Jim Shalom
A semi-retired physician

The Gaza Hamas Fiasco

Why did the Hamas attack happen? Why did it occur on Saturday, October 7? Why were Israeli intelligence and the government caught completely off guard? Why does Israel enjoy strong international support initially for its predicament? What about the suffering and the evacuation of the Palestinians in Gaza in the wake of Israeli retaliation? I will delve into these questions.

Hamas serves as the governing authority in Gaza. Since its inception, rather than pursuing a negotiated two-state solution or enhancing the quality of life for Gaza residents, their stated objective has been the destruction of Israel. Hamas has consistently targeted cities and civilians deliberately. Even the complete withdrawal of Jewish settlements from Gaza in 2005, coupled with Israel’s continuing supply of oil and concrete, did not alter Hamas’s core agenda.

The recent acts of violence by Hamas, including the killing of women, children, babies, the elderly, and disfigurement of the victims’ bodies reflect the brutal nature of these terrorist actions. The Hamas government is characterized by ruthlessness, intolerance of any form of opposition, even from within its own ranks, suppression of women’s rights, and harboring deep-seated animosity toward the West. It’s worth noting that the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) in the West Bank does not recognize the authority of Hamas in Gaza.

Justifying Hamas actions by blaming Israel for the poor economic situation of Gaza is a spurious argument conveniently used by uninformed people and Jew haters. Israel has no vested interest in making life difficult for the Gaza population. The better off Gaza people are, the less likely they are to support conflict and the more likely it is that Israel will flourish too.

The Hamas attack was a manifestation of their unwavering determination to destroy Israel. Inaccurately, the Israeli government and military had concluded that the threat of an attack was low. This miscalculation, combined with Hamas’s adeptness at concealing their preparations, caught Israel off guard. Furthermore, Israel underestimated the intensity of Hamas’s hostility. When Hamas is set on destruction rather than constructive goals, they have proven to be a formidable adversary.

In contrast to past widespread support for Hamas within the Arab and Muslim world, this time support has been, at best, lukewarm for several reasons. Firstly, in recent decades, the Arab world has shifted away from viewing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as entirely one-sided against Israel. Many now recognize that the tyrannical and corrupt leadership in both Gaza and the West Bank is a fundamental part of the problem. Secondly, the nations that border Israel are reluctant to face the wrath of Israel’s military. Thirdly, even though some in the Arab world may sympathize with the Palestinian cause, many are repulsed by the atrocities committed by Hamas. The uninvolved liberal minded countries in the world, too, for the most part, are sympathetic to Israel now. The international support that Israel has garnered since the Hamas attack is not directed towards the government of Israel, which has faced ongoing international criticism but to the people of Israel sympathizing with the atrocities they experienced.

However, in its efforts to retaliate, even if justifiably, Israel is already facing criticism. While no one wishes to witness widespread civilian destruction, nor mass movement of the Gaza population, it’s crucial for critics to consider the situation in terms of realistic alternatives rather than striving for an unattainable utopia. Israel is confronted with the challenge of preventing Hamas’s terrorist attacks and missile launches, which, as of the writing of this piece, continue. It’s fair to claim that no one would tolerate repeated missile attacks deliberately targeting cities like New York or Paris or terrorists launching multiple deadly rampages in London. Moreover, Hamas cynically exploits Israel’s commitment to minimizing civilian casualties and consequently Hamas uses Gaza residents as human shields. Their military command center for example, is located beneath the Al Shifa hospital, the main medical complex, fully aware that Israel would hesitate to strike a hospital. Assault tunnels run beneath Gaza houses, and missiles are stored in civilian homes. Over the years, Hamas has even utilized UNWRA (United Nations Relief and Work Agency) facilities, such as schools, and constructed assault tunnels underneath. Given the current circumstances, Israel has no choice but to exercise less restraint. This is not a trivial border dispute akin to the US and Canada but rather an existential matter of survival.

For those concerned about the well-being of Gaza residents, there is a straightforward path to immediately preventing further civilian casualties and population movement. If the terrorists cease their bombing of Israel, declare an end to attacks on our cities, release hostages and bodies, and unconditionally surrender, there would be no reason for Israel to inflict civilian harm or disruption in pursuit of the terrorists. Unlike Hamas, prisoners captured by Israel are treated in accordance with international protocols as prisoners of war. Those who support the Palestinian cause and have global influence can apply pressure on countries like Turkey, Qatar, Syria, and Iran to refrain from providing military, financial, and political support to Hamas. The Hamas leadership should be replaced with an internationally supervised Gaza government that is committed to improving the lives of Gaza’s population, rather than pursuing the destruction of Israel.

It doesn’t have to be this way. One can easily observe the stark contrast in the quality of life between Israeli Arabs, West Bank residents, and Gazans. Israeli Arabs not only enjoy higher economic standards but also benefit from political and religious freedoms, which are unparalleled in most Arab countries. The average life expectancy in the Arab world is 70.8 years while for Arabs in Israel it is 82 years, demonstrating that the problems Palestinians face in Palestinian ruled entities can often be attributed to the inadequate quality of Palestinian leadership and not Israel.

In analyzing the attack and its timing, several factors should be considered. Firstly, the timeline for analysis of the Hamas attack can go back as far as 2015 when the now Finance Minister Smotrich publicly referred to Hamas as an asset for Israel, while Netanyahu supported allowing Qatari funds to reach Hamas as early as 2019. Therefore, the underestimation of Hamas’s intentions has deep roots on Israel’s right side of the political spectrum. Secondly, the timing, was chosen in part to interfere with the American initiated normalization and peace process between Saudi Arabia and Israel. After all, Hamas is not in favor of peace in the Middle East and will do what it can to undermine any peace process. Thirdly, the October 7 date was chosen to take advantage of both the Sabbath and a Jewish holiday when security measures were much less stringent. Finally, Hamas perceived the Israeli population as weak and vulnerable due to the divisive flawed nature of our present government.

Looking into Israeli internal issues, the Gaza invasion is one of many manifestations of the dysfunctionality and culpability of the Netanyahu government. Its priorities do not align with the wellbeing of the majority of Israelis. Under the current administration, cronyism and its associated corruption prevail, with ministers often prioritizing ideology over logic, merit, and factual analysis. The interests and demands of coalition parties unfortunately have often overshadowed the well-being of the nation. The persistent obsessive pursuit of what was labeled as “judicial reform” was, in reality, a multifaceted policy designed to undermine the authority of the courts. Its aim was to grant the government more latitude to act in accordance with its own agenda while also aiming to shield Netanyahu from effective prosecution. The policies implemented across various ministries, including foreign affairs, finance, education, and the military, have proven to be disastrous. The excessively hardline stance against Palestinian terrorism, spearheaded by Internal Security Minister Ben Gvir against Palestinians, many of whom are laws abiding, along with an indulgent approach to Israeli right-wing extremism has backfired, resulting in more casualties among settlers than in previous times.

While most protests were initiated by the public, a prophetic telling incident took place in the Knesset in July when opposition lawmaker Orit Farkash-Hacohen broke into tears at the Knesset rostrum, accusing the coalition of ruining Israel. Given the government’s overall dysfunction, the underestimation and ensuing debacle in Gaza should not have come as a surprise. One could conclude that the writing was on the wall for an ensuing catastrophe of one sort or another.

Netanyahu, along with government supporters, has accused the protesters of weakening the country in the face of its enemies. They are wrong. They are looking at the situation upside down. In reality, it is the government’s persistent pursuit of dangerous, divisive and detrimental policies that has eroded Israel’s strength.

The government’s initial response to the protests was to downplay the significance and determination of the demonstrators, then delegitimize the opposition by labeling them as anarchists and leftists, rather than engaging in a substantive public debate on the policies in question. There has been a conspicuous absence of critical questioning regarding their objectives, even though many protesters are well-established and productive individuals, such as pilots and high-tech professionals, who were participating in protests for the first time in their lives.

The government’s response can be succinctly summarized as, “We won the election, and therefore we can act as we please.” It is worth noting that many of these same protesters were among the first responders during the Gaza conflict, acting before the organized military response arrived.

The military, especially the intelligence sector, will eventually be held accountable for their actions. However, it’s essential to recognize that government role leading to this colossal failure. For instance, the decision to transfer military units from Gaza to the West Bank appears to have been a misguided political maneuver aimed at appeasing West Bank settlers, without a thorough risk assessment for the communities around the Gaza Strip. Consequently, when Hamas breached the fence, there were hardly any military forces available to confront the threat.

In due course, Defense Minister Gallant will also have to be accountable for events that transpired. While not diminishing his responsibility, it’s important to acknowledge that the ongoing political turmoil since the government assumed power has diverted his attention and prevented him from fully dedicating himself to the numerous complex security requirements of the nation.

Israel will need more than hitting back the Hamas hard to extricate itself from this quagmire. Ultimately, both military and political policies must undergo transformation. Some of these changes have already commenced. The military has made a turnabout, and we are slowly seeing positive results of their actions. The Hamas are being pummeled and are less and less effective. Initial steps towards a political-military shift have been taken. The political inclusion of Ganz, Eizenkot, and perhaps Lapid can help in this regard. This small emergency team culled from the best military people in Israel including   opposition members is ideally suited to handle Israel’s military predicament. It is too early to know whether Netanyahu will treat them in a domineering manner as he has in the past or in a new refreshing sharing manner. Furthermore, for a comprehensive political recovery, all major architects of the failed government policy will need to be eventually replaced by merit-driven politicians whose primary goal is the betterment of Israel rather than appeasing special interest groups. Regarding Netanyahu, it is undeniable that he is a highly skilled and experienced leader. Nevertheless, over the past ten months, his actions have prioritized his self-interest over the country’s needs, to its detriment. As a result, I would speculate that the public will disqualify him from continuing in his current role any longer than necessary.

Every problem comprises both external elements beyond our control and internal aspects that we can influence to improve the situation. While we lack control over the mindset of Hamas and their extremism, we do have the capacity to determine our response to this threat. One aspect within our control is how the military addresses this danger, while the other imperative is political change. They both need to be thoroughly attended to.

About the Author
Jim Shalom is a specialist in family medicine, with interests in end-of-life care and the Israeli political scene. He resides in Galilee. He has spent most of his adult life living and working in Israel.
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