Alex Stein
Writer, translator and tour guide based in Jerusalem

The current government can’t win this war

Over the last few weeks, it has become increasingly clear that we can win the war or keep the current government, but we can’t have both. In hindsight, this should have been obvious, but for too long we have been blinded by the false promise of “unity,” even when the government has pursued no such thing.

Netanyhu has repeatedly said that he seeks “total victory” over Hamas, but this only happens in the movies, not the Middle East. What is feasible, though, is a scenario whereby Hamas are removed from power in Gaza and the surviving hostages are returned through a prisoner swap. Unfortunately, though, Israel’s wartime tactics make this less likely.

The decision at the start of the war to encourage Gaza’s civilians to seek refuge in the Rafah area created a problem of our own making, and despite rhetoric to the contrary still threatens to leave the remaining Hamas battalions tantalizingly out of reach. More glaringly obvious are the failures in northern Gaza. Israel mostly completed its military offensive in the north towards the end of last year, but in the absence of a credible plan for the day after, the vacuum has led to anarchy.

Having already divided north and south Gaza at the start of the war, and then having mostly completed operations in northern Gaza, Israel could have begun implementing a credible post-war plan (including the careful return of civilians from the south) with international support while turning its attention southwards.

Instead, the government, which is reliant on the far-right, hesitated. From the beginning of the war, it has struggled to ensure a consistent supply of humanitarian aid, leading to credible warnings of imminent famine in the north if the situation doesn’t improve. In January, the right-wing organization Nahala even held a conference entitled “Settlement Brings Security and Victory,” attended by several government figures, which called for renewed Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip.

Other voices on the right, for example Dr. Mordechai Kedar, have encouraged the fantasy that Israel can have Bantustans in Gaza ruled by local clans, with Israeli forces in between, an idea reminiscent of the failed ‘Village Leagues’ plan in the West Bank in the 1970s (based on figures used by the Institute for Defense Analyses, an estimated 42,000 to 84,000 soldiers would be required for Gaza’s post-war security needs). In the real world, however, the Saudis, the Emiratis and the Qataris will foot the bill for the reconstruction of Gaza, and they will not do so without a post-war vision that is at least somewhat palatable to them. Anyone who ignores these facts is deceiving their audience.

As for the hostages, it has been clear from the outset that they have not been the government’s priority. While the issue is a complex one, and Hamas have been obstinate negotiating partners, there has been a conspicuous lack of compassion and communication towards the hostages’ families throughout the war, culminating in the hostility from the police over the past few weeks. All of this was avoidable and is the inevitable result of the sectarian priorities of this government, despite their hollow claims of caring for the entire nation.

The Prussian military theorist Clausewitz wrote: “No one starts a war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” This is a universal principle; the atrocities of October 7 do not free us from the obligation to use our seichel. Despite the awful conditions in Gaza, there will be no uprising against Hamas. Only a compelling and realistic post-war vision will allow us to change the equation to our benefit.

The “unity” government is now stuck in the mud. Gantz, mindful of his position in the polls, is still unwilling to rock the boat, but the waves are rising all around, whether in the form of tensions with the Americans, the controversy over Haredi enlistment, or the increasing intensity of the anti-government protests. He may think he is doing a service to the country by stemming the far-right tide, but the longer the Netanyahu government survives, the more he becomes part of the problem. It is time to decide: do we want to emerge from this war on terms that meet our interests, or do we want this terrible government to survive?

About the Author
Alex Stein is a writer, translator, editor and tour guide based in Jerusalem. He is one of the founding editors of the Tel Aviv Review of Books. His Substack is