“How can we minimize the overall number of innocent deaths in this conflict on both sides, long term?”
In the past couple of weeks, we have witnessed world leaders who, just more than a month ago, supported Israel’s right to defend itself, demanding that Israel conduct a ceasefire. As President Emmanuel Macron stated, he both “unequivocally” supports Israel’s right to defend itself and calls for Israel to “stop killing Gaza’s women and babies.”
Such populistic anti-logic is commonplace amongst academics and intellectuals in the West: I don’t know another way to do it, but this is not the way. After seeing the devastation in Gaza, they have seemingly forgotten the reason for this war: The fact that Hamas has started it, and the fact that Hamas can end it tomorrow by surrendering.
When it comes to this conflict, we need to make our decisions based on a simple question: How can we minimize the overall number of innocent deaths on both sides, long term? There seems to be a misunderstanding that, because the war causes civilian casualties, Israel should unilaterally decide to end it. Proponents of this argument seem to imply that some wars are moral while others are not—and that the latter must immediately cease. But this is a false dichotomy: I firmly believe that all wars are immoral, because all wars cause death and suffering; yet that does not mean some are not necessary. These critics argue that because Israel has superior military power, it needs to respond with extreme gentleness. And yet, while some wars are waged by police states to consolidate their power, others are heaved upon nations from brutal necessity. To understand this, let us imagine what would have happened if Israel did not engage in the war at all.
Suppose that Israel committed to only defending its land borders against invasion while ignoring its airspace, where rockets travel—and refrained from attacking Hamas in Gaza. In this case, Hamas would continue launching thousands of rockets into Israel daily. Although Iron Dome, Israel’s blockbuster short-range interception system, would divert most of these, Hamas has learned that large barrages compressed into minutes do overwhelm the system—especially in towns close to Gaza, where rockets take about 15 seconds to hit. Because in this scenario, Israel is abstaining from killing even a single innocent civilian, it cannot attack rocket launchers or ammunition factories—many of which are located inside schools, and in the basements of mosques and hospitals. Thus, the Israelis shall sit in Zen-like contemplation as they are being attacked. In this meditation, they would have to accept the changing nature of reality: Rockets come, rockets go. Every time its mind strayed to thoughts of utilizing its expensive air force, it would remain firmly determined: I will not kill even a single innocent civilian. For months on end, alarms in Israel would be set off several times per day. People would stop their daily activities, hurry to the bomb shelters, and live in fear; some homes would be hit; some people would die. Eventually, of course, Hamas would reduce its launch volume as it depleted its stored ammunition. First, the rockets would wane, and then would come the demands: Release all operatives held in prisons in Israel in exchange for all your hostages, or we will begin to execute them. (Israel currently has about 4,500 Palestinian militants in high-security prisons.)
In 2006, a small Hamas crew emerged from an offensive tunnel into Israeli territory and attacked a tank with an RPG. In the haze and confusion of this pre-dawn morning, the commander ordered that everyone disembark, even though the tank remained operational. He and another soldier were gunned down by the militants. After a spray grenade was thrown into the tank, one crewman, Gilad Shalit, disembarked without his weapon and was kidnapped into Gaza. Five years later, after massive political backlash to release Shalit in a deal (rather than a high-risk rescue mission), Shalit was exchanged in a historic agreement where Hamas successfully negotiated for the release of 1,027 Palestinian criminals from Israeli prisons. Many of them had been sentenced to life for murder, as well as for participating in critical roles involving planning terror attacks, engineering rockets, and doing other dirty work.
One of these prisoners was Yahya Sinwar. Sinwar, who was captured by Israeli security in 1989, has admitted that he personally tortured and buried alive Palestinians who he suspected had cooperated with Israeli security—and under his command, many similar crimes have been committed. Charismatic and cruel, he was feared and revered by his fellow inmates, who came to call him “The Butcher of Khan Yunis.” Sinwar, who received surgery to remove a brain tumor in the Israeli prison, is the current leader of Hamas in Gaza; he is responsible for planning and coordinating the bloodbath on October 7th. When terrorists are released from prison, they tend to want to continue terrorizing. What would happen if Israel released 4,500 such individuals into Gaza? How many rockets would become precision-guided? How many more Israelis would be killed in future massacres—how many more Palestinians would be killed in future conflicts?
The math is crude but simple. Israel must eliminate Hamas. That means it needs to kill all members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, its military wing, or wait for them to surrender. If it fails to do so, Hamas will continue to grow—and will eventually develop capabilities to launch precision-guided missiles which can evade Israeli air-defense systems, as did its Iran-backed ally, Hezbollah, the de-facto ruler in Lebanon and one of the deadliest non-army militia groups in the world. If Hamas got its hands on such missiles, which it eventually will if it continues to have access to firepower, there is no reason to think it would not want to participate in flattening out skyscrapers in Tel Aviv. After all, its charter states that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.” Though Israelis have always known that Hamas meant business, it seems like the world is only now starting to see. Hamas calls for establishing a Jihadist Islamic state on Israel’s ruins—and not in coexistence with it. As U.S. congresswoman Rashida Tlaib and some pro-Palestinian protestors have put it, their goal is, genocidally, to extend “From the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea.”
We are not waging a moral war, because moral wars are a mirage. But we are waging an existential one. When terrorist groups backed by nation-states like Iran have specific strategic objectives to annihilate Israel as a sovereign state and a political entity—one bill presented to Iran’s parliament called to “destroy” Israel by 2041—there is no other choice but to act. We have seen some of what Hamas is capable of; we would rather not see what they will be capable of if we do not stop them now. No matter how great the cost may be right now, the future cost of inaction will be much greater for both Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Since October 7th, more than 600 of the Hamas men who committed the massacre have been captured and interrogated by Israeli security, and they have produced an enormous amount of high-quality data regarding Hamas’s infrastructure in Gaza, information the Israeli forces are actively utilizing in the field. If the fighting ceased for even two or three days, that would be enough time for Hamas to alter the operational picture the Israelis have worked so hard to gather. In other words, much of what they know about critical Hamas infrastructure—rocket storage facilities, the location of hostages and commanders on the field—could change, and Israeli forces would have to work on the ground for longer as they detect and destroy this infrastructure. Thus, the war would become longer and more complex, inflicting more casualties on both sides.
Understandably, those who call for a ceasefire want to make the lives of Palestinian civilians better, which is vitally important. But a ceasefire would be counterproductive. That is why Israel needs to act on two fronts. On the one hand, it must continue supporting innocent Palestinian civilians by erecting field hospitals and continuing to guard humanitarian corridors. And yet, it must do so without agreeing to a ceasefire. As long as Israel does not eliminate Hamas, it will forever remain at an existential threat. If you care about innocent human lives, rather than calling on Israel to stop—call on Hamas to surrender.