Israel’s current war against Hamas is both necessary and justified. After the brutal October 7th attacks, Israel has an obligation to its citizens to prevent such an attack from occurring again. The only way to do so is to fight Hamas, which has publicly vowed its intent to continue to carry out October 7th style attacks against Israelis.
Because Hamas chooses to operate out of crowded urban centers, and to use civilian places, like hospitals, to store weapons, it is impossible to fight Hamas without incurring civilian casualties. Hamas has also tried to prevent Palestinians from leaving areas of fighting, including shooting at Israeli soldiers who are protecting Palestinians fleeing the conflict via the evacuation corridors that Israel set up. These corridors were set up by the IDF in order to minimize civilian casualties.
Every death, Israeli or Palestinian, is a tragedy. But there is no moral equivalence between a force that deliberately targets civilians (Hamas) and one that goes out of its way to avoid doing so (the IDF).
At the same time, I am increasingly worried by the Israeli government’s refusal to seriously engage with the question of the “morning after”: It is clear that an indefinite Israeli occupation of Gaza would be both impossible and immoral, so who will govern once the IDF leaves, in order to ensure that Hamas (or whatever new terrorist organization may spring up in a post-Hamas power vacuum) does not take power the minute the IDF leaves?
The Palestinian Authority in its current form is both unpopular and corrupt. It was ousted from Gaza by Hamas in a bloody coup after Israel’s disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005. The Palestinian Authority is therefore uneager to come back, lest history repeat itself.
There are talks about reforming the Palestinian Authority before putting it in charge of Gaza, or about an International Coalition of some sort, as an interim measure, as a Palestinian government is put in place.
None of the options are perfect. But instead of engaging seriously with the question, the Israeli government is deflecting, saying these questions can come after. But actually, these questions are key to the war’s success. If this is a war to topple Hamas, that goal cannot be achieved without a policy plan for what takes Hamas’s place. If the IDF goes in and comes out, then Hamas will come back. Even if you kill all Hamas’s top and mid-level commanders and take away all their major weapon caches, then the low-level Hamas ranks, using the available weapons, will claw their way back to power, or chaos will ensue, in a power vacuum in which the most violent actor rises to the top – possibly forming a government even worse than Hamas. This means that without a battle plan for what to do with the territory once the IDF leaves, there can be no strategic victory.
The Israeli government could tell the Israeli public that no solution is perfect, but it is seriously thinking about which imperfect option is best, in conversation with key allies, such as the US. Instead, it is simply re-stating its opposition to the Palestinian Authority, without proposing a serious alternative. In doing so, risks alienating key allies, such as the US.
American support of the war is crucial: Its military equipment helps the IDF to maintain a technological advantage, and its battle carrier ships help prevent Iran and Hezbollah from completely opening an additional war front in the north.
The Israeli government has to be honest with the people of Israel: This war is not just about neutralizing Hamas’s immediate military capabilities. It is about eradicating Hamas for the long-term. But such a goal cannot be achieved by military might alone; it can only be achieved by both a military victory and a long-term policy plan to ensure that the gains of the military victory are not lost. This means making some difficult choices.
Israel owes it to its people to fight this war. But if that fight does not include long-term policies to prevent Hamas from coming back and continuing to be an existential threat to the country, then this war is nothing more than another Hamas-Israel skirmish. If this is not a war to permanently topple Hamas, this raises moral questions about the rising death tolls both of the Israeli military and of Palestinian civilians. If it is a war to permanently topple Hamas, then it needs a policy end-game in order to achieve its goal.
I do not pretend that there is a clear policy solution. But the Israeli people deserve a government who at least engages with these questions in a serious manner, and is upfront with the Israeli people about its efforts to do so.