The Israeli should think about what they're about to do, but they probably won't, for the same reasons Americans didn't after 9/11.
> To speak frankly, the only way Israel could solve the problem by the use of force would be to commit genocide and physically exterminate the Palestinians
They could also expel the residents of Gaza into Egypt, either by starting a war against Egypt to open a transit corridor for the Palestinians or by signing some sort of a treaty where Egypt absorbs the Palestinians into their country. And quite honestly this would probably be a better outcome than the status quo, as life in Egypt is better than life in Gaza, as far as I can tell.
> Collateral damage is inevitable in war, but the decision to cut water, food and electricity supplies and more generally to inflict collective punishment on the Palestinians in Gaza is absolutely unacceptable and unworthy of a civilized nation.
Israel is in a no-win situation, and we should all be extremely sympathetic to them. If the Palestinians wanted peace, they would have peace. But they don't (their charter calls for genocide), and Hamas would rather use their population as human shields than work to build a real peaceful society.
What else is Israel to do but try to destroy Hamas's rockets, even if they're behind human shields? It's a ridiculous double standard that Israel is expected to provide food and electricity to their sworn enemies, show deference to their human shields, and allow free trade. If Gazans starve, the fault lies completely with Hamas and their fellow Arabs in Egypt. I hope they one day choose to love their children more than they hate Jews, but I don't have high hopes.
There is no negotiated solution to the conflict. Hamas blasts their genocidal intentions loudly and proudly. "The occupation" means Israel in its entirety... The 1967 borders ARE Gaza's current borders. Gaza has been Judenrein since 2005. Raping women and beheading babies is a clear message to make life intolerable for Israelis. How can you expect Israel to provide FREE water and electricity to their own murderers? Why has Gaza never built their own electric supply with billions in European aid?
I appreciate your PS, and you're right that it is a Greek tragedy. But I don't understand why you're resisting taking the Palestians at their word. They've made it very clear they do not want peace. They could have had a peaceful country in 1948, but declared war on day 1 and countless times since.
Anyways, I hope you're right and I'm wrong. Otherwise there's no good solution.
It's been a while. I think we can already construct a reasonable guess of Hamas's original plan - and therefore why our host's suggestions would have been extremely poor for Israel:
A) Hamas had extremely detailed plans for Israeli villages and cities. They targeted a rave party of no operational significance. Civilians were the main target all along.
The operation did get out of hand (I'll get to that), but doing massacres was entirely intentional, in fact Hamas planned more. Captured plans indicated a far more extensive operation.
B) Hamas used large amounts of weaponry, way out of proportion to what was required for an hit and go operation. Most units stayed and fought instead of acting like guerilla units.
C) Hezbollah was involved in planning, but either was not informed of the date or was not intended to participate on Oct. 7.
Now, it's obvious that Hamas could not possibly control the Israeli South for long. It would have been kicked out sooner or later. On the other hand, this is way too large to be an isolated attack. So what did they actually think they were doing?
I'll spoil the answer: The missing piece has to do with what our host doesn't even begin to consider - the life and dignity of about a million Israeli living along the 'Otefim', i.e. the border communities (the exact number depends on how far you take from a border). The operation's goal wasn't to conquer Israel - obviously beyond their power - but to do an ethnic cleansing campaign, leading to mass migration out of Israel and collapsing Israel in the medium-long run.
Here's how I believe the plan meant to work in their best scenario:
1) Hamas launches the attack, conquers Israel up to Kiryat Gat or so. There are massacres in the conquered communities and many hostages are taken, most of them are kept in place and not taken to Gaza.
2) Israel eventually rallies, the army begins taking back areas one by one.
3) Hezbollah may or may not join in the fighting, it depends on how exhausted Israel is by step 2, but the best case Hamas scenario was for Hezbollah to *not* join.
4) Either way, eventually Israel conquers all the way back to the Strip, only to discover even more massacres, and is entirely exhausted. Hamas expected to fight for a month or so.
5) Hamas parades the remaining hostages (not literally). The same fever as during the Shalit deal takes place. Israel is too exhausted and divided and driven mad by hostages to enter. If Hezbollah hadn't joined in by now, now it issues threats. Hamas forces a ceasefire.
6) All the surviving Israeli along the South border leave, since the army obviously can't protect them. Same thing applies to the North, since everyone knows Hezbollah is stronger than Hamas. This is why Hezbollah not joining is somewhat preferable - the Hezbollah threat is better kept 'in waiting'. Israel is small - There isn't even room in the Center for a million refugees, the Israeli economy collapses since the Center alone isn't viable, and massive outmigration happens.
(End key paragraph)
We can say the plan failed or is on the verge of failure. Hamas's only hope is for Israel to accept a ceasefire before starting the Strip ground operation, and this is highly unlikely. What happened?
Basically, the Israeli army had too much faith in technology and quality over numbers and fanaticism. Hamas had too little faith. Theirs was an analogue plan in a digital age.
A) The leadership did not expect stragglers and other organizations to join in the crimes and even livestream them! Actual Hamas operatives are smart enough to NOT carry their smartphones when doing crimes.
Some underling must have not been given the order to block other Palestinians from following the initial breach, and these people weren't anywhere as disciplined. Enough was livestreamed to get Israel to mobilize ASAP (without political divisions hampering this), and for Biden to issue a warning to Hezbollah.
B) They didn't expect Israeli civilians to call their friends and relatives using Whatsapp, and armed individuals to join in the defence of their communities. I should also mention the police was unusually effective in resisting Hamas.
C) Save for the very first line of defence and observation, IDF units were not destroyed and were able to fight back.
D) So the damage to Israel is concentrated along the border, but isn't deep. Instead of fighting for a month, Hamas was kicked back within 3 days.
E) Now a very non-exhausted Israel is ready to take the fight to Hamas. As a result of the first screwup, it has international support, enough to deter Hezbollah, or at least make its threat manageable enough while attacking the Strip.
F) Hamas overrated the hostages and underrated Israeli and international rage. The hostages are no longer enough to stop Israel from entering if it wants to.
G) If Israel takes the Strip, step 6 ('cleansing' the Israeli South) fails utterly, since Hamas and others wouldn't be there to threaten the area. It's possible less would be sufficient, but I hold it very unlikely, both regarding what people living there tell me - or that Israel would accept any less than conquering the entire Strip. This is what the war is all about, and Israel will not relent.
Hamas's only hope to get back to the plan is to get a ceasefire ASAP.
I'm not sure that Hamas is even trying too hard to fight back now - missile and mortar use seems somehow much less effective compared to the previous conflicts, despite Hamas having larger capabilities. I suspect this is because hitting Israel too hard would be counterproductive to getting a ceasefire, but they still need to show some presence to Gazans. When Israel enters the Strip the calculation will obviously be different.
"In effect, people would like the Israeli to live the kind of peaceful and carefree life that people in the West enjoys while operating a sort of apartheid regime, but that’s just not possible."
Ultimately, it's the only thing that's possible, or at least, the most humane thing that's possible. The rising tide of colour is coming for everyone, everywhere. Every nation will have to choose between creating 'open air prisons' suitably separated from their own population, or to go miserably into the night. I think creating a Jewish state in a region where the average IQ is 85, where Islam is the dominant religion, and savage violence is ordinary was a mistake. If I had a time machine, I'd stop it, but the truth is that in the medium term it doesn't matter that much. Unless you are content to withdraw to Alaska, you either use force - as much force as it takes to preserve your existence - or you won't exist.
Good piece Philippe. I think you're right on the most important part : Israeli military action is going to backfire badly
My main issue is that, like so many similar well-thought positions, it completely ignores Palestinian agency. 100% of your arguments are about what the Israeli should do, 0% about what the Palestinians should do. "When Palestinian angry, he always act like this", to paraphrase Tintin.
This general blindness (which, imo, stems in no small part from a form of white saviour syndrome) is a big issue for a number of reasons:
1. Palestinians are suffering much more than Israeli from the statu quo. Even after last week slaughter of thousands, Israel remains a vibrant society producing art, science, technology, wealth while Gaza is a hell hole. Palestinians need an exit strategy more badly than Israeli
2. A strong part of negociations is defining what is and is not on the table. By preemptively giving up on expecting anything good from Palestinians, the West is giving Hamas an edge in negociations
3. I know that Hamas is popular in Gaza but there is some opposition and denying agency to Palestinians casts them as a monolithic block which serves Hamas interest
4. As you mention, a great deal of this is a worldwide PR game and a hemiplegic position only reinforces the perception that everything is Israel's fault
5. There are probably some decent people in Gaza who would love that some kind and smart people all over the world gave some hard thought about their options in their dire situation
6. I'm personally convinced that the best outcome for Palestinians (and Israelis) is collaborative and it's a pity nobody ever mentions that
Happy to discuss further, we really should grab a bier some day when you're in Paris
I did not think you’re even addressing what Israel’s main problem is. It’s main problem is credibility in the eyes of Saudi Arabia and other a Sunni states. They need to respond strongly to maintain that credibility so that these states view them as a reliable ally against Iran.
The policy of benign neglect of the Palestinians was actually a successful one, and can be returned to eventually after destroying Hamas. Israel just needs to be more competent on border security.
I am trying to be clinical in such troubled times.
It appears that we need to switch gears. We are in war time. It has been said explicitly and the goals of the war also: to wipe out Hamas in Gaza.
Words have meaning. Even Russia is not using the word war for what happens in Ukraine. It is not just a play on words. Technically the USA were not at war either in Vietnam (despite cultural belief): they also used terms like "special military operations".
Is it wise/good/stupid decision is another discussion.
Israel is not.going to negotiate, in the same way that you said they have to talk to Hamas because it is what is and not what you want.
The mindset is akin the one of WWII. What we had until now was rather like police operations on steroids (and retract when international pressure reached too much intensity). Think Dresden, Okinawa invasion, Tokyo carpet bombing, nukes etc.
Locally, I mean in short to medium term, the best that can be expected is that this war doesn't morph into something else. So at best Gaza is going to disappear as we know it. Yes hundreds of thousands of people living for years in tents in Sinaï desert is the best outcome.
On long term things are even worse. There are two competing eschatologies in a very narrow piece of land. Muslims are not going to give up on Al-Aqsa and Jews are not going to give up on the third temple either. They are on the exact same spot. This is 0 sum game, and in both parts it is nothing less than literal Armageddon that is at play. This is not going to vanish even 73 generations from now. The best we can do is to hope for a miracle of biblical proportions.
Just as a reminder look at the name chosen by Hamas for this attack.
This is reasonable if framed as "the case against against invasion and for negotiation", but I think there is a great deal of uncertainty about a number of things expressed here. It's very unclear how bloody a campaign to establish an Israeli military government in Gaza will be. Maybe it will result in massive Israeli losses and massive civilian casualties, but maybe not. Expectations of a bloodbath may make the actual conflict seem less terrible by comparison, which will affect how other countries, and even Israelis and Palestinians, view the conflict.
I also think this piece overrates Israel's potential to work with Hamas. Sure Hamas can be pragmatic in its tactics at times, but it hasn't really shown any willingness to moderate its goals or refrain from targeting civilians. If Israel is the US in this analogy to 9/11, then that makes Hamas Al Qaeda, which has never attempted to moderate. There are examples of Islamist movements going both ways (other Muslim brotherhood affiliates vs. ISIS), and the likelihood that a group will be willing to moderate in the future is obviously very hard to determine, but I don't think the evidence is at all encouraging on this front.
While I agree that Israel will have to negotiate a settlement of this conflict in order to end it within the two-state solution framework, I don't think it's at all clear that they will have to do it while staring across the negotiating table at a Hamas-like group. Of course Hamas represents a real faction of the Palestinian people, but it's unclear whether it has majority support now, and very unclear whether it will have majority support at any given time in the future. Fatah has been able to main control of the more populous West Bank without too much difficulty.
Here's what I see as a plausible optimistic scenario if Israel does indeed decide to initiate a military campaign to occupy Gaza. Yes, if Israel succeeds militarily, even at a lower cost to Palestinian civilians than is being predicted, Fatah won't be able to immediately take over the Gaza Strip. It's possible though that after a period of time has passed Fatah is able to assume control, possibly in some sort of deal that includes Israeli concessions on other issues. While support for Islamism and violence against Israelis will still major parts of Palestinian politics in such a scenario, it's not unreasonable to believe Fatah retains controls, no group is able to carry out major attacks like the one we just witnessed, and at some point in the future there's the possibility of a final status agreement.
spot on. I'm sure Neville Chamberlain will be brought up, but nobody ever follows through on that analogy. would ww2 have been materially different if it started after the annexation of chekoslovakia rather than the invasion of Poland a year later?
Edited— I realized you answered my original question in a paragraph that I somehow missed. I don't share some of your views but I found the piece interesting. Thanks for writing.
Good article, thank you.
You have compared USA with Israel, and some points are true, but let's not forget that Hamas getting stronger by day, they literally start to be a threat and we have seen it. Indeed the current move is emotional, but so far no negotiations helped, neither give up land. Hamas is extreme evil and there is no room for negotiations here, yes the West sees Israel and Jews overall very bad, but you really see a solution based on negotiations, how many times they tried, for Gilaf Shalit they gave away 1027 or so prisoners, Hamas wants the whole prisoners to be given to them for hostage releaes. Those prisoners directly will go into fighting Israel, when the other side has a clear text to the whole world, it is us or them and this is from Hamas, what choice Israel has ?
Likely more terror groups will come up afterwards, but UAE has a chance to sign a peace with Israel, this will weaken Iran. In the end of the day, Iran is the piggy bank and the proxy controller.
Destruction of hamas and its infrastructures can give some relief to all the south settlements from bombing, and start an accelerated work with Arabs countries to deal with terror.
For now Israel is suffering publicly immensely.
When it comes to international relations issues you have deep wisdom. I wish the Israeli leadership were half so wise.
Incredibly insightful and balanced. Thank you.