As we look back in sorrow on 2023, a year overshadowed by Hamas’s 7th October attacks on Israel and the ensuring conflict, we should take a moment to reflect that for those in the Jewish community it was also the start to a terrible Rosh Hashanah (with the attacks coming barely a month afterwards, on the eve of Simchat Torah which celebrates the beginning of a new cycle in the Jewish calendar). Whilst it was the beginning of a New Year (Rosh Hashanah), what has unfolded is a catastrophically old and familiar story. A re-telling and repetition of history, with Hamas’s terrible act of barbarianism, coupled with additional attacks from neighboring hostile states, reminiscent of – but also worse than – so many other attacks Israel, and the wider Jewish People, have recently endured.
As we look forward to 2024 we must not forget the 1,200 Israelis killed on 7th October, the 240 hostages taken, the 9,720 Israelis injured and the growing forensic evidence and first-person testimony regarding the mass rape, sexual torture, and unimaginable violence perpetrated on Israeli women during the attack. Since the 7th October , Hamas and other Islamist groups in the Gaza Strip have launched over 10,000 rockets and counting into Israel. The conflict has hastened the return of 110 of the 240 hostages, but still Hamas refuse to return those remaining and surrender their arms (this remains the swiftest route to ending the current conflict, and the one route that almost nobody outside of Israel is calling for).
Militarily, Israel has achieved much of its stated aim to destroy Hamas and dismantle its terrorist infrastructure, but it still has much more to do. The IDF has taken complete military control of northern Gaza, destroying 100s of entrances to the estimated 500 kilometers (311 miles) of Hamas tunnels across the Gaza Strip; overall the IDF has found 800 tunnels across Gaza, destroying 500 of them. The IDF are also successfully targeting Hamas fighters and their leadership, having eliminated 7000 terrorists in the conflict. This includes, for example, Ibrahim Biari, the Commander of Hamas’ Central Jabaliya Battalion. Biari was one of the leaders responsible for sending Hamas’ “Nukbha” terrorist operatives into Israel to carry out the murderous terrorism of 7th October.
The hope that we must hold onto is that this is a war to end all wars in Gaza and that, without it, there can be no possibility of peace and no future that is safe and secure for either Israel or a future Palestinian state. The war Israel is fighting is a war against an extremist, terrorist and Islamist ideology which seeks to destroy not only Israel (and the prospects for a Palestinian state living alongside it) but all freedom-loving democracies, everywhere. It is a war against a terrorist organisation that has the explicit aim to destroy the nation state of Israel and all Jewish people living there. It is a war against an ideology which believes that the more barbaric the violence it perpetrates against Israel, the weaker Israel’s enthusiasm for existing will be and the weaker the resolve of Israel’s allies will become. Yet Israel, unlike any other country faced with fighting this kind of evil, has implemented humanitarian pauses, agreed a temporary ceasefire, issued advance warning of its military movements and implemented evacuation corridors to limit casualties in a war where Hamas use civilians as shields to devastating effect. As the Spokesperson for the US National Security Council recently said of Israel’s efforts, “I don’t know that we [the United States of America] would do that”.
As we recap the horrors and reiterate the arguments of this conflict we must look forward to 2024 and ask if there is hope in the coming year. In short, there is cause for hope; if Israel is given the support to achieve its stated objectives then the conflict’s outcome will be the eradication of Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure and capability, its leadership weakened, fractured and unable to launch significant attacks on Israel for a period of time which allows the space and time for a post-Hamas discussion on future peace. The fact that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken out on what he thinks, or rather does not think a peace deal looks like, shows a significant shift since the beginning of the ground invasion. As Israel progresses through the south of Gaza, fighting to uproot Hamas strongholds in the city of Khan Yunis, we can only hope the resolve of the ‘West’ extends into 2024 to give Israel the chance of finishing the job of dismantling Hamas’s organisational capabilities once and for all – for if Israel can’t finish the job, then not only is there no hope for Palestinians and Israelis but we will leave an even more ominous future for us too.