The Problem For Israeli Leaders: What To Do Next
Cable news and print journalism are filled with opinions about what an appropriate response by Israel to the massacre on Saturday should be. As with everything else in the Middle East, it’s complicated.
First, the enemy has only partially been defined. It may just be Hamas and surely it was Hamas who committed the atrocities about which we continue to learn, but Hezbollah has not been quiet in the north and undoubtedly, the moment Israeli troops enter Gaza, Palestinians on the West Bank will get active so as to open a three-front war on Israel, possibly even with help from Syria. There can be no doubt that none of this would be happening if not for Iran—its support and perhaps active participation. Israel has many enemies around it. They all should be assumed to be either involved now or potentially could be. War with Iran should be avoided, if possible, but only the United States can keep Iran at bay. Start by stopping the flow of any more of their oil money back to them given their leaders will not pledge to use it only for humanitarian purposes. Money is fungible anyway. We should give the Iranians no more of it.
Second, the viciousness of the attacks calls for vengeance. But that vengeance has to be focused and must be for the long-term benefit of Israel. That could mean a ground assault on Gaza, but that will entail urban warfare and house-to-house combat. Many non-Hamas Palestinian Arabs are likely to be killed and are already terrorized by Israeli bombing. Civilian casualties must be kept limited if at all possible. I just don’t know how you identify a Hamas fighter before he ambushes you.
As R. David Harden points out in a New York Times op-ed, the plan of Hamas all along may have been to draw Israel into an invasion of Gaza, with many Arab casualties to end any chance of a security agreement between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Hamas may have set a trap for Bibi. Perhaps, caution might be advised for the Israeli troops. Starving Gaza out, may be a better choice than an invasion. The UN will say it’s a war crime. Then Israel can say, give us back the hostages and we will give you water. I understand that there are a lot of innocent Palestinians caught up in the bombing, but they have been part of an enclave that installed these terrorists 15 years ago.
Third, as I indicated above, there are the hostages, some of whom may well be Americans. There are also American citizens trapped in Gaza itself. Is there any way to get the hostages out? It does not seem obvious. Surely there can be no negotiations with Hamas for their freedom any time soon. Or could there be? That will be up to Bibi’s new wartime cabinet that actually contains some people who know about war, strategic defense, and fighting terror. I am not sure any of Netanyahu’s current government contained such people.
In the end, Netanyahu, his new cabinet, and probably some American input will be necessary to bring this to a close. Note I do not say a successful close because success is the eradication of Hamas and how do you eradicate an ideology? Remember, we still have lots of Nazis in America and Hamas terrorists in the West Bank. I saw their green flags in Ramallah eight weeks ago.
There will need to be a careful and concise and precise elucidation of the goals of any military incursion by Israeli troops into Gaza. Such an invasion may be ill-advised right now. What does success look like? If it is to eradicate Hamas, how will you know when you get there and what makes you think Iran will stay on the sidelines when its surrogates start to fall? Israel must be prepared for a wider war. And the United States may well be drawn into this if Iran becomes any more militant, which I believe will start by the use of those surrogates in Lebanon and the West Bank, but may well involve Iranian troops at some point.
This has the makings of World War III. It is going to take amazingly cool heads to deescalate the greatest slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust. Arab blood is not the answer. New Arab governance is, but as Tom Friedman points out today in The New York Times, this was probably triggered by Israel’s coming to terms with Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni Gulf states. Iran could not tolerate that, so they did something unforgiveable. They tried to make any deal between Israelis and Arabs impossible.
I surely hope that Mr. Netanyahu is on the phone to his new, potential partners in Riyadh and telling them that their plans should not be sidetracked by the actions of Iranian surrogates. In fact, this should make a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel more attractive because Iran is a threat to the Saudis as well.
If Mr. Biden is the foreign policy master he claims to be, he can contribute a great deal to the future by urging Israel to make the best decisions it can for the long-term safety of its people.
This is a very delicate time for Mr. Netanyahu. If he is to salvage his legacy at all, he must make good choices now. If his past choices are any indication, I continue to be worried.