42 Comments

Thanks for this piece!

I'll start off with aspects I think you've missed, then onto places where I agree.

Note: I live in Israel.

1. By capturing some 240 hostages Hamas forced Israel's hand. A government that didn't try it's hardest to get back these hostages would have collapsed within weeks by popular pressure.

2. The Shalit prisoner exchange is widely seen as responsible for Hamas deciding to take these hostages. A prisoner exchange on Hamas's terms would likely be terrible for Israel in encouraging more copycat attacks.

3. The war in Gaza is actually very likely to resolve the hostage situation one way or another. Either the IDF goes through the entirety of Gaza and finds the hostages (alive or dead), or it pressures Hamas into releasing the hostages on Israel's terms. The latter appears to be happening if rumours are to be believed.

4. I think Israel's been relatively clear about it's official aims. It wants security control of Gaza much like it does for the west bank. That will be bad for Gaza, and possibly Israel long term, but I think it's somewhat disingenuous to pretend like we don't know what they want at all.

5. This operation is very similar to the one in Mosul, both in terms of terrain, civilian casualties, tactics etc. That did effectively destroy ISIS as a *significant* terrorist organisation. Caveat - different levels of popular support.

6. Historically, cases where Israel has been seen as giving into violence have bred further violence. So have cases where they reacted with excessive violence. So it's in a bit of a catch 22 here.

7. The area around the Gaza strip is important for Israel's food security - it produces some 70% of Israel's locally grown vegetables. This war is likely to be successful at creating a situation where people are prepared to return, in a way that different tactics likely wouldn't be.

OTOH

I agree that nothing particularly good is likely to come from this war.

I also think that Israel should put a lot more effort *than it appears to be* into working out what comes after. This includes rebuilding Gaza, governance, economy etc. I think Israel should pay for rebuilding Gaza itself as a goodwill gesture.

It also should take a lot stronger immediate efforts to alleviate the humanitarian situation in southern Gaza.

Final thoughts:

What should the rest of the world do:

1. Putting pressure on Israel about Gaza is unlikely to have much useful effect. Let it play out, and focus on humanitarian interventions (tents, food, water, field hospitals).

2. In return put incredible pressure on Israel to reign in settler violence and stop all settlement building. The US has the power to demand this as an ultimatum and should. Condition all aid to Israel on this.

3. Other than that - mostly ignore this. There's a lot of horrible countries doing a lot of horrible things and there's not much you can do about them. That is the sad state of the world. The US wasn't able to help Syria, Sudan, Yemen, The Uighers, and the vast majority of horrible things that are happening/happened recently. When there's a solid practical intervention you can do, do it, but trying to do something without clear strategic aims tends to make things worse.

Expand full comment

> What is going to happen to the people who live there this winter if they don’t have a roof over their head?

I've checked the weather stats and during the coldest week of the year it's 17C/62F during the day, 10C/50F during the night. I've done a lot of camping in similar temperatures and it's not a big deal to live in a tent during such temperatures. If anything, it's the summer that's going to be far more brutal without air conditioning. So I'd say the biggest problems will start around May rather than during January.

Expand full comment

Israel cannot allow Hamas to continue to have military capability in Gaza due to the fact that modern technology is making this situation more and more dangerous (due to drones and missiles). They could tolerate it before because they did not accurately perceive the magnitude of the threat. Unlike Lebanon, Gaza is small enough to actually eradicate Hamas’ military capability. With military control afterwards, they can prevent that capability from regenerating.

Expand full comment
Nov 16, 2023·edited Nov 16, 2023

My response aS aN iSRAELI.

1) The truth is that a lot of Israelis self-traumatised themselves binging on atrocity videos and victim testimony from October 7th and thus everyone except a few commie weirdos is in favour of this war, despite having no clue about its objectives other than 'destroy Hamas'. I think the most rational Israelis I have talked to are ones who were already pretty Right Wing, but not especially religious, because they already knew what Palestinians are (more on that later).

2) I'm a bit of an autistic weirdo and in the week after October 7th I started freaking out about mass civilian casualties in Gaza and I started writing to any pro Palestinian journalist I could think of about practical suggestions they could give to Palestinians to calm Israelis down. Needless to say, none of them even answered and Palestinians have done the absolute opposite of everything I suggested.

3) You're literally an idiot if you believe Palestinian living conditions in Gaza pre-war were better than in the West Bank. You can't possibly have spent any time in the West Bank and actually believe that, or even just be familiar with some basic economic data. Of course, conditions in the West Bank have got progressively worse ever since the Oslo process (1967-1977 was probably the sweetest deal any Arabs in the region ever had outside Gulf petrostates, more on that to come), but they are not anywhere near as squalid and, frankly, utterly crazy as Gaza.

4) The IDF is hamstrung by extreme aversion to taking military casualties, which is especially strong among the 'Right wing' sector. My personal belief is that we should use our wars as informal eugenics programmes like Russia, but if I said that in Hebrew I might get lynched. That's the real reason we rely so heavily on bombing which is cowardly and unmanly and justifiably invites contempt from around the world, except for ...

5) Palestinians are horrible people. I'm not a Zionist; I believe Zionism was a mistake and the principal reason I believe that is because the region is just full of such horrid awful people who make Ukrainians and Cossacks look like mother Teresa and Socrates put together. Just cut it with all the 'had nothing to do' nonsense. Civilians shouldn't be targeted in war, full stop, but Palestinians have a uniquely loathsome combination of bloodlust, incessant whining, obnoxious, stupidity, extreme childishness, and death worship that is the most repulsive thing on earth. Maybe that's all our fault (I think it's more the fault of their backers), but, even if it is, any friend of the Palestinians has to start by accepting that they are dealing with a crazy crackhead, and their advice needs to be to stop smoking crack and biting people all the time, not indulging them in their stupid bullshit about grandad's olive groves. If Zionism hadn't turned up, they would be living in a poor dump with endemic civil violence and a state that arrests people in the middle of the night for random reasons because *that's what Arab countries are*. They are simply not cut out for living in a world that conquered child mortality. They never will have civil and political rights because Arab countries don't have those, and if they had just accepted living under Israeli rule, they would be doing better than any other Arabs. Is that a rant? Maybe, but, bear in mind that by Israeli standards I'm presently a hardcore peacenik, so STFU about innocent Palestinians. Not interested.

Expand full comment
Nov 16, 2023·edited Nov 16, 2023

One of the things that struck me is how disconnected much of Western commentary is from the reality of either side. It's as-if they can't believe either side believes the things they obviously do believe.

1) Israel is very small, enough to wonder how viable it is without its border communities.

Hamas's actions are a textbook ethnic cleansing campaign, and almost nobody will return unless some justice is done and Hamas is neutralized. There are official offshoots in West Bank, Lebanon and other enemies in the Sinai and the North (An observer might note the North border is emptied as well). Now, how many refugees is a bit difficult to calculate (how far is a 'border'?) but we're talking about more than 100,000 for sure.

2) It's a threat against the state's raison d'etre. You can't go 'never again' and allow these actions. (What people missed about Erdan's stunt was that _was_ the reaction of many Israelis)

3) According to a recent poll, about 75% of Palestinians support 7/10. If Hamas wins (aka survives in Gaza), either Hamas takes over WB, or Fatah radicalizes to the same extent.

4) Hamas is never ever giving up ALL its hostages. Why give up potential human shields, sexslaves, and future sources of impunity to commit warcrimes? Any deal will intentionally be lengthy (impunity again), and Hamas can always report some as dead. Note that according to official Hamas announcement, 23 hostages were 'buried under the rubble due to bombardment and their bodies cannot ever be extracted'.

So a campaign was inevitable, and in fact the moderate-ish Left is actually the most hawkish here (forget about 2 states if Hamas survives - neither side would agree; Did I mention the Gaza border communities were Left-aligned?). It would be most amusing if people manage to get rid of Nethanyahu only to discover his replacement to be more hawkish in the near term.

P.S. The last thing anyone should care about is physical infrastructure in Gaza. We all know what will happen after the war is over: The Emir of Qatar or MBS/Z would give up some pocket change to reconstruct, it's too politically useful to ignore. Admittedly, they'll be giving up on a few collections of gold-plated cars and have to set their airconditioners to 19C instead of 18C.

P.S.S. Since Philippe doesn't provide sources I'll be lazy and provide none either!

Expand full comment

"Hamas" means:

1. popular resistance. can't be eradicated.

2. capable, organized military system. rockets, rocket production, tunnels, large scale military training etc.

2 can be eliminated by occupying Gaza.

and only 2 is a serious threat for Israel. individual terrorism has always been around and Israel coped just fine.

October 7th came due to Hamas having the full freedom and territory to prepare a large scale military attack.

"eliminating Hamas as capable military system" is totally possible.

and creating more defenses isn't a serious solution. Oct. 7th occurred because Israel relied of defenses that can never be perfect.

Expand full comment

To summarize, it's Israel's fault that the Arabs are grumpy and violent because the presence of sovereign jews living next to Arabs makes them grumpy and violent, and anything Israel does to stop Arabs from being grumpy and violent is going to make them even grumpier and violenter, so Israel's best course (or maybe it's morality's best course, it's unclear) is to "negotiate" i.e. beg that Arabs to stop being so grumpy and violent, and I guess hope for the best, but in all likelihood, eventually just pick up and leave.

Look, if your prior (as it apparently is) is the classic "aristocratic" anti-zionist position that the Jews have no business interfering with the ethno-religious supremacist aspirations of the Arab-Muslim world because (a) it's bad for business and (b) the Jews should have gotten used to their rootlessness by now, then sure, I agree. Perhaps the French too can find a nice spot in Idaho once they become inconvenient obstacle to those aspirations in a few decades time. Or perhaps some part of Uganda is still an option. I hear it's lovely in the Spring.

If, however, you think it's fair, just and good that the Jews reestablish a tiny little homeland (and do wonders with it), and that it's reasonable for the Arabs to accept a fraction of 1% encroachment of their two-continent empire--and if not, to go pound sand--even if requires an equivalently tiny percentage of Arabs to move a few miles to the East, North and South (and choose from any number of Arab-Islamic ethnostates to call home), since as you say, they seem incapable of playing nicely with others, then, of course, you are very wrong.

I totally understand why the Arab Muslims are upset about the trade--they've been running the place for 1,000 years--but, y'know, don't be piggish, swallow your pride, and move on. Mexico seems to make it work with the U.S. Poland too. France and England can be expected to give up some parts of their empire, why not the Muslims too?

Fortunately, we know that, in this case, peace is achievable with distance and boundaries. Outside of Iran (and its proxies), Israel has peace with its neighbors because, while they may not like the indignity of uppity Jews, the Jews are not right under their noses (or *gasp* sovereign over them), and they have other things to worry about. Even if there are more belligerent elements of their populaces who may feel otherwise, they are a bit too far away to make "resistance" all that convenient or practical. Heck, even in Israel, resistance would be far less practical and convenient without all the outside support that pays to keep the "cause" indefinitely kicking. Do you think Hamas or the PA buy their own guns or pay to feed their soldiers? Lol.

Good fences (plus a little breathing room) make good neighbors. Imagine that. ('Oh but the horror of the "maximalist" aspirations of big bad Bibi and the scary settlers!' Please spare us the faculty-lounge midwittery. There is only one "maximalist" in this showdown and it's not the Jews. Claiming otherwise is, to use your parlance, stupid and/or a lie.)

"Ohh but they'd never take them. Egypt, Jordan and Saud have emphatically said "no."" Perhaps, but we haven't really tried (and since when did "oh we asked and they said no" become a de facto dead end, and if it is, then surely it applies to "negotiations" too, which I suppose to you know). If people are irrationally butt-hurt, then we can and should fairly expect them to be less irrationally butt-hurt. It's certainly a lot easier than expecting mortal enemies to just mingle peacefully.

Putting aside practicality, from a moral standpoint, it is unequivocally the responsibility of the Arab-Muslim world to accommodate and assimilate the lion's share of what should have been a few hundred thousand fellow Arabs, but has now increased to a few million. Their refusal to do so because of some combined contempt for these people, and a strategic self-interest to destablize Israel (and maintain leverage with the West) should be the target of your (and everyone else's) outrage. Of the two things to not tolerate, Israel's existence v. the venality of Arab leadership, I'm pretty confident which one should be the one to go.

More to the point, allowing the Arabs to relocate would end the conflict overnight with by far the least suffering or bloodshed. Facilitating would be the easy part. It's allowing that's the obstacle. The vast majority would go willingly, if they were simply allowed to, without fear of reprisal or opprobrium. We could take the billions we spend on war machines in that part of the world and create an annuity that would make it more than worth their while, and vastly improve everyone's lives.

There are 3.7M Syrians living in Turkey now. Multiple more millions moved to make peace possible during the Partition of India. 2M people experience the "trauma of displacement" over the US Southern Border every year for the past two years. In the big scheme of harms, "moving" isn't all that high, particularly if the conditions are as awful as you claim. It's not nothing, but it's not that big a deal. (And don't even start with the "ethnic cleansing" canard. They'd be as "ethnically cleansed" as the New Yorkers who move to Florida, and whatever claim to a state they may have ever had, they lost decades ago after the umpteenth attempted genocide.)

The only reason people object to the Passport Solution (other than ignorance) is because (a) it means the Jews "win" and people don't like that--Arabs and NGOs, for obvious reasons, but also the hardliner policy "experts" who've insisted the only way to peace is to indulge their fantasy of a "two state solution" (or three- or four-state now, it's hard to keep track), and people really don't like to be wrong; and (b) it's strategically more convenient for neighboring countries to perpetuate the suffering of Arabs and Israelis, particularly when they're rewarded for doing so.

That's it. Those are the only reasons the fighting continues. The former is dumb and petty, and the latter is feckless and cruel. Otherwise, the conflict could end in a few weeks.

The question you should be asking (like Matt Y) is "what the point of the Cause?" And the answer is "nothing good." So end the cause, end the conflict, and everyone moves on, happier and healthier.

Expand full comment

I believe that your deeply flawed thinking, and rhetoric, on this is so misguided it could be characterized as delusional.

Expand full comment

It's like you have not listened to or read Hamas statements. They are emphatic that nothing short of the destruction of Israel will satisfy them. They are Islamic fundamentalists that have drilled into their members and populace the subhuman state of jews and that martyrdom is not just a positive outcome but a desriable one. Their world view is fundamentally so different from yours that you cannot believe that it is not a front. But it is true.

Since they have neverending support from the Left and from the Arab world, they have no reason to negotiate at all, never mind surrender. No defeat matters to them, because only the fight matters. They are mostly supported by the populace, BTW. They believe - as do most of their brethren - that the desire to negotiate is weakness. They understand only power and strength. The people of Gaza need to pay a heavy price for what they did. After that? A DMZ around the border. Also, their is plenty of empty land in the Sinai and in Jordan. I wonder why they refuse to take in their Palestinain brothers.

Have you ever wondered why have the Palestinian Arabs have never declared an official state within their borders - even before 1967? Because that would be a tacit admission that the territory of Israel is not theirs. Gaza is essentially a de facto state, which has committed acts of war and atriociies against its neighbor. What other nation would tolerate this? What even would a "Palestinian" state look like? What is the Muslim Middle Eastern model for this peaceful democratic state? Syria? Lebanon? Qatar? Yemen? Egypt? Maybe the UAE. But they are emphatically not interested in that. From the River to the Sea is their slogan and its meaning is clear. It's not just rhetoric.

Expand full comment

Interesting and well-thought-out post but you seem to have a bit of a blind spot in seeing a solution in a "negotiated settlement." In the end, I tend to agree that a negotiated settlement is the only way this ends. But how is the negotiation supposed to start? How would it result in a solution even remotely acceptable to Israel? And how could Israel trust that Hamas and other counterparties to the negotiation would hold to their commitments?

The success of any negotiation depends on a number of factors including:

- the relative power/leverage of each party

- each party's "BATNA" (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) https://www.pon.harvard.edu/daily/batna/translate-your-batna-to-the-current-deal/

- underlying 'facts on the ground' and context

Considering each of the above factors, Israel's actions improve the likelihood of a successful negotiated solution:

- Hamas' short-term military capabilities have obviously been degraded, although given enough time and a ceasefire, they could be rebuilt (hence Israel's dismissal of calls for a ceasefire, w/o preconditions).

- Israel's leverage has increased by the simple fact that it committed to and executed a land invasion. Previously Hamas operated under the supposition that Israel may occasionally lob missiles into Gaza but would not put troops on the ground.

- Hamas' BATNA (or rather the BATNA of Hamas' leadership) looks a lot worse than before. From ~2005 to Oct 7, 2023, Hamas BATNA was continued "jihad", meaning low-level strikes against Israel, retaliated in kind, that essentially preserved the miserable status quo for Gazans while keeping Hamas in control of the strip. Right now, Hamas' BATNA is to remain underground indefinitely, or until killed or captured, wondering when the next missile hits them or someone they love. Perhaps some of Hamas' leaders are true believers and relish the chance for martyrdom. But I suspect quite a few of them, ala Nasrallah circa 2006, are thinking they overdid it on Oct 7 (https://www.opindia.com/2023/10/hezbollah-regretted-terror-attack-on-israel-counter-terrorism-2006/).

I can't being to predict how an all-encompassing negotiation would eventually play out -- but a review of the hostage situation over the two weeks since you wrote the OP shows how Israel has impacted negotiations through their actions. A decade ago, Gilad Shalit was traded for >1000 Hamas prisoners, including convicted killers. Reports shortly after 7/10 indicated Hamas expected a similar ratio for the 200+ captives just taken -- up to all Hamas prisoners being freed. But in the end the ratio went from 1000:1 to 3:1, and Israel is only releasing women and teenagers. What changed? Israel's demonstrated willingness be far more deadly and drastic then they had been this century.

Expand full comment

"Does anybody seriously believe that, unless it obliterates Gaza, Israel has no way to prevent another October 7? This is so absurd that making such a claim should be immediately disqualifying. The fence around Gaza is only 65 kilometers long, this isn’t the Great Wall of China, so Israel could obviously prevent something like that from happening again by beefing up security around it. As everybody noted after October 7, those attacks should never have been possible in the first place and it’s clear that someone massively screwed up, so I don’t think that point should even be controversial. Of course, this would have a cost, but it sure as hell would be less costly than destroying Gaza and indefinitely occupying it."

Since Hamas violent takeover of Gaza in 2007 Israel spent billions on securing its border with it, including a new smart fence, the underground barrier, automatic guard towers, new bases, a lot of new iron dome systems. Nevertheless, Hamas and its allies in the strip managed to carry out rocket attacks and ground attacks many times, using their ability to virtually smuggle to Gaza through tunnels anything apart from really large structures like tanks. They used their regime to create a military industry in the strip and create their own attack vehicles, rockets, armed drones, RPGs and machine guns. And they also have a huge supply of manpower out of 2 millions Gazans and they invested a lot in it, training tens of thousands of fanatic youths to be qualified fighters.

So sure, there were problems with the Israeli defense in October 7 that could be better, and the manpower could be tougher, and yes you could invest another billion in creating a concrete wall of 65 kilometers or even two walls with a moat, and buy 1000 iron dome systems that would launch 10 expensive interceptors at any rocket from Gaza. We are also investing in a new laser system that could work against mortars too.

But there is a basic rule in military writing that says "the defense line will always be breached." When a dedicated enough enemy with enough preparation and equipment really want to, and if it has the initiative, then it can breach any defense. The common wisdom in Israel is that even if Hamas would have used tenth of the forces it used in October 7, maybe 300 fighters and not 3000, it would still could have inflicted a lot of deaths and kidnap a lot of Israelis. That means that Israeli defense should have been more than 10 times better then what it was to even have a chance to stop the attack, basically keep a standing army of tens of thousands of soldiers all the time around Gaza. It is impossible. And even that may not have been enough, with 2 million people in Gaza I think Hamas could have easily recruited 30000 fighters and not just 3000. The main challenge would have been counter intelligence, but if they could do it with 3000 then it's not impossible they could have done it with more.

So, the only way to stop such attacks, from military point, is to do what Israel does in Judea and Samaria. Keeps the initiative with raids and arrests every night of any person of interest, and of course demolishing any military industry that tries to get build. Another important thing is the total control of the border, in Judea and Samaria the IDF control the Jordan border and prevents almost all smuggling, unlike the Gaza Egypt border.

That doesn't mean there isn't terrorism at all in Judea and Samaria, but there are no rockets and no military style units of terrorists and no heavy arms. That is the goal in the current operation in Gaza to, as far as I understand. Basically the goal is to demilitarize Gaza after Hamas militarized it. The Hamas would never agree to demilitarize Gaza and no army apart from the Israeli army is willing to get inside there and do that work.

Could this goal be achieved with much less bombings from the air? Sure, Hamas doesn't have air force so in theory you could destroy it's military without air force too. In Judea and Samaria there are no air bombings. But for that there would be a high cost in Israeli soldiers lives, and that is a cost the Israeli public flatly refuses to pay. Could a stronger international response change the Israeli calculus on that matter? Possible somewhat.

Expand full comment

I just don't see what other choice any Israeli govt that expects to remain the Israeli govt would have besides a military retaliation of some kind. Room for choice on scale and details I imagine, but I am not informed enough to say what the feasible parameters were.

Expand full comment

It would have been better to react differently, but no government in the world, be it democratic or not, can refrain from a heavy-handed reaction if 1400 of their citizens are slaughtered. Yes, many Palestinians who were not directly supportive of the 7th October activities will be punished, but as the Israeli reaction was foreseeable and inevitable, the moral responsibility is with Hamas and those supporting Hamas (arguably, a considerable share of the Gazan population).

In the middle run, Israel may have to build a wall around Gaza which is much more secure than the previous one. Rocket attacks should be responded to almost automatically with retaliatory strikes. If at some point the Palestinians get tired of fighting Israel, the border could become more open, with Gazans getting work permits for Israel.

Expand full comment

Thanks for writing this. I think you have summarized many important points very well, but there appears to be some tension in the argument being made here. While Hamas might not be an existential threat in a vacuum, neighboring states might well become existential threats if they perceive weakness and vulnerability on Israel's part. If the point of the retaliation is to send these neighbors a message, then they are plausibly fighting against a real existential threat with a large display of force. Other approaches, like a bigger fence or additional negotiation, might deter Hamas specifically or recover some hostages (with a costly swap, possibly displaying additional weakness given the history with Shalit), but these will not make anyone think Israel is stronger than it was on October 6th

Expand full comment

"I think they are delusional because no country will agree to welcome Palestinian refugees except in mostly symbolic numbers and the only result will be international outrage"

How do you know this? They didn't confiscate the ships of rescue organizations bringing Africans into Europe

Expand full comment

A strong and just statement worthy of Elite Human Capital 💯.

Expand full comment