Ira Straus

To end the humanitarian crisis, hurry up and win

It is an old maxim: in war, maximum efficiency is maximum humanity.

It holds true in Israel’s war against Hamas. To protect Gazan lives, Israel must win faster. Otherwise, the humanitarian crisis will naturally grow worse.

The delays imposed by US pressures have made the humanitarian crisis considerably worse. It matters nothing that the US presents its demands in the name of humanitarianism. The reality is that it has the opposite effect. It was predictable, it was predicted, and it has happened.

An Inhuman Preference for Delay, not Victory

Why does the US administration not care about the harm it is doing with its pressures on Israel? Perhaps because the media – its media — don’t tell it to care, and instead demand that it only put on more destructive pressures. Perhaps because it itself is averse to seeing Israel actually win this war; it would be part of a pattern that we have seen in the Ukraine war, where the administration has consistently refused to give Ukraine the weapons it needed when they needed them and when it could have made a big difference.

How to explain this posture? In its argument for it, the administration equates Ukraine’s getting the weapons to win with “World War III.” And it equates Israel’s winning over Hamas with starting “a wider regional war.”

To be sure, it could turn out that way. Russia could start World War III if it is losing in Ukraine. But it probably won’t. Every time Biden defers to that threat and concedes to Russia the right to make it, he rewards Putin’s reckless threatening and makes World War III more likely.

Similarly, Hezbollah and Iran could go to war, as they threaten, if Hamas is losing all of Gaza. But they probably won’t, and in any case, that would not be World War III. Indeed, it would probably be the last chance to disarm Iran before it gets nuclear weapons. Why would the administration be against disarming Iran? To answer that question, one would have to go into the murky waters of administration ideology and obstinacy about its Iran policy; and into the ideological trend of the dominant media on which it is mentally dependent. This is not the place for that.

Confusing wherein lies the humanitarian danger

What we need to address here is, rather, the way this dragging on of the war creates deadly distortions in attending to humanitarian needs. The main humanitarian danger is not from the bombing, which the Western-world media have portrayed with shameless dishonesty as indiscriminate and genocidal. Again, one could ask why they lie like this. One could notice that it fits in with a media preference for directing their accusations against the Western side in most conflicts. But again, the point here is not the motivation, but the fact that this daily drumbeat of dishonesty has served as a daily distraction from the actual main danger to civilians: the danger from dragging out the war and letting hunger and disease get worse.

Hunger and disease inevitably get worse as a war drags on. Given time, they can spiral out of control. That is why it is a fair rule of thumb that, in a war, maximum speed is maximum humanity.

The war would probably already be over, were it not for the delays imposed by the pressures of the US and the media, and the obstructive behavior on the ground of the UN and its agencies. They have added up to more than two months of delays.

And there is pressure for more delays. The demands are growing to keep delaying the Rafah offensive and then cancel it. The US is offering an “alternative plan” that would set up a joint US-Israel command. This would make sure Israel could never win outright: the US will not have the stomach for that, nor for the lengthy follow-up measures needed for keeping Hamas down.

The US plan would cause far more civilian deaths, but it is easily presented as more “restrained”. Biden hopes his media would therefore accept it. Which they might – but only temporarily. Soon they would go back on the attack against Israel — and against the US. It would give them endless months to keep mobilizing for more ideological assaults on Israel and the US. And keep inspiring more anti-Semitic assaults.

Only winning the war can bring an end to the process of rapid escalation of these assaults.

Israel shouldn’t be so shy about telling the truth: that the media and administration — and UN agencies, and NGOs, and Hamas — have been the ones gratuitously causing large numbers of civilian deaths. They sorely need to face this as a full-throated, honest accusation. Otherwise they’ll continue to live blindly in a unidirectional world, where they never hear any accusations except the ones they make — usually against the West.

What should Israel do in these conditions?

Israel’s responsibility now is, simply:

To win with speed.

And to not let itself get deflected any longer by US pressures for delays.

There are two and only two ways to bring this war to a speedy end: either act to win fast, or else give up and lose.

In either case, there would be no more of the gratuitous delays and worsening of the humanitarian crisis. But in the case of losing, worse would come later – just as it has come today, after Obama forced Israel to stop winning in the 2014 war. Today’s war is the continuation of the 2014 war. Giving up again would mean there would be more of them again. Each time will be more terrible than the last.

Strategic realities as well as humanitarian ones dictate bringing matters to a head. Unless Israel wins fast, the anti-Semitic movement will keep mounting worldwide, the international legal and divestment actions against Israel will keep growing, and US policy will keep getting worse.

Waiting longer to act means never acting. It means delaying until conditions will make it impossible to proceed.

Israel must act now or forever hold its peace.

Israel should proceed rapidly to:

  1. Finalize a solid plan for relocating civilians from Rafah.
  2. Take the measures needed to get the relocation done.
  3. Take Rafah and clear it of Hamas. (Israel cannot divulge specific military plans for this, but General David Petraeus has given a solid analysis on what’s needed for this.)
  4. Use its control of Gaza to get all necessary aid in — and to keep Gaza de-Hamasified.
  5. Explain forcefully, in every appearance on Western media, why this is the only humane approach.
About the Author
Chair, Center for War/Peace Studies; Senior Adviser, Atlantic Council of the U.S.; formerly a Fulbright professor of international relations; studied at Princeton, UVA, Oxford. Institutions named above for identification purposes only; views expressed herein are solely the responsibility of the author.
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