Jonathan Zausmer

Gaza, the Unknowns

Last night on the 7th February, at yet another press conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came out with a determined and bullish statement. His view is that the war against Hamas in Gaza will continue until Hamas is totally defeated. With that, he states that the release of hostages will be concomitant with total victory. He discarded the latest suggestion by Hamas and its Qatar and Egyptian interlocutors, as completely unacceptable.

Once again one wonders what we actually know, and what we don’t know. This reminds us of the famous statement by Donald Rumsfeld:

 “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know. And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tends to be the difficult ones.”

Well, there are two conclusions here: Rumsfeld’s statement was both powerful and so, so, true. Yet in the end we witnessed where that situation takes you to: retreat without solutions.

Of course Gaza is not Afghanistan, yet the endgame is complex – far more complex, because Gaza is Palestinian, it is not overseas, and we cannot simply walk away as the situation ferments into chaos. But the big issue that simply cannot be addressed in the Netanyahu- Rumsfeld type bravado is that of the hostages. Netanyahu promises the nation that all the hostages will come home and that this is in parallel with a final victory The problem is twofold. We are left wondering whether total victory over a guerilla organization is possible at all? And if it is, what will the fate of the hostages be, as Israel completes its projected total victory?

In order to guarantee the hostages safety, the offer coming out of Hamas via Qatar is an end to conflict as a prerequisite, or at least a long ceasefire, during which time there will be a swap of Hamas prisoners in Israeli jails (including the Nukhba murderers of October 7th) for Israeli hostages, in a series of stages. Clearly, the latter rules out defeating and removing Hamas from Gaza. 

Of the Rumsfeld quandaries (which ultimately provides answers as to the US to abandoning its war in Afghanistan) we need to ask what exactly is the status of Israel’s campaign in Gaza, where the Hamas central command in Gaza is, and where the head of the serpent, Sinwar, is situated? These unknowns are yet to be revealed to the public which begs the question – does the army and the head of state have any clue and if they do, are they holding back on dispersing the info. All we hear is “we are winning” while soldiers’ bodies come back to Israel for burial on a daily basis. At best, we can walk away with a feeling of confidence as Netanyahu issues his Shakesperian soliloquy press conference. But we know very well, he is a player, truly in the Shakespearian sense – the performance is stage-worthy at The Globe in London. But where is the truth, we wonder? Are we really two steps away from victory? The uncomfortable worry is that this gung-ho optimism is to lull the public into feeling positive, and to give space to the army to take their plan – we hope there is one – forward. Well, we will all be relieved when Sinwar is captured, fled or dead, and when Hamas holds up the white flag.

And if you are wondering as to the “Unknown, unknown” here’s the answer (which of course turns it into a known unknown): Who rules Gaza the day after? Clearly there is no plan. If there was one, we would have known, as the U.S. asks this question daily, while politeness from our allies abroad has gone out the window. 

About the Author
Originally from South Africa, Jonathan made aliya in the seventies, and lived and worked on a kibbutz for several years. He has a graduate degree in business from Boston University and is a managing partner of an Israeli based business. He was a co-founder of the Forum Tzora peace action group and participates in the Geneva Initiative workshops. He is the author of the book “Valley of Heaven and Earth”.
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