In 2002, I walked into my manager’s office in Boston. It was a Monday and I told him I was leaving the country on Wednesday. After non-stop terror attacks, Israel had reached its breaking point and was going to retake control over the West Bank. I was in my mid-thirties and eager to do my part. I returned to Israel and participated in the operation that was called Defensive Shield. Pundits thought we’d lose thousands of soldiers to accomplish the goal.
Today, I’m 54 and wishing I was still in my thirties because I want to suit up and do my part again. But I won’t be missed given that Israel has over 300,000 reservists at the ready – all of whom are much younger, more fit, and more capable than me.
To say I care about the outcome of this conflict would be an understatement.
For my next-door neighbor, it’s just another news story. She is shocked by the brutality of Hamas. The images of murdered babies are still fresh in her mind, but sympathy and support for Israeli citizens attacked by Palestinian terrorists always shifts to the Palestinians the moment Israel acts against Palestinian terror organizations.
Even though there is a clear recognition that Israel must act against Hamas, there is understandable concern for the Palestinian civilian population who will end up suffering because the terrorists don’t live, train, plan, store supplies, and hide in barracks – they purposely place themselves in hospitals, apartment buildings, schools, and mosques. Hamas literally ordered Palestinian civilians to stay at home because Hamas believes that injured and dead Palestinian civilians will reduce the world’s support for Israel. Hamas hopes that world leaders will pressure Israel to accept a ceasefire before the terror organization is damaged in any significant way. That is a sound strategy. It has worked in the past.
Hamas is already discovering that this time will be very different from past conflicts and that is a good thing for Israel, the United States, Arab countries across the Middle East, and for Palestinian civilians.
In the past, calls for a ceasefire would have been a cause for concern in Israel. Political and military leaders would aim to end operations as quickly as possible due to pressure from its closest ally, the US, as well as out of concern for other global partners. The pressure was consistent even though Israel was always acting to stop Palestinian terrorists who were targeting Israeli civilians at restaurants, buses, and eventually at their homes by way of massive rocket barrages.
The attack on Israel that started on October 7th is seen in Israel as an existential threat. Israelis aren’t looking for revenge. If Hamas is allowed to survive, another attack will occur once Hamas recovers. Moreover, survival will be interpreted as victory for Hamas and it will substantially increase the likelihood that Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed extremists will attack Israel in the near-term.
This is going to sound harsh, but it is more important that Israel defeat Hamas even if it means that the Israeli hostages end up being killed. It doesn’t matter if thousands of Israeli soldiers die, even though I doubt the numbers will be very high. Everyone was convinced that thousands of Israeli soldiers would be killed when the IDF retook the West Bank during Operation Defensive Shield and yet Israel only lost 23 soldiers. The pundits might be correct this time, but it is still worth the price. It’s simple math. Several thousand may need to die so that nearly ten million can live in peace.
Thousands of Palestinian civilians may die during the conflict – between Hamas rockets falling on Palestinian buildings, Hamas stopping civilians from fleeing to safe zones identified by Israel, and Hamas surrounding themselves with civilians. Israelis don’t want Palestinian civilians to be hurt, which is why the Israeli military continues to do more than any other country on Earth to mitigate the loss of civilian life. But just as Israel is ready to pay the price of thousands of its soldiers to destroy Hamas, it also understands that the Palestinian people are going to pay a heavy price too.
Israel’s future depends on the complete destruction of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza. And if Hezbollah decides to join in – with over 300,000 Israeli reservists already called up – Israel is ready to defend itself. Lebanon will turn to rubble and Hezbollah knows it. In the end, Hezbollah will have to decide if it is primarily an Iranian lackey or primarily meant to protect the Lebanese people. If Hezbollah cares about the Lebanese people more than its masters in Iran, they won’t attack Israel. If they don’t attack Israel, they will remain the strongest military and political power in Lebanon. If they decide to do Iran’s bidding, Lebanon will be destroyed and the Lebanese people will hold Hezbollah responsible for causing the destruction without having a valid national interest.
For the first time, America is all-in when it comes to its support of Israel. There is no pretense of equal culpability. American officials no longer talk about the “cycle of violence” that places responsibility on both the Israelis and the Palestinians – but has been a coded way to ask for Israeli restraint. Today, the US is pointing fingers at Hamas and placing its thumb on the scale. In part, it is the only moral choice. But also, this time, Israel’s success against Hamas isn’t just critical for Israel’s security. Israel’s success and the extent by which the US is seen to fully support Israel is also crucial for the wider US Middle East strategy. In fact, an argument can be made that the United States’ ability to counter China globally, especially when it comes to China’s Belt and Road initiative depends on how this conflict plays out.
The whole world is watching – not only because of the horror experienced by Israeli civilians and not only out of concern for Palestinian civilians – because Israel’s success or failure will answer a question that may define the rest of this century. Can liberal democracies defend themselves and each other against the barbarians at the gate? Saudi Arabia is watching closely to see if Israel has the strength to beat back the extremists. Saudi Arabia wants to know if it can rely on Israel as an ally against Iran-backed extremists that target them. Saudi Arabia is also watching to see whether liberal democracies will fully back Israel even when things get ugly. They want to know if the US will keep its word to its partners. So far, the United States has responded in a way that should give comfort to US allies like Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Taiwan, while giving China, Iran, and Russia reasons to be concerned.
Pundits today are voicing concern that if Israel destroys Hamas, Israel will be forced to remain in Gaza afterwards and take control over the lives of millions of Palestinians. This is not true. Israel can replicate what it did after Operation Defensive Shield in 2002.
In 2002, after years of continuous terror attacks that came from the West Bank and Gaza, 20,000 Israeli troops went into the West Bank and destroyed the terror infrastructure. When the operation was over, the troops left, but the IDF continued to conduct pinpoint raids to capture suicide bombers and terror cells before they could act against Israeli civilians. The same could be done in Gaza once Israel’s operation is complete. Israel doesn’t need to leave a large contingent of soldiers in Gaza and it doesn’t need to re-occupy Gaza to ensure the safety of Israeli citizens.
And for those of us yearning for long-term, genuine peace between Israel and the Palestinian people, Israel’s destruction of Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza would be a necessary first step to get the Palestinians back to the bargaining table and to finally take Israel’s “yes” for an answer.
If not for their leaders, the Palestinian people would have had a fully recognized nation state of their own over twenty years ago – with the West Bank and Gaza physically joined and with most of East Jerusalem as its capital. And if the billions of dollars the world invests in the Palestinians starts funding genuine economic growth as opposed to the indoctrination of children, giving financial incentives to those who commit acts of terror, and the building of rockets that target civilians – the Palestinian people would finally experience the kind of life that have led Israelis to be ranked as some of the happiest people on earth.
But of course, right now, Israelis are among the most upset people on earth. And Israelis will do whatever it takes, fight for however long it takes, and endure whatever it takes, to find peace again. Palestinian leaders and terror organizations like Hezbollah should not doubt Israeli resolve and the Palestinian people should understand that the Israeli people are, even now, eager to live in peace. When Palestinians choose and support leaders that want to live in peace, they will enjoy the kind of prosperity and happiness they deserve. Until that time, the world needs to realize that Israelis have no other home but Israel. It has been our home for thousands of years and it doesn’t matter how many times we get bombed or how many times we get stabbed or how many babies are killed or how many times you burn down our villages. We’re not going anywhere. My suggestion to the Palestinians –choose to live alongside Israelis in peace – for your own sake.