Rafi Gassel

How to Defeat Hamas while Minimizing Casualties

Usually I like to think of myself as a peace advocate, some who usually follow my blog may find this entry a little different, here I will try and contemplate how to win a war. Recently in an interview US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said, ‘Hamas is an idea, a bad one, in order to defeat a bad idea you need to replace it with a better one.’ Ultimately there is no military solution to the idea of Hamas, which I will describe as the idea that the Palestinians can defeat the Israelis in a war in order to achieve their political goals, be that a state next to Israel or instead of it. The idea of a military solution ultimately needs to be replaced by the idea of a political horizon.

I will get back to what that political horizon could and should look like, but first we have more pressing issues. We cannot forget that besides having the idea that Palestinians could defeat Israel militarily on October the 7th 2023 Hamas acted on that bad idea. They acted on it in a way that shocked the world. As a result Israel cannot stay silent and if you ask me what the mood is in Israel I could describe it in one word, vengeful. Israel cannot and will not let this one slide. It could be that Hamas’s attack was more successful than they had anticipated, maybe they just expected to capture a few army posts and some hostages and return to Gaza but that is not clear to me. The organization that claims they love death like I love life may just be a bit suicidal. 

What is clear is that they planned it for a long time with the goal of acting on this plan. They may have chosen the data of October the 7th as a result of the opportunity of the music festival close to the Gaza border, but the fact that they were going to do it and going to do it around this autumn seems likely, people don’t just accidently start wars. I assume that they did in fact let Hezbollah and Iran know of their plans and asked them to participate in a full surprise two front attack, and I assume they were turned down. Hezbollah and Iran have too much to lose and not enough to gain to go to full war with Israel. But they probably did agree to provide diplomatic support and to keep part of the Israeli forces focused on the north but without going all in.

While Iran supplied the majority of the budget for the Hamas military wing, they supplied around ten times that budget to Hezbollah. Hezbollah is Iran’s primary threat against Israel and her western allies. The threat is that if Israel or the US attack the Iranian nuclear facilities they can attack Israel with Hezbollah. Hezbollah, while weaker than Israel, is ten times stronger than Hamas and the outcome of a full force conflict between the two would also be devastating for Israel as well. Ultimately Israel would be able to defeat Hezbollah in a war, with likely US assistance, but the damage to lives, economy and infrastructure would be massive and would do serious damage to Israel. This is Iran’s major card here and one that they could only use once, and they don’t want to use it now. They are saving it for when they want to break out as a nuclear power.

Hamas on the other hand was concerned that it would be sidelined by a deal between the Israelis, the Saudis, the Americans and that would also include the PA ultimately as the official representatives of the Palestinian people, at least the ones the west would prefer. This would be a ‘New Middle East’ without them and they would be stuck in a sliver of land by the sea with no connection to the outside world. This was their way of saying ‘don’t forget about us’, but not in a way that will make anyone feel sorry for them. With Iran and Hezbollah not willing to go all in with them, they figured they had nothing to lose. so Hamas decided that it had to play its card that it had been hiding from the world. So they did. They probably thought that it would get them attention and that it would earn them a seat at the negotiating table with Israel, the US, the Saudis and the PA. They wanted to be at the adults table.  

What Hamas didn’t realize is that because of the existential threat that Israel faces because of Iran and Hezbollah at their northern border. Israel can’t risk having this double threat of Hamas and Hezbollah any more. It is in Israel’s interest to make an example out of Hamas to show to Hezbollah ‘you see that, that will be you guys next if you mess with us as well’. But without the right justification Israel couldn’t just get away with attacking Hamas out of the blue. The Israeli public and the international community wouldn’t go along with this. 

They would need Hamas to do something really bad to ever get the chance to wipe them out once and for all. Hamas thought that they had Israel in their trap, but soon they found out that they had fallen deep into Israel’s trap, now Israel will demolish Hamas with the full support of the Israeli public and the western world and Israel will have secured its southern flank. 

Now as a peace activist I have many friends and people I know in Gaza and I see the things they post on social media and the images are hard to watch. What Israel is going to do to them is brutal and heartbreaking. But if I said that I think that Israel shouldn’t destroy Hamas I would be lying. I too am angry, I too live here and have my friends and family in Israel, we watched what Hamas did to us and we are sick to our stomachs about it. I have very mixed emotions here and what comforts me is that I know that there is no way I could convince Israelis not to go and fight Hamas after what was done.

What I can do is give my suggestions about how to do this quickly and efficiently and about how to move to the next stage, where instead of fighting the physical Hamas, we start moving towards fighting the idea of Hamas, because in the long run that is the fight that matters here.

In terms of combat, what Israel needs to do is to set reasonable goals here, getting bogged down in trying to conquer the entire Gaza strip in street to street fighting is going to take a very long time and be very costly in terms of lives, both of our soldiers and their civilians.

We need to stay focused on the task at hand, the main goals need to be:
1: rescuing the hostages
2: killing or capturing the political and military leaders of Hamas in Gaza

3: killing or capturing everyone who was involved with planning and executing the attack of October 7th.
4: securing all the weapons that Hamas has in its arsenal in Gaza

5: taking control of the entire tunnel system including in between Gaza and Egypt

6: regime change, installing the PA as the new security forces in Gaza with Israel backing them up

The biggest thing to avoid is basically sending in large columns of troops and tanks into the Gaza streets and taking over house by house, searching and security each house, block by block neighborhood by neighborhood in all of Gaza. The Israeli forces will in many instances be waiting for Hamas to attack them and then shooting back. Instead they need to be strategic and just be going after their stated goals, hunting down and capturing Hamas members, gathering intelligence and targeting their primary targets. 

There is one place that Israel can go in Gaza where the only people it will find are Hamas members and the hostages, the tunnels. What I would suggest is locating the tunnel entrances and then start digging some tunnels of our own. Instead of the small size single person tunnels like Hamas uses, we can dig large tunnels big enough to drive vehicles through. With the excavation technology that Israel has access to, like the excavators that they used to dig the Carmel tunnels or the new highway 16 in Jerusalem. These are much larger tunnels that can fit three lanes of traffic. 

With a large excavator or several they could probably dig a tunnel that size from the eastern border of Gaza to underneath Shifa Hospital in Gaza City within a few weeks, if they dug several of those tunnels at the same time within a few months Israel could have it’s own network of massive tunnels under Gaza and could certainly penetrate into the Hamas tunnel network from underground. They could put sensors to detect the Hamas tunnels and dig connecting tunnels and take over the Hamas tunnel network from underground. Then, when the Hamas members try to flee the tunnels, Israel can be waiting for the exiting Hamas members at the tunnel entrances in Gaza that they have already staked out. This would be a lot less messy than massively bombing the surface of Gaza and hitting a large number of civilians by accident. 

Speaking of the civilians in Gaza, I have an idea. There is one place that would be fully legal under international law Israel could relocate them to that would be safely outside the war zone, the West Bank. The West Bank, under international law is, as least as most of the world interprets it, is part of Palestine. In a war situation one side can relocate civilians to another location within their same country. They could move women and children, sick and elderly and even some men with careful vetting. This would give these people, many of whom have never seen this part of their own country, the chance to get some fresh mountain air and see a new world of possibilities.

By bringing them to the West Bank, it is a chance for them to interact with the PA, an organization that supposedly governs their country that they barely know. Maybe they will be able to imagine a world where they were allowed to visit the West Bank whenever they wanted without having to go to war with Israel, a world where they made peace with Israel. What is more, it will start making the PA a player here and perhaps even other regional actors will have an opportunity to get involved. 

By getting the PA involved in housing and caring for the Palestinian civilians possibly with the help of aid from the Arab world coming though Jordan. Israel can all at once engage the PA, Jordan, the Saudis and their partners in the UAE and Bahrain, this is exactly the regional cooperation that Hamas wanted to prevent. Then with the civilians largely out of the way, Israel can focus on their narrow goals of rescuing our hostages, hunting down the killers from the Simchat Torah Massacre and disarming Hamas.

Once Israel starts to close in on its goals they need to focus on a regime change here. The obvious choice is to put the PA in charge. What Gaza needs to secure it, once Hamas has been disabled, it is about 10,000 Palestinian police or security officers. These officers should be brought in simultaneously to the work that Israel is doing in terms of clearing out Hamas militants. Once an area is cleared it should go to the PA security forces. Perhaps bringing in a symbolic number of US troops to help with the handoff and assisting the PA in taking control could be useful.

In the long run we need to think about a new political horizon here, for Gaza but also for the entire area, Israel-Palestine, as a whole. To us Israeli Jews the ‘Land of Israel’ is everything between the river and the sea, including Israel and the Palestinian territories. But we have to accept the reality that the ‘State of Israel’ and the ‘Land of Israel’ are not and will not be the same things. Israel is not going to annex the West Bank or Gaza, not now, not ever. Israel is not going to withdraw its civilians from the West Bank. There is no way to get hundreds of thousands of people to leave their homes without them being under threat. 

No matter what way you draw the borders between Israel and the West Bank, you will have a State of Palestine with at least 150,000 if not 300,000 Israelis there. These people are not going to leave and the idea that the solution is to figure out how to get them to leave is toxic to resolving the conflict. It causes fights between various Jewish cultural groups in Israel that threaten to tear our society apart and it makes the idea of ‘peace’ into a dirty word. The State of Palestine will have a 5-10% Jewish population just like the State of Israel will have a 20-25% Arab population, that is just the way it will be, deal with it.

In addition, it is not likely that Israel will completely withdraw all of its troops from the State of Palestine, certainly not for a long time, certainly not after this. We need to start thinking of the State of Palestine as a type of protectorate of the State of Israel. The US has military bases in Qatar, Jordan, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and many more. No one would say that these countries are under the US occupation. I think that we need to start thinking of Palestine as being under our security umbrella and not under our occupation.

Instead of thinking about how to remove settlers and troops from Palestine we need to think about how to remove checkpoints, how to safely remove the security barrier between Israel and Palestine and how to end night raids and create a state of normality here. 

I think we need to recognize that the place we call the ‘Land of Israel’ and the place they call the ‘Land of Palestine’ will comprise two states. But these states will not be separate, they will not have a security barrier between them. There will be two states as a form of partnership, call it a confederation, a federation, a union, whatever you want to call it. But, in order for this to work it will not be a ‘us over here and them over there’ it will mean that Israel will need to be engaged in what is happening with Palestine, forever. 

These states will share a capital region, a currency, security, perhaps even a healthcare system. There will be a large number of Israelis in Palestine just like there will be a large number of Palestinian in Israel. This needs to be a new vision for Israel and Palestine, based on the two state solution, but not limited to earlier simplified notions of it. These two states will be joined at the hip and have to live like this together, forever.

About the Author
Rafi is a biotechnology professional living in Jerusalem with his wife and three children. Rafi immigrated to Israel from the USA. He now manages a biotechnology business in the field of genetic sequencing located in Jerusalem. Rafi is also a peace activist in the Israel-Palestine space promoting federalism and collective rights.
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