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No more room under the rug

The government playbook of ignoring our thorniest issues cannot work anymore. The thorns are too big, and too prickly.
Israeli Soldiers (picture from unsplash, Timon Studler)

In 2014, as Operation Protective Edge (Tzuk Eitan) was winding down, I found myself in a staging area chatting with a friend. We sat together, processing and reminiscing on our experience. At some point, he said something along the lines of “what the f*** did we accomplish here? We didn’t do jack s***.”

At the time, I was jarred. The idea that my sacrifice, and that of my friends, was worthless, was truly indigestible. Thankfully, I found a quick, easy, and in my opinion, the correct way of rationalizing the situation. I told myself what I have since told others, what I was told, what I believe to be true. That our mission in 2014 was to take out the cross-border tunnels, which we did. Maybe more work was needed, and constant vigilance was necessary, but the heavy lifting was behind us. 

This picture was crystal clear on October 7th. Same with October 8th, 9th, and so on. However, as the war drags on, six months later, I have a more difficult time answering the same question – what exactly are we doing here?

If I had the opportunity to ask the government one question, it would be this – what is your strategy? And please don’t use the words “total victory.” Unless defined, that phrase is meaningless. It also seems increasingly used to sell us an illusion, the fiction that victory is right around the corner. The Israeli people, who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice so much, deserve more than this insult to our intelligence. 

The Iron Swords War has unquestionably been a tactical victory for Israel. Estimates put the number of neutralized terrorists at around 13,000, including over one hundred mid-and-senior level Hamas commanders. Three-quarters of Hamas’s battalions have been dismantled, and its combat capabilities have been severely degraded. Supposedly, this will make Israelis, especially those living near Gaza, safer over time. 

However, Israel’s strategic position over the next five, ten, twenty years, is looking grim. 

First and foremost, Iran has long been a nuclear threshold state. The only thing keeping it from acquiring a nuclear weapon at any time is a decision by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khameini, to do so. This dangerous strategic reality is arguably the only truly existential threat Israel faces, yet in the context of the war in Gaza, Israel, the United States, and the international community have far less room and will to maneuver, especially militarily, should Iran choose to “break out” towards a nuclear weapon (assuming such a move would even be discovered in time). 

Then there is the threat on Israel’s northern border. Again, Israel has scored major tactical successes, with nearly 300 Hezbollah operatives killed, more than 30 times the number of Israelis who have died. However, while Israel is taking advantage of the current escalation to score wins against its Northern foe, thousands of Israeli citizens are unable to return home – until when, who knows? And Israel’s leaders do not appear to even be beginning to attempt and answer this question. Instead they seem to be perpetuating an untenable status quo, in which both sides are somewhat deterred but no one is safe. That is not a strategy, it’s treading water.

In Gaza, Israel always seems on the verge of “finishing the job” and of “achieving total victory”. And therein lies the problem. What exactly does that mean? What is the future, further down the line, that the government envisions? Is the dismantling of the remaining 6 Hamas battalions enough, or do we need to blow up every single piece of military infrastructure? Is sporadic rocket fire okay if the enemy lacks the means to carry out another October 7th? Who will provide stability inside Gaza? Who will provide services to its residents? If until now the government has said not the Palestinian Authority, not Hamas, and not Israel – then who is left? Finally, why is this issue not being addressed with any seriousness, given the massive implications it has on whether this whole war effort is to be considered a success (or not)? 

Managing all of these issues is contingent on a smooth partnership and security relationship with the United States. Yet for years, Israel’s leadership has been exacerbating tensions between the two countries, making what was previously consensus an increasingly partisan issue. One could almost be mistaken for thinking this was done on purpose.

Finally, there are the myriad socioeconomic issues the government has been neglecting. This includes everything from the Haredi draft (which is reaching a breaking point as we speak), to the shambolic state of Israel’s education system, the lack of beds in Israeli hospitals, the traffic jams everywhere (costing the Israeli economy billions of shekels annually), the deteriorating economic outlook (closely related to many other ignored sociological challenges, all made worse by the ongoing war) – the list goes on. Some of these issues have been around for decades, some only for a few years – but all of them have major ramifications for the future of Israel’s prosperity. And all of them are being brushed under the rug in the vain hope they won’t poke through the tapestry. 

What does strategic victory look like?

The military strategist Carl von Clausewitz famously said that “war is a continuation of politics by other means.” The war Israel is conducting is indeed one of necessity, one which was forced upon it under the most devastating circumstances. The war aims of dismantling Hamas and preventing another massacre from happening are just. However, all wars eventually need to reach some sort of political outcome if they are to achieve a stable, better future. 

What might that look like? A real strategic victory would be Israel continuing to normalize ties and integrate with the Arab world in the face of Iran’s “ring of fire”. However, the “conceptzia” that this can happen while ignoring the Palestinian issue was smashed to bits on October 7th. Clearly, something must be done on that front, and many “solutions” have been offered. Some are unfeasible, some are immoral, and all have pitfalls. It is an impossible dilemma, but one that Israel’s leaders must tackle head-on. That is the meaning of leadership. To refuse to even acknowledge this predicament, and instead peddle empty platitudes, is a dereliction of duty of the highest order and a grievous violation of Israelis’ trust. 

If the tragedy of October 7th has taught us anything, it is encapsulated in the famous Hebrew dictum, “‘what was is not what will be.” The same government playbook of brushing our thorniest issues under the rug simply cannot work anymore. The thorns are too big and too prickly. Yet that is exactly what the government, and the prime minister in particular, seem intent on doing, leaving future generations to suffer from the metastasized monster that eventually emerges from under that rug. Instead, we need to jump head-first into the thicket. Yes, that will be painful, but burying our heads in the sand will be far worse. Yes, that involves answering tough questions, but the alternative of not even bothering to ask those questions in the first place, let alone trying to do something about them, is a grave, potentially fatal error.

About the Author
Originally from the United States, Natan came to Israel in 2010. He served in the IDF, and has worked in a variety of analytical positions, which is his attempt to contribute to the country that he loves. He has an insatiable curiosity, and he enjoys passionate but civil discourse. He is a devoted husband and father, and everything he does is for them. Follow him at @KohnNatan.
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