As of the time of this writing, Israel and the coalition of Palestinian terrorist groups under the leadership of Hamas (Hamas for short) have resumed fighting following a week-long truce which Hamas broke by firing rockets into Israel.
There is now considerable concern that various foreign governments and organizations will pressure the Israeli government into accepting a formal cease fire that will leave Hamas intact and in control of at least part of the Gaza Strip.
And if the Israeli government hangs fire and continues its operations, the already full-blown humanitarian crisis and deaths of non-combatant Gazans will continue.
Both choices are awful. Which is, of course, what Hamas wants.
A brief reminder how we got here:
On October 7, 2023, Hamas terrorists perpetrates unspeakable and unfathomable outrages against the Israeli people, murdering well over 1000, kidnapping over 200, causing the mass destruction of dozens of towns and the displacement of what is probably close to 200,000 residents of these towns, thus leaving the Israeli government has no choice but to fully engage militarily against Hamas even though Hamas has, as expected, maximized the exposure of the Gaza population and, in effect shoved Gazans into the middle of the cross-fire.
Immediately, bogus claims that the Israeli forces (the IDF) were violating international law by engaging in disproportionate retaliation, or collective punishment, or indiscriminate blanket-bombings of a civilian population-none of which is true.
While certainly Israel would be morally justified retaliating for thousands of Israelis who were killed, kidnapped or whose lives were ruined by the orgy of death and destruction the Palestinian terrorists visited upon the country, that is not what the IDF is doing in Gaza—it is fighting a desperate war for Israel’s very survival. Not since 1948 when during the first few weeks of its existence and the nascent IDF consisted only of poorly armed, poorly trained underground fighters, has an Arab armed force penetrated so deeply into Israel proper, meaning Israeli territory inside the “Green Line” (Israel’s borders after its War of Independence). Likewise, not since 1948 have so many Israeli non-combatants been killed. And not even in 1948 were so many massacred in a single day or with such brutality.
So its hardly surprising that most Israelis fully support the Government’s stated goal of eradicating Hamas down to its roots. Tragically, Hamas sees to it that ordinary Gazans, especially children and the most vulnerable, are in harm’s way when the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strikes back.
Hamas successfully maneuvered Israel into an all out engagement in Gaza, something previous Israeli governments had avoided, even though indiscriminately rocketing Israeli towns, killing unarmed civilians, destroying millions of dollars’ worth of property and generally terrorizing the population provided ample justification for Israel to deliver a more crippling blow to the terrorist groups, even at the cost of heavy civilian casualties.
While no one knows either how many Gazans total have been killed in Israeli strikes or, of these, how many were non-combatants, every loss of innocent life is a terrible tragedy, especially when the victims are children.
The IDF has taken great pains to minimize the “collateral damage”—the military euphemism for civilian deaths. According to Major (Res) Elliot Chodoff, who served until recently in the Gaza Division IDF headquarters, the IDF took numerous actions to minimize non-combatant deaths, often at the cost of placing IDF soldiers at a higher risk.
Major Chodoff pointed out that, more than 2 weeks before the IDF opened ground operations inside Gaza, it warned the residents of Northern Gaza to move to the south and opened up an evacuation corridor–the warnings were delivered publicly, flyers were dropped, and even after the ground fighting began, IDF operatives even went so as to call individuals to urge them to relocate to the south. However, Hamas attempted the thwart the efforts of Gazans to escape the combat zones, even murdering them as they moved along the main roads.
As for combat methods, the IDF uses precision armaments intend to limit the area of destruction, and “static targets” (e.g. buildings housing arms caches) were “cross verified” (meaning verification from more than one source) before being attacked.
Many Western media outlets reported at face value the numbers it received directly from Hamas. Needless to say, these numbers are completely unreliable and undoubtedly grossly exaggerated. Despite the exaggeration, Major Chodoff points out even accepting the Hamas count at face value, the non-combatant casualty rate would still be less than 2 non-combatants for every combatant. Moreover, Major Chodoff added that the 2-1 ratio is much lower than what the US military considers “acceptable” in similar combat scenarios. (In its combat operations over 20 years, the US military killed no less than 22,000 non-combatants in Afghanistan according to several sources, up to nearly 50,000 according to one source, 40% of whom were children according to another).
None of the foregoing is meant to minimize the horror and unspeakable tragedy of the Gaza death toll. Despites the IDFs best efforts to avoid “collateral damage” non-combatant casualties are unavoidable given the nature of urban warfare, coupled with Hamas policy of exposing the non-combatant population to the greatest extent possible—in effect, using the people on whose behalf Hamas was supposed fighting for not just as human shields but actual cannon fodder.
Israel’s critics are ignoring or glossing over the key fact regarding the terrible and tragic death of Gazans of all ages, the moral responsibility lies with Hamas, not Israel. The blood of all of the victims are on the hands of Yahya Sinwar, the other Hamas commanders and all of the “foot soldiers”-i.e the terrorists who hide behind baby carriages and head scarves.
Ignoring these salient and readily available facts, mobs abroad accuse Israel of genocide and the pressure mounts on Israel as even political leaders, most notably the President of France, are turning against Israel despite earlier pronouncements of support.
This is exactly the reaction Hamas wanted.
So what can Israel do? It cannot halt its campaign until the Hamas is eradicated but how does it get a stronger message out that the IDF is only targeting the Hamas and the blood of civilians are on the Hamas’s hands?
One solution is to resort to an older military-political tactic: Officially call for the immediate and unconditional surrender of all Hamas personnel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu could state that if the Hamas first releases all of the remaining hostages followed immediately by the unconditional surrender of the entire Hamas organization. Upon those two events happening, the IDF would cease all military operations and transition immediately to providing humanitarian assistance to the residents of Gaza.
This not a novel idea. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant already stated, more than once that the Hamas terrorists have 2 options: to die or surrender unconditionally. As he put it “There is no third option.”
Additionally, IDF Spokesperson on October 19, Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus answered a reporter who asked whether a cease fire should be considered to prevent further loss of Palestinian lives by stating “The best and swiftest way to prevent loss of life in Gaza would be for . . .Hamas to surrender unconditionally and release our hostages immediately.”
Finally, just last Friday (December 1, 2023) as the fighting resumed, IDF Lt. Col. Peter Lerner stated on CNN that Hamas could unconditionally surrender and the fighting would not need to resume.
Various private persons have expressed the same view. The Wall Street Journal published a powerful article by Jerome Marcus urging the Netanyahu government to announce clearly and specifically that Hamas surrender unconditionally.https://www.wsj.com/articles/israel-needs-unconditional-surrender-from-hamas-c56d725d.
But these voices are not being heard, the West continues to ignore this simple solution and no calls are forthcoming from opinion-makers for Hamas to immediately end all hostilities by surrendering.
A clear and unequivocal public statement from the Prime Minister himself is needed– a statement that will, as Mr. Marcus puts it, “will promote the legitimacy of Israel’s actions and help it garner support for the steps it must take to secure peace.”
Will Hamas accept the offer? Highly unlikely, to say the least. For one thing they know they will face having to answer for their atrocities before the bar of justice, which is in fact what will hopefully happen to the dozens of Hamas prisoners already in Israeli custody and any others whom the IDF manages to take alive.
Nevertheless, such a declaration should have the effect of shifting the pressure off of Israel somewhat over to governments that have some influence on the Hamas and other governments -i.e. the US government—that have influence on the governments that can pressure the Hamas to accept the surrender offer.
The declaration would also help Israel’s friends—politicians, journalists, academics and others—defend Israel’s determination to bring its campaign of eradication of the Hamas to a successful conclusion. The international community can and should pressure those governments and entities to, in turn, attempt to pressure the Hamas leadership to end this awful war, something all Israelis, if not all Palestinians, would like to see as soon as possible.
Part of Israel’s PR problem is that there does not to be a clear exit-ramp that would allow for a cessation of hostilities that are producing the images and information that are fueling anti-Israel expressions, however misguided and unfair those expressions may be. While the hard-core Israel haters will never be silenced at least some of the critics will be forced to respond to Israel’s justifiable claim that the Hamas can stop all of the carnage immediately—by complete and unconditional surrender simultaneously with release of the hostages.