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On choosing not to lose…

Tempers are high. Things are moving fast. This blogpost may be obsolete even before it’s published.

Clear thinking is required. It seems to be in short supply.

Here are some simple propositions:

  1. Israel, and Jews worldwide, are deeply in pain about the plight of our brothers and sisters being held hostage in Gaza – it is causing widespread anguish and keeps the wound of October 7th very raw. Israel is determined to do everything possible to bring them home.
  2. Israel is also determined to defeat Hamas in Gaza: to prevent October 7th from happening again; to allow the residents of the Gaza Envelope to return to their homes in peace; and to finally end the cycle of Gaza conflicts which have caused so much destruction and loss of life, both Palestinian and Israeli.
  3. Israel’s war is against the Iran Axis as a whole within which the fight against Hamas in Gaza is but one battle, however much it may be called ‘the war against Hamas’.
  4. Things could pan out in several ways – the choice is in Israel’s hands.
  • Israel could win the battle and yet lose the war, G-d forbid – this, I would argue, is the risk of the Rafah operation (and it is unclear whether the Rafah operation would actually win Israel the battle – previous experience suggests not).
  • It does not seem possible to win the battle (Rafah), and then go on to win the war against Iran if Israel is subject, G-d forbid, to arms embargo, economic boycott, diplomatic isolation, international arrest warrants, as seems probable, not to mention the risk, G-d forbid, that other regional powers may join the fight against Israel due to irresistible popular feeling.
  • Israel could lose the battle and then lose the war, G-d forbid – this I would argue, is the risk of the hostages deal, even the one that Israel accepted (and as David Horovitz powerfully argued, it is unclear whether the hostages deal would actually lead to the release of all that many hostages).
  • It does not seem possible to lose the battle (hostages deal) and then win the war, exposed G-d forbid to a Hamas not only resurgent in Gaza but also ascendant in Judea and Samaria (West Bank), leaving many more Israeli lives at risk, Hezbollah unbowed and emboldened in the north, with Iran and the rest of its axis providing support.

5. So, if you accept this logic, Israel must firstly not lose the battle against Hamas; and secondly, Israel must focus on actions that strengthen its position in the wider war.

6. Both the Rafah operation and the hostage deal speak to deep-rooted facets of Israel’s psychology – bloody-minded courageous defiance on the one hand; extraordinary compassion and self-sacrifice on the other. Israel, understandably, seeks one option or the other.

7. Israel feels badly wronged, totally let down, abandoned. However, as difficult as it is, with every ounce of regret, dismay, heartbreak and righteous anger, Israel must choose neither – it must choose not to lose.

Israel cannot afford to be weakened through the Rafah operation. And Israel cannot afford to be exposed to a resurgent Hamas and an emboldened Iranian axis as a result of the hostage deal.

8. What is the alternate path?

  • Israel must now set aside all remaining domestic divisions, truly ‘beyachad nenatzeach’, because Jewish unity is Israel’s real source of strength, it is what the Rock of Israel is waiting to see.
  • Israel must be responsive to its allies, even while bitterly disagreeing with them, because this is also how Israel strengthens its position in the wider war.
  • Israel must remember to be the good guy, even as its heart is breaking, and its anger grows, because this is who the Jewish people are, it is the right thing to do.
  • Finally, Israel must seize back the initiative through unilateral actions which put Israel back in control.
  • This starts with a unilateral pause in combat to focus on surging aid to Gaza – being the good guy, being responsive to allies.
  • But this also involves holding the current position in Gaza and squeezing Hamas as much as possible, their funding, their resources, their legitimacy, keeping them claustrophobic in their tunnels, looking over their shoulders, with Israel reserving the right to carry out targeted reprisals whenever Hamas emerges to shoot. It may not bring a clean victory, but it avoids a demoralizing defeat.
  • Israel must claim compliance with UNSCR 2728. While Israelis may have given up all hope and lost all trust in the international system, most other countries in the world still sees the UN as a source of legitimacy. While it was widely criticized, UNSCR 2728 did not demand release of the hostages with strings attached – it demanded the ‘immediate and unconditional’ release of hostages. Israel must use Hamas’ non-compliance to demand its allies apply every pressure on the likes of Qatar and Turkey for Hamas to fulfill its part, and bring the hostages home.
  • Finally, Israel must use the leverage it can gain from the unilateral pause to devise the best plan for ‘the day after’ that it can achieve. This is now what everyone wants and needs to see – including the IDF. PM Netanyahu’s position is understandable, but it is no longer viable. This day after must permanently exclude Hamas, must involve reforms to the Palestinian Authority and UNWRA, and must maintain Israel’s security control.
About the Author
Adam Gross is a strategist that specialises in solving complex problems in the international arena. Adam made aliyah with his family in 2019 to live in northern Israel.
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