Hadar Susskind

The road less traveled

Like everyone who loves Israel, I spent Saturday evening terrified. The announcement of the Iranian air attack, comprising hundreds of drones, cruise and ballistic missiles, meant an extraordinarily serious line had been crossed and millions of Israelis, including members of my family, were at risk.

When it became clear that the Israeli military, along with American, British, French and Jordanian forces, had essentially nullified the attack with only one Israeli injured, personal relief was not my only reaction. Along with that was a reminder. A reminder of what it means to have strong allies committed to protecting Israel from aggression. A reminder that Israel, for all of its military strength, cannot and need not stand alone.

This is a watershed moment for Israel, a decision point, the fork in the wooded path. Under its current government, Israel has become increasingly isolated and its actions criticized. Not only by those who have long opposed it, but by many of its strongest supporters and staunchest friends. While the world showed great solidarity with Israel following the Hamas attacks on October 7th, that goodwill has been squandered by Netanyahu and his government. Dissipated so like much smoke swirling over the bombed-out remains of Gaza. 

But the Iranian attack has created an opportunity. It offers a chance for the Israeli government to pivot away from the senseless carnage in Gaza and a war that has long outlived its purpose to a larger, more long-term strategic plan. As supportive as Israel’s allies were on Saturday night, they still, rightly, will not turn a blind eye to starving civilians, lack of medical care and housing, and overall destruction in Gaza. The killing of seven World Kitchen Central aid workers was not an isolated incident: this week the Washington Post ran a painstakingly researched piece on the killing of a six-year-old Palestinian girl

The message to the Netanyahu government is not just “take the win.” It’s “take the deal” – the implicit promise of support against Israel’s most powerful enemy if Israel will conclude the war in Gaza and work with all the stakeholders, most certainly including the Palestinians, on a long-term resolution to the conflict. It means reading the riot act to the rioting settlers on the West Bank and ending their ongoing pogroms. It means offering a permanent ceasefire in exchange for the return of all the hostages. And it means re-focusing Israel’s foreign and military policy on Iran, rather than in a fruitless battle to completely eliminate their Hamas proxy.

Most observers agree that continuing the Gaza war has been in Netanyahu’s political interest, forestalling the inevitable investigation into the disaster of October 7 as well as national elections he most certainly will lose. The right-wing extremists in his coalition have staked their ultra-nationalist reputations on not leaving one Hamasnik standing from Gaza City to Rafah. But in this moment following the Iranian attack they now have the rationale for a ceasefire: building and maintaining a coalition against Iran will certainly require ending the war in Gaza. If Netanyahu believes he can somehow reclaim his reputation as Mr. Security, this is the path he must take.

To misquote Abba Eban, the Israelis of late have not missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Spitting in the eye of successive American presidents who tried in different ways to make some progress for Israel/Palestine has not served Israel well. Bolstering Hamas to damage the Palestinian Authority and remove the “threat” of a negotiating partner has not, to put it mildly, worked out well either.

But even this Israeli government must see that continuing to try to completely eliminate Hamas in the name of an unachievable total victory is a losing strategy. If the IDF was trying to recover its reputation as a fearsome military force, a reputation which by noon on October 7 was terribly damaged, Saturday night gave it a mission accomplished. If the Israeli public wants to begin its recovery from that horrific day and its aftermath, they will begin to understand that Israel has friends if it wants them and can work with them towards a secure future for both Israelis and Palestinians – and begin to assuage the trauma. And if Israel’s most right-wing government in history can contemplate what it means not to go it alone in an ever more dangerous world, they can climb down from their militaristic and short-sighted tree and regain some semblance of sanity.

So Netanyahu must choose between an international coalition to contain the Iranian threat, or an endless war in Gaza that serves no one and nothing other than his short term political needs. He’s been down one path. Let’s hope that this time he takes the road less traveled.

About the Author
Hadar Susskind is the President and CEO of Americans for Peace Now. Prior to APN, Hadar served in senior leadership roles at Bend the Arc Jewish Action, J Street, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs as well as the Council on Foundations and the Tides Foundation.
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