Sixty eight days into the war and there is no sign that it is about to end. Not even a word was uttered by the government about the approximate date of the victory march. Instead, we hear on a daily basis cheerful assessments that Hamas is collapsing, about signs of leadership crack, and regarding an inner revolt that is uprooting in Gaza. Unfortunately, these statements are often mixed with the sound of sirens, as the “collapsing” Hamas manages once again to launch missiles and targets Tel-Aviv.
There is no way of avoiding the conclusion that Hamas is actually doing pretty well. Despite the presumable cracks it continues to rule (maybe terrorize is more ample here) the civilians in Gaza. This is not a sign of honor to the “strongest army in the middle east”. For sure, we did better in previous wars. After all, Hamas is not a lot more than a bunch of tractor drivers without a license who use rather poorly improvised, almost home made, weapons. The Gaza strip itself is not a large area – approximately one third of Berlin in size. Yet, these tractor drivers without a license teach us a lesson in resistance. Not only that we have been unable to conquer more than one third of the territory – we have been incapable of rescuing more than one hostage without an agreement with Hamas.
There is a lot of material for investigation committees to analyze and for historians to explain what went wrong, but before leaving the podium to researchers – Bibi and his gang need to decide about the aim of the war; specifically, what would count as a victory or at least an appropriate finish line. So far, they have not given a concrete description of this finish line beyond clichés such as “eliminating Hamas”, but what does eliminating Hamas really mean? If the aim is to reach a situation wherein no Palestinian in Gaza acts violently against Israeli military forces – then unfortunately the aim is unobtainable. Without a comprehensive peace agreement Palestinians will not raise a white flag. They have almost nothing to lose (what can we do to them that we have not done heretofore?) and we are not willing to pay the price of peace (which is a two state solution with a border that hovers around the Green Line). Thus, it seems that we are fighting a war that we cannot win. In fact, the only way to win is to alter the aim.
The word ceasefire has become almost a curse because this is what Hamas wants. However, we should not run our war according to our enemy’s wishes but in line with our needs. Do we need a chronic war a-la Russia vs. Ukraine with a sweet victory in – let’s say – five years? The answer is unequivocally no. Israel is not a superpower. We cannot allow ourselves to fight for years like the Russians do in Ukraine and did in Afghanistan and like the Americans did in Vietnam and in Iraq (side-note: Even superpowers with a professional army and solid economy do not do that well in chronic wars against deeply rooted local militias).
It sounds very noble to declare that we will not give up to terror, but a nation cannot conduct a war without considering the price. Sooner or later, the bill will be submitted. At the moment, over 350,000 reserve soldiers are in service. The approximate remuneration they get from social insurance (assuming their salary is equal to the national average) is around 175 million shekels daily – more or less the annual budget of a small governmental ministry. Across a period of nearly 70 days, we talk about aggregated social insurance remuneration of twelve billion shekels, but this is just a fraction of the cost. We need to add the loss of production (a reservist who fights in Gaza is obviously not working at the same time as an engineer or a programmer), the erosion of economic sectors (has anyone seen a tourist recently?), the cost of weapons and ammunition, the cost of rebuilding villages destroyed by Hamas, and more and more. The numbers accumulate. In order to pay them we will need to take loans that we would need to return with interest rate that would obviously add to the overall costs.
The history books are full of stories about rich empires that became poorer after involving themselves in never-ending wars: Portugal, Spain, to some extent even the UK. Because we cannot allow ourselves to be poor victors, we will need to end the war in Gaza a long time before the last Hamas terrorist lays in the graveyard.