This article is not, would never be criticism. Israel stands united before its dead while its raped, degraded and tortured hostages languish in hellholes not so far from its borders.
If ‘never again’ – the supposedly universal humanitarian post-Holocaust message – was not already in the mind of every right-thinking person before the events of last Saturday, it should be now.
And yet the actions of Israel at this time are described instinctively by so much of the international media as ‘retaliatory attacks’. When you reflect on it for even a mere moment, this is a very wrong-headed description. It smacks of a sub-consciousness antisemitism grounded in deep-rooted Anti-Jewish stereotypes. It is a gross double standard compared with responses by other governments from all parts of the world to terror attacks which were in many cases much less severe than those of last weekend in Southern Israel.
Rather, the actions of Israel at this time are 100% about ‘never again’.
It has been over 30 years since Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad first unleashed genocidal mass murder against Israeli civilians. We have to remind ourselves exactly how bad this was. Between 1989 and 2008, a period of 19 years, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad carried out suicide bombings intentionally directed against civilian Israeli targets – buses, shopping malls, hotels, restaurants. Wikipedia lists 87 discrete terror attacks and Israel notes that for every success, many many more were prevented. So Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have form.
Over time, Israel itself – under pressure from the international community – seemed to forget about ‘never again’. Instead, it came to tolerate a Hamas government in Gaza. It pursued a strategy of containment (for which it still receives huge criticism for the ‘siege of Gaza’), even appeasement (the ‘Qatar handouts’), rather than destruction.
‘Never again’ is now fundamental.
And yet, as an armchair general, and a useless one at that (my Risk record is woeful), I would still like to offer an alternative, to put it out there while there’s still time, not least because, as much as the enemy is barbarous and pollutes the minds of its own children with an unremitting stream of vile anti-Jewish hatred from birth (not least thanks to those EU-funded textbooks and NGOs I mentioned a few days ago), it is still a tragedy when even one of those children suffers harm.
As Jews we fervently believe in redemption, it is one of our ‘callsigns’ so to speak, so we more than anyone must believe in redemption, also, even, especially, for the desperate children of Gaza.
So here it is – an alternative plan of action for Israel to achieve ‘Never Again’ while giving a better chance of protection for the children of Gaza.
Premise 1 – major sections of the international community have recognised last weekend’s attacks as being ‘worse than ISIS’.
Premise 2 – the atrocities of ISIS, and before it, Al Qaeda, provoked the formation of a broad-based international coalition to eradicate these movements from presenting any further threat.
Premise 3 – the US and the UK have already explicitly intervened militarily in this crisis by deploying vessels to the area while other powers like Germany have openly offered support.
Premise 4 – the response of some Arab countries has thankfully combined support for the Palestinian people with open condemnation of terror and the Hamas atrocities.
Premise 5 – if the message was not understood before, it is clearly understood now that what happened in Israel does not threaten only Israel. Many understand that Jews are – to use the common cliche – the ‘canaries in the coalmine’. If left unaddressed, this growing threat extends across Europe, the Middle East, North America and beyond. The weakness in parts of the international response reflects fear – not wanting to stand up at risk of inflaming domestic tensions, at risk of being targeted next. But for those countries that are openly backing Israel today, make no mistake – there are dozens more offering discrete words of support, and many more than that hoping for a decisive response.
Premise 6 – last weekend’s atrocity presents a window of legitimacy to decisively tackle the threat. Unlike the deeply divisive Iraq War, the evidence of the atrocity – of casus belli – is overwhelming, not least because the perpetrators proudly broadcast so much of what they did, and not least because they threaten more of the same. (In fact, as noted a few days ago, the co-founder of Hamas has openly stated the organisation’s mission goes beyond eradication of Jews and Israel to include all ‘treacherous Christians’).
Premise 7 – Israel itself, for a range of mostly very bad reasons, has a legitimacy deficit when it comes to the measures it takes to defend itself from terrorism. Unfortunately there are even some good people who sincerely see every Israeli action not through the lens of self-defense but rather through the lens of Palestinian oppression. It is an unfortunate truism that there is nothing that Israel can do alone which will receive adequate support.
Conclusion – Israel should form a strong international coalition to address the problem collectively, along the lines of the coalitions formed to combat Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The coalition should put the ball back in Hamas’ court to protect the lives of its own civilians. It can do this by giving the option of a negotiated outcome that releases all hostages, decommissions all weapons, and hands over for trial those involved in last week’s atrocities. Upon compliance and verification, the siege of Gaza would end, internationally-monitored reconstruction would take place, a non-aggression pact would be agreed to address fears that Palestinians may have about being left undefended, and free and open Palestinian elections would be held so the world can see where the Palestinian population as a whole stands – for terror or for peace. If the latter, G-d willing, then an end game becomes possible.
How could it play out?
Step One: Israel calls a unilateral ceasefire for 7 days.
Step Two – Part One: Allow in humanitarian aid after intrusive checking by Israel. Under the joint auspices of the UN, Red Cross, the US, UK, Germany, the UAE and Morocco, evacuate the children, elderly and disabled into secure facilities inside Gaza itself, as it seems Arab countries stand opposed to evacuation from Gaza altogether.
Step Two – Part Two: Israel together with the international community issue an ultimatum – Hamas and all other Gaza terrorist groups have 7 days. On day 1, release every captive, release every dead body being held. On day 3, assemble and delivery a complete mapping of all the terror tunnels, war rooms, control centers and any other military or dual use facilities in Gaza. On day 5, assemble and deliver to the border every gun, every rocket, every launcher, every drone, every piece of military equipment, and every radar, along with every computer and every cellphone in Gaza, fully intact. On day 7, assemble and deliver to the border, unarmed, every member of the military wings of Hamas, other terrorist groups, and every other person who crossed into Israel that fateful Saturday morning. On day 8, a joined Israel/international team would perform a complete inspection of Gaza to verify the complete handover.
Step Three – Compliance: If they fully comply with the demands, a guarantee of no further military activities in Gaza and safe passage to Gaza’s civilians thereafter along with carefully supervised reconstruction, and within a relatively short period thereafter, an end to Gaza’s siege with the full opening of its borders, subject to relevant security checks. Then hold a trial. Nuremberg 2023-style. Let the world see and understand the truth.
Step Three – Non Compliance: The coalition jointly takes the necessary action to eradicate Hamas as a military threat in the future.
There are several obvious but I believe misguided reasons why Israel would oppose this:
- Firstly, Israel does not want to give the impression it does not have capacity to do this itself. There is concern it would suggest a message of weakness that Israel’s security is dependent on others. This concern can be mitigated by placing the coalition under overall Israeli military command, subject to agreed rules of engagement, with somewhat token contributions by the coalition when compared with Afghanistan, Iraq and ISIS. For every other country in every other situation I can think of around the world, today and throughout history, mobilising powerful allies to stand by your side has always been a sign of strength, not weakness. We must not let the isolation of Israel, the reduction of which sits at the heart of government policy through the Abraham Accords, become a reality that Israel itself is driving.
- Secondly, Israel does not want its hands tied. It believes that other countries will be less committed to the mission objective and will be less willing to make the hard decisions that come with war. This can be mitigated through the same measures – by clear rules of engagement and Israel making the predominant contribution.
- Thirdly, Israel suspects that this process will end up with Israel being forced into a poor, insecure peace outcome. This can be mitigated by explicitly agreeing that there will be no conditions beyond agreement in principle that a just long-term stable secure peace is the preferred outcome for Israel and that any peace proposal will be judged strictly according to the future security needs of Israel.
- Fourthly, Israel does not want to delay. The Israeli people are calling for immediate action. The hostages await rescue. The terror groups are under pressure. The government is looking to be decisive after the failures to prevent the atrocity and restore deterrence. This alternate approach would indeed require a little patience. However, it could only work with an immediate declaration of commitment by international allies, and with enough details then quickly to come to satisfy the people of Israel. But I strongly believe, and the people of Israel must be convinced, this approach would give Israel a better chance not to just win this battle but also the underlying war, and delivery on the promise of ‘never again’. It would allow Israel to take even more unambiguous moral high ground and to make an even stronger contrast between its own actions and those of the terror groups. It would increase the window of opportunity to recover the hostages alive. It would give Israel the opportunity to achieve its war aims with the hope to avert or reduce the sacrifice it asks of its brave young soldiers. It would ease inter-communal tensions within Israel and reduce the rising hostility and antisemitism faced by Jewish communities worldwide. It can undercut the reasons for intervention by other terror groups and hostile powers and thus reduce the chances of a dangerous and unpredictable multi-front regional war. It would establish a strong precedent that would enhance Israel’s deterrence in the future. It would change the strategic equation in which hostile powers today see an Israel that stands alone as an Israel that can be eradicated through a ‘first strike’ action, an Israel that stands alone as one whose moment of greatest moral standing can be easily undermined by the simple, illogical but unfortunately very effective terror strategy of fighting from behind civilian shields. And that is the most likely basis for ‘never again’.