Simchat Torah War Day 7

Another sad day. My youngest daughter (in the reserves, but not called up yet) is at a funeral today, for a young man, soldier from our neighborhood, who went to the same elementary school she did, dated one of her friends. I dropped my significant other and one of my daughters off at the airport, they are on their way back the USA. My S.O. naturally wanted me to come back to the States as well, but she understands why I need to be here right now.

Reputable news media confirm that reports that the butchers of Hamas burned and decapitated babies are accurate. It sickens my stomach.

Israel has warned that 1 million Gazans should evacuate from the northern part of Gaza to the southern part of Gaza within 24 hours. An impossible task, of course. But an indicator that the ground operation is likely to begin within days.

Today I’d like to share my analysis of the situation here. I don’t claim to be an expert, but this is based on a bunch of things I’ve read, conversations with fellow Israelis, and what I’ve experienced living here on and off since 2007. Questions I’ll discuss below:

  • How did we get here? 
  • What next? 
  • What’s the long term?

How we got here. In 2005 Israel unilaterally dismantled its settlements in Gaza and withdrew its troops. It just made no sense to have 20,000 troops defending 8,000 settlers for land that historically wasn’t even part of Israel. The Palestinian Authority was left in charge, but they were viewed as so corrupt and inefficient that Hamas was voted into power in 2006 (the first and only elections there), leading to the Battle of Gaza in 2007, a violent struggle for power between Fatah and Hamas that left 118 dead (Israel had nothing to do with it).

Israel was hoping that the Gazans would put down their weapons and focus on building a mini-nation in their little enclave. If they had done that, the Gazans today would be living in physical safety, enjoying a wonderful beachside community, no doubt with a lot of Arab investment in seaside hotels, etc. Instead, Hamas chose to divert resources from building schools and hospitals to digging tunnels and building rockets, continuing the struggle to make Palestine Jew free from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. And the 2 million residents suffer.

While many Israelis were very opposed to the withdrawal from Gaza, I think many felt the way I did – that it was a good thing, we had no business being in there, and if they shoot a few rockets at us every few years and we need to drop a few bombs on them, it’s better than having our troops there long term.

I was wrong. Hamas is clearly way more capable than we thought they were, and we gravely endangered Israel’s security by allowing a terrorist organization to take over the territory.

I believe there are several factors that led to the war we are in now:

  • Hamas may be desperate to torpedo the normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi.
  • It may be serving the interests of the puppet masters in Iran, who in turn may be influenced by their new best friends, the Russians. This war is certainly distracting America from the other ongoing war.
  • No doubt Israel’s enemies smell blood in the water. Thanks to Netanyahu’s wildly divisive effort to ram through judicial reforms, Israel appears disorganized and weak. If that’s what Hamas thinks, they underestimate how Israelis respond to crisis.
  • The government has been very focused on providing security for settlers since the coalition is dependent on the extreme far right settler movement. Gaza has been neglected. 
  • One of the ministers in the current government said as much – he took responsibility, saying what happened is the fault of the government because they have been busy with nonsense instead of focusing on what’s important.
  • There was a horrific failure of both Israeli intelligence and the Israeli military. They were caught flat-footed with nowhere near appropriate security for the Gaza border communities.
  • Typical Israeli hubris led the leadership to overestimate their capabilities and underestimate the enemy. Not unlike what happened in 1973.

What’s next? It seems obvious there is going to be a major ground offensive in Gaza. Hundreds of thousands of Israeli troops are amassing on the border, with tanks and heavy arms. I have never, ever, seen Israelis so united in agreement that whatever happens, Hamas must go. This war will not be over until Hamas is destroyed and has no ability to harm Israel.

Some traditional Israeli values are being put aside because of this. Normally, Israel is willing to pay a very high price to bring captives back alive. Normally Israel, like the United States, is reluctant to risk the lives of our troops, and prefers to battle safely from the air. And Israel is normally sensitive to what the international community thinks.

It is now clear that Hamas must go. The captives will be viewed as if they are already dead. We know many of our troops will die, but we have no choice. And at the moment, Israel could not care less what the international community thinks. Any other country that has suffered what we have suffered in the past week would also not hold back in destroying such a vicious and evil enemy. You cannot slaughter our babies and then cry about how evil we are for bombing you or putting you under siege.

I’m a lefty. I’m very much a believer in peaceful co-existence. I’d love to see two states living happily side by side. I go to many interfaith programs, and have helped protect Palestinian olive farmers from vicious extremist settlers.

But as sympathetic as I am to the plight of the average Palestinian, I believe Israel has no choice but to do what it must do to remove Hamas, even if that means thousands of Palestinian deaths and suffering for innocent civilians. But we did not bring this on them. Hamas did. 

What’s the long term?

There is near universal agreement among Israelis that Hamas must go. No one really knows what comes next. The battle to remove Hamas could be over in three weeks or it could take six months. If Hezbollah and Iran jump into the fray there is danger of escalation into a regional war. American aircraft carriers are in the neighborhood and standing by.

Long term, Israel is not interested in reoccupying Gaza and taking full responsibility for its citizens (even though that arguably would be the best thing for the citizens). No doubt once Hamas is eradicated, Israel will try to get a coalition of Arab countries to take control of Gaza. I’m not very optimistic about that happening; I do not believe that Egypt, Jordan, Saudi, etc., interested in sending troops and investing heavily in Gaza.

So the future is fuzzy. But it must be a future that does not include Hamas.

The photo below is of Angelica, one of the top restaurants in Jerusalem. We took my S.O. and daughter there for a farewell dinner before their return to the US. The place was empty at 7pm. Normally you can’t get a reservation there on the same day.

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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