It is counter-intuitive that any country winning a military struggle would initiate a call for an immediate ceasefire. But that is precisely what Israel needs to do to achieve their primary objective, preserving the nation-state of Israel. By pursuing its current war with Hamas, Israel is working against that goal.
Hamas may be prepared to have all its combatants killed in this Holy War against Israel because their ultimate victory is the elimination of Israel. That will only occur if the Muslim, Arab, and Persian world is united in that goal. The humanitarian tragedy resulting from Israel bombarding and invading Gaza invites and reinforces that unity.
The war with Israel meets Hamas’s goal of derailing the budding positive relationship developing between Israel and Palestine’s largest Arab donors.
Weeks before Hamas attacked Israel, President Joe Biden was meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, publicly observing that a “historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia” seemed within reach. That would devastate Hamas’s plans for driving Jews out of the Middle East.
Under President Trump, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Morocco all signed on to normalization agreements with Israel. The top Arab donor from 1994 to 2020 was Saudi Arabia at $4 billion, followed by the UAE ($2.1 billion). But in 2020, Saudi Arabia cut its aid to Palestine by 81.4%. Other Arab countries had also begun cutting back their financial aid at the urging of President Donald Trump to push Palestine to be less critical of Arabs reaching agreements with Israel.
Hamas could see that its role as the liberator of Palestine from Israel’s domination was slipping away. Within the past two years, Arab funding for Palestine has dramatically shrunk. They had to do something dramatic and quick to stop Saudi Arabia from signing an agreement with Israel — they brutally attacked Israel.
The 6,000-plus missiles slamming into Israel was a horrific experience for Israel. However, having terrorists get past Israel’s “iron wall,” breaking into your home and killing your family members is a personal traumatic defilement of one’s life. It was sure to arouse Israel’s new far-right government to launch a counterattack against Gaza, Hama’s base of operations.
Did Hamas intend to provoke Israel to invade Gaza? The first rule for winning a fight is to choose the battleground. Hamas was prepared to fight the war on its ground. Israel was surprised by the brutality of the Hamas attack, but Hamas was not surprised by Israel’s response.
If so, as in past conflicts, Israel’s military intervention was expected to awaken furious support for the Palestinians within the Arab countries. Those countries’ leaders were forced to stall establishing better relations with Israel.
It may seem inconceivable that Hamas is winning the war, with its top leaders being picked off, their central city falling into rubble, and hundreds of their children dying. But consider this. Hamas built an infrastructure just for an Israeli attack. According to military analysts, Hamas’s costly, extensive, sophisticated network of tunnels would have required at least two years of planning and construction. Tunnels are not needed for diplomacy. But they are necessary for an all-out war with Israel. But how could a poor country afford to build such an extensive underground fort?
There is little verifiable accounting of the billions of aid Palestine has received from the West and Arab countries. Israel monitors that aid to ensure it bypasses Hamas’s manipulation. However, the autocratic Hamas-run Gaza government benefits from foreign countries footing the bill for schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. That aid frees Hamas to use taxes collected from their impoverished citizens to do other things – like building tunnels and purchasing weapons.
As of 2020, less than half of Palestinian households were food secure. Meanwhile, unemployment in the West Bank is at 14 percent, and it is nearly 50 percent in Gaza. These are conditions that brew discontentment toward Israel since it controls Gaza’s contact with the outside world, restricting its ability to be economically independent. This allows Hamas to point to Israel as the cause of their sorrows. The current war ignites that anger and supports Hamas’s attacks on Israel.
Hamas can tolerate the destruction that is leveling their country because Israel’s massive military response is reinforcing their more significant objective. It is difficult to imagine that Hamas was unaware that thousands of Palestinian civilians would die once Israel started firing missiles back at the dug-in missile launchers located under Gaza’s densely populated country.
It is possible that some Palestinians approved of Hamas’s attack on Israel in retaliation for what they see as occupiers of their homeland. But there is no way to know what most of the Palestinians in Gaza freely think. That’s because Hamas controls Gaza’s internal communications to the extent that they do not tolerate any open opposition to their rule.
Hamas has snuffed out elections, public polling, and open forums in Gaza. They are a classic theocratic government, like Iran, in determining internal and foreign affairs within a religious prism, and in dividing the world into good and evil.
Israel is a functioning democracy, albeit some rights groups argue that dozens of laws indirectly or directly discriminate against Arabs. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-conservative government is deeply committed to following scriptures from the Hebrew Bible. The Prime Minister said in an October 30 speech that Israelites should remember from their Bible what happened to the ‘Amalek,’ a nation. They destroyed it as an act of revenge.
In line with that position, Netanyahu rejected calls for a cease-fire in the war and would continue to destroy Hamas’ underground network of tunnels. But it’s unclear if he cares to discriminate killing Hamas from the many civilian Gaza residents who may consider Hamas combatants as their freedom fighters.
Consequently, Israel’s air and ground assault on Gaza is creating a humanitarian crisis, with estimates that hundreds of children are dying each day that it continues. The demands for a ceasefire are often being made by non-partisan agencies who witness the plight of Palestinians who have had 30% of their housing demolished and their hospital and care facilities severely damaged or operate with minuscule medical supplies.
Israel’s government believes that accepting a complete ceasefire will happen after it eliminates Hamas. As articulated by Netanyahu, Israel’s main objective is to destroy Hamas.
However, journalist Jay Michaelson sees another long-term objective that Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party have pursued. They believe that an independent Palestine is the greatest threat facing Israel. Their effort has been to tolerate Hamas to keep them as a counterbalance to the other Palestine party, the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank.
Celebrating when some Hamas leader who was responsible for organizing the attack on Israel is killed is not going to eliminate Hamas. More importantly, the larger story is often the large numbers of civilian deaths and injuries that are explained away as unintended collateral damage.
Israel is stubbornly blind to how their massive military incursion into Gaza’s air and ground space is affecting a new generation of Palestinians. For every Hamas combatant killed, a future fundamentalist combatant will arise from the thousands of homeless or orphaned children in Gaza grieving for their killed parents. Why wouldn’t their traumatic experience create a future army of children nourishing hatred, not love, towards Israel and Jews?
Journalist Fareed Zakaria wrote that Israel’s experience when it invaded Lebanon in 1982 should encourage restrain its current invasion of Gaza. Their objective then was to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) out of parts of Lebanon bordering Israel. For years, the PLO fought skirmishes with Israel’s army and killed Israeli civilians. Israel used 80,000 troops and 1,200 tanks to drive the PLO out of power. In that victory, more than 17,000 people in Lebanon were killed and more than 30,000 injured.
Forty years later, another, more powerful and dangerous adversary, Hezbollah, has emerged with an estimated 60,000 fighters and 150,000 rockets and missiles. In comparison, Hamas is estimated to have about half the number of fighters and less than a quarter of the missiles.
Israel must now address this deadlier threat to its existence, along with trying to eliminate Hamas. This should make Netanyahu and his government acknowledge that it is a dead-end solution to continue killing more Palestinians, Muslim, or Arab civilians in search of the terrorists. There are 8 million Jews in Israel, and there are over 360 million Muslims in the Middle East. The Hamas party and its government may be destroyed, but the Arab movement that wishes to destroy Israel will now have more recruits.
Rightly or wrongly, Israel, not Hamas, is blamed for creating a humanitarian tragedy. Many, if not the majority, of media outlets outside the U.S. and Western European countries repeat that theme. Meanwhile, except for retrieving hostage Israelis, Hamas’s initial terrorist acts are becoming old news.
Israel must grapple with its image as a ruthless aggressor that has gone way beyond defending its territory. It must act decisively and boldly in a manner that will alter the conditions that will lead to a more dangerous, not safer, future for it to survive.
Israel can do something that Hamas is unprepared for and cannot stop. Israel can declare a unilateral ceasefire. Hamas could not tolerate that move. It wrecks their narrative. It allows the Arab nations to withdraw support from Hamas.
Yes, Hamas, for a limited time, may well continue to fire missiles into Israel, and some Israelis may die. But with each missile fired, Gaza, as the continuous victim of Israeli aggression, will crumble. The world will be reminded that Hamas started this war. And they will lose their standing as a legitimate government.
Israel has amply demonstrated that it could inflict much greater pain upon the people of Gaza, but it could also prefer to withdraw as an honorable nation. If it did, the Arab nations would be stunned into acting to free Gaza citizens from Hamas authority. With their assistance, a new non-Hamas government could emerge.
A unilateral ceasefire is a bold strategy that aligns with the winning tactic of dividing your enemies. Not only will the more moderate Arab nations withdraw support from Hamas, but Palestinians may follow along if Israel can change its current overall approach to Palestinians living in both Gaza and the West Bank.
Only Israel can stop the war. Even if the U.S. ceased all aid to Israel, Netanyahu’s government would continue the war. The movement for a peaceful settlement and a stabilized Israeli–Arab Middle East relationship must come from within Israel.
This moment in history requires an Israeli political leader to be fiercely pragmatic in hammering out a new relationship with the surrounding Arab states. Netanyahu’s recent speech framing this conflict and future conflicts with Palestinians as a Holy War does not allow for that approach.
From Netanyahu’s past words and actions, he never endorsed an independent Palestine state alongside Israel as a two-state solution. It is a position that Iran’s leader, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, wholly supports since he considers Israel an occupier regime that does not deserve to exist in Palestine. Both leaders’ attitudes can lead to eradicating Palestine or Israel as nation-states.
If Israel can abandon the hard-right fundamentalism that grips Netanyahu’s party, a pragmatic Arab leader would be able to emerge to work for a peaceful, long-term solution. By continuing Netanyahu’s uncompromising warfare strategy, Israel is sowing the seeds of never-ending wars, no matter how many Hamas leaders are eliminated.