Since the murderous attack by Hamas on October 7th, the Israeli government has reiterated the three goals of the war: the destruction of Hamas, the return of the hostages, and the creation of a significantly improved security reality for the Israeli residents at the kibbutzim and villages on the border with Gaza.
These three goals pose various challenges. Firstly, there is ambiguity regarding the practical meaning of “the destruction of Hamas.” Does it mean the elimination of all its operatives or merely neutralizing its control and leadership capabilities? Are these goals achievable at all, and what is the time frame required to fulfill them?
Similar questions arise regarding the change in the security reality in the border communities: what level of security would be considered sufficient for the recurrence of similar massacre events and to allow the residents on the border to go back to their homes?
These questions become even more apparent considering the Israeli public sentiment that perceives a weakening momentum in the war.
Given all these, it is worth asking whether there is another purpose for the war that is indeed achievable, one that might also advance the other mentioned goals.
Upon closer examination, it seems that the answer may primarily be this one: deterrence.
Although Israel does not explicitly declare it and makes noticeable efforts to argue the opposite, it is quite clear that the conduct of the war so far and its outcomes are intended to leave a lasting impression on the Palestinians, Hezbollah, and other enemies of Israel.
Considering the tiny size of Israel and its population, its vulnerability, and the number of fronts and threats it is facing, winning a war is not enough. Military victories, even if achieved, come at almost unbearable costs to the Israeli population.
Therefore, the required strategy must focus on preventing war rather than winning it. Indeed, for over a decade, Israel has relied on the power of deterrence, reinforcing, and strengthening it. In this regard, some argue that the events of October 7th demonstrated the failure of the deterrence policy, as Hamas proved itself not to be deterred by Israel.
However, this argument may be wrong.
What was likely proven was that the strength of deterrence and its effectiveness before October 7th was not enough to prevent an attack of this nature. This is what the current war aims to rectify and rebuild.
According to various reports, to this day, since October 7th, about 8,500 Hamas terrorists have been killed, 1.9 out of 2.2 million residents of Gaza were displaced from their homes. Entire neighborhoods were erased, buildings were leveled to the ground, and thousands died or were injured. The destruction is evident everywhere, and with the arrival of winter, there are fears of epidemics, disease, and hunger. The suffering the population of Gaza is experiencing now is almost unprecedented.
Israeli media may downplay the severity of the situation, but international and certainly Arab media surely do not. The continuous display on Arab television screens 24/7 undoubtedly leaves the viewer with anger and deep frustration. But, more importantly, from Israel’s strategic point of view, it instills deterrence.
The impression is that Israel “completely lost it.” Its leaders, officers, and army are on a revenge spree without limits. Moreover, the Israeli prime minister keeps stating that its government has no intention to stop, and no international pressure will prevent it from carrying out its mission.
From the Israeli government’s perspective, the declared goals of the war may mainly serve as a cover for one ultimate goal, which is simply deterrence. Once one realizes this, the Israeli strategy of the war becomes much more apparent.