Israel's true victory will not just come in Gaza.
Multiple signs suggest that Israel is winning the war against Hamas, but ultimate victory will come when both the terror group and Benjamin Netanyahu's government both lay down their arms.
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Douglas Murray, a British writer and author who’s been traveling around and reporting from Israel since the October 7th Palestinian terror attacks, made an astute observation a few weeks ago.
“For Israel seems to be the only country in the world never allowed to win a conflict,” wrote Murray. “It is allowed to fight a conflict to a draw, but rarely to a win. Which is one reason why the wars keep occurring.”1
Murray is spot on, and yet despite the shock and awe of October 7th, despite Israel’s embarrassing leadership team led by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and despite facing threats from four different territories, Israel is unquestionably winning this war — and there are several signs to suggest so.
In a 2016 study, David Goldman, American economic strategist and author, showed that even the most fanatical fighting forces crumble after 30 percent are dead. The 30-percent rule applies across all major modern conflicts, including the Thirty Years War, the Napoleonic Wars, the American Civil War and the First and Second World Wars of the last century.2
While numbers are still speculative, the armed wing of Hamas, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, has an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 fighters. Israel’s careful and casualty-averse campaign in Gaza can’t kill all of them, but it doesn’t have to.
The IDF has already eliminated some 6,000 Hamas fighters, in addition to a thousand on Israeli territory during the October 7th onslaught. According to Goldman’s study, this means it’s already more than halfway to the percentage required to disable Hamas as a military and governing force in Gaza.
There is also the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of Hamas fighters who have willingly surrendered during the last couple of weeks, handing over their weapons and equipment. In interrogations, they have revealed intelligence information on the terror group’s operations amid Israel’s ground offensive.
“The operatives complain that the Hamas leadership is out of touch with the tough situation they are in on the ground,” said IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari.
Yet reports this week suggested that senior Hamas officials are in daily contact with top Palestinian Authority officials, about an alliance under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Just last week, Moussa Abu Marzouk, a prominent member of Hamas’ political bureau, said that the terror group would be open to recognizing Israel.
“You should follow the official stance,” said Marzouk, referencing the position adopted in 1993 under the Oslo Accords, in exchange for Israel’s recognition of the group as the legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people. “The official stance is that the PLO has recognized the State of Israel.”
Mind you, this is the same Hamas that has venomously vowed to destroy the Jewish state since its inception in 1988, but Shin Bet (Israel’s secret service) directors have been convinced that Hamas will never be a partner for peace because it is “an ideology and they cannot give up their ideology,” according to Ami Ayalon, the agency’s former head.3
Still, it seems the terror group is starting to realize that even “world opinion” has no practical influence. The United States will veto any action against Israel in the United Nations Security Council, and the members of the European Union are unlikely to formulate any coherent policy response. Across the Middle East and North Africa, countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia have largely sat on the fence, a roundabout “vote” for Irael.
Even U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who publicly scolded Israel for the “massive loss” of Palestinian civilian life during his last visit, hit back at media questions this week, saying that more attention by journalists and the international community should be placed on Hamas’ agency in the conflict.
“What is striking to me is that even as we hear many countries urging an end to this conflict, I hear virtually no one demanding of Hamas that it stop hiding behind civilians, that it lay down its arms, that it surrender,” said Blinken. “This would be over tomorrow if Hamas does that. How can it be that there are no demands made of the aggressor and only demands made of the victim? It would be good if there was a strong international voice pressing Hamas to do what is necessary to end this.”
Senior officials for the terror group apparently “didn’t expect” its attack on Israel would prompt strong response from Washington, with the U.S. deploying carrier strike groups, air-defense systems, and thousands of troops to the region.
“An Israeli response? Yes, we expected that,” said Ali Barakeh, a senior member of Hamas’ political leadership in exile in Beirut. “But what we’re seeing now is the entrance of the U.S. into the battle, and this we didn’t count on.”4
Yet the minimum Israel needs from Washington is to not disrupt the flow of arms resupply as the war continues. And that — as the Israel-haters inside U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration and among rank-and-file Democrats have noted — is more important than whether Biden speaks out of both sides of his mouth.
Deep down, Hamas knows that it cannot defeat or even go toe-to-toe with Israel, no less the U.S., but this misses the point. One of the terror group’s aims in carrying out its October 7th massacre was to make us Jews not want to live in Israel.
Over the past two months, the IDF has begun the long process of restoring Israelis’ faith in its essential capacity to protect them. It did so first, however terribly belatedly, by stabilizing the situation in southern Israel, and then by waging war against Hamas in Gaza.
Israel’s political leadership, however, has done no such thing. Netanyahu still refuses to take the most basic of steps in saying, “Of course, as prime minister, I am responsible for the catastrophe on October 7th.”
This is why it should come as no surprise that his government still lacks a realistic plan for “the day after.”
“The prime minister and the government have not made clear what our aim is at the end of the war,” said Ephriam Halevy, former director of the Mossad. “The Israeli people deserve to know what the end game of this operation is. I suspect the prime minister himself doesn’t know. We need to restore the confidence of the Israeli public. That is not happening.”
Ami Ayalon added: “You cannot send youngsters to war without defining the end goal. Victory is not measured in military terms.”
Hence why this war will continue from the place where Israel’s anti-judicial reform protests left off. The current Israeli government knows that it will be demanded of them to “go home,” but no government ever goes home willingly, not the government of 1973 following the Yom Kippur War, and not the government of 2023.
Israel’s wars always begin with invigorating consensus and unity, but after their end comes political break and division. There is no reason to think it will be any different this time.
In his book, “Leadership in Moments of Truth,” former Israeli Major General Yom Tov Samia presented two surveys that center around the question: What factors motivate soldiers on the battlefield?
In both, the results were similar: The main reasons are trust in the force’s commander (62 percent) and protection of the unit’s members (61 percent), while the rationale of protecting the homeland was less common (47 percent) and the motive of preserving democracy was marginal (less than five percent).
The late Colonel Issachar Shadami, who was the commander of Israel’s officers school in the early 1950s, said: “When you are under fire, it is not the woman, nor the children, nor the people of Israel, nor Ben-Gurion who strengthen you. You are held by the responsibility of the unit to your friends who are on your right and left. A punishment worse than death is the shame that you ran away and abandoned your friend.”5
The history of the State of Israel proves that its wars were indeed characterized by the military’s unity — in spite of intensifying disdain among its politicians.
Therefore, we must prepare for the fact that even at the end of this current war, the unity between combatants is expected to give way to political posturing and infighting, which are currently being conducted on low heat. Right-wingers will return to calling the Left “traitors,” the secular folks will fight the ultra-Orthodox, and opponents of Netanyahu’s government will return to the streets.
The way in which Netanyahu deals with this impending reality will have the greatest impact on Israel. He can walk away rightfully and respectfully, or he can pursue a path of mutually assured destruction — the annihilation of Hamas, and the implosion of Israel. Netanyahu is the only one who can prevent the process of mutually assured destruction, even if he believes otherwise.
Of course, expecting him to follow suit is like expecting Hamas to change its ideologically genocidal mindset, so this process must be assisted by all the legal and political entities, which will be tested to act with poise and responsibility. To soften his concerns, Netanyahu’s legal cases should be closed, as long as he explicitly states his retirement from politics forever.
Looking back on Israeli history, this defining period will be considered as the true image of victory, and in its wake could come another image of victory — a broad national consensus on the core issues that divide Israeli society, such as religion and state, the Palestinians, IDF recruitment, and the judicial system.
“The Easy Politics of Criticizing Israel.” Sapir.
“The 30% solution — when war without end ends: Spengler.” Asia Times.
“Can Israel win the war and lose the peace? - opinion.” The Jerusalem Post.
“Hamas leaders surprised by US ‘going into battle’.” Financial Times.
“Leadership In Moments of Truth.” Contento Now.