to exact a heavy price in blood from the enemy’s civilians), even if it’s clear that the price today – in terms of both our soldiers and their civilians – would be lower than it will be in the future.
That’s what happened in recent years over the issue of Hamas’ attack tunnels. Successive governments knew about them, but opted not to take action against them – perhaps they’ll disappear on their own; let the next government deal with them, and so forth. The same thing happened to us over Iran’s nuclear project, and Judgment Day is approaching.
This is a large part of the explanation for Israel’s weakness in the various Gaza operations that have brought us to this point – the same weakness that guarantees the next round will happen very soon. This weakness is very similar to America’s policy of appeasement under President Barack Obama’s governments, which wound up weakening the status of the United States, and the West as a whole, throughout the world.
What should we do next time? The answer is clear and well known. All that’s needed is the courage to start down this path and the determination to finish the job. It won’t be either easy or quick. We’re talking about reoccupying the entire Gaza Strip and destroying Hamas as a military organization, and perhaps also as a political one (it’s reasonable to think that destroying Hamas’ army will badly weaken Hamas as a political movement).
This will require months of combat, during which the Strip will be cleansed, neighborhood by neighborhood, of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives and armaments. It will exact a serious price in lives from both Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Palestinian civilians. But that’s the price required of a nation like ours, which wants to live on its own land in a neighborhood like ours. After gaining control of Gaza, it must be hoped that some moderate Arab power, perhaps the Palestinian Authority, will take over the reins of government.
There are good reasons to destroy Hamas. It seeks to kill us. Every day it fires rockets at our cities. And it kidnaps and murders whenever it has the chance. Destroying Hamas will strengthen the moderate Palestinian forces and might even advance the possibility of peace. Destroying Hamas will make it easier for Israel when the moment comes to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. It might even deter Hezbollah from embarking on a war against Israel. But at the very least – if and when war breaks out – the IDF will face one less front. Ultimately, destroying Hamas would probably also reduce the desire to confront us in the West Bank and Israeli Arab towns.
The Israeli government must prepare both the Israeli people and its allies for the next round. Western leaders understand the nature of the Islamic enemy – from the Philippines through India and Pakistan, Somalia and Nigeria, Dagestan and Iraq, and all the way to Paris, Madrid and London – very well, even if they generally prefer to bury their heads in the sand and avoid using the word “Islam” explicitly.
By showing them the Hamas charter and Hamas spokesmen and Hamas actions, it’s possible to convince many people that Israel is facing a branch of this same all-out enemy of the West and Western culture – the enemy whose branches include Boko Haram, Al-Qaida and the Islamic State (formerly ISIS) – and that defeating it serves both Israel’s interests and those of the entire West.
The author is a professor of history at Ben-Gurion University’s department of Middle East studies.