analysisIsrael at War

Endless ‘victories’ over Hamas is a recipe for eventual defeat

"Success" is once again being defined as "mowing the grass" every time the terrorists regroup.

Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip. Credit: IDF Spokesperson's Unit.
Charles Bybelezer

The Israel Defense Forces withdrew all troops from the southern Gaza Strip on Sunday, exactly six months after Hamas’s Oct. 7 massacre of some 1,200 people, despite having achieved none of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s oft-repeated war goals.

Hamas is still standing, with four terror battalions in Rafah and reports of two more possibly still functional in central Gaza; 133 Israeli hostages, about 100 of whom are believed to be alive, remain in captivity; and Palestinian terrorist groups in the Strip still pose a threat to the Jewish state.

“The war in Gaza continues, and we are far from stopping,” IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said matter-of-factly. “Senior Hamas officials are still in hiding. We will get to them sooner or later. We are making progress, continuing to kill more terrorists and commanders and destroy more terror infrastructure,” he added.

“Sooner or later” being the level of urgency the IDF apparently assigns to defeating the terror group and, in the process, eliminating the masterminds of the greatest one-day slaughter of Jews since the Holocaust.

“We will not leave Hamas brigades active in any part of the Strip. We have plans and we will act when we decide,” continued Halevi.

“When we decide,” which is to say, probably later. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday night vaguely informed the nation that a date has been set for the Rafah operation, but provided no additional details or explanation.

Any major military effort to uproot Hamas from Gaza’s southernmost city will almost undoubtedly have to wait for months, if not until after the U.S. presidential election in November.

For his part, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant had to backtrack after claiming on Sunday that Hamas had “stopped functioning as a military organization throughout the Gaza Strip.”

The Government Press Office quickly issued a correction: “[IDF] activities enabled the dismantling of Hamas as a functioning military unit in this area [of Khan Yunis].”

Mission accomplished?

Mere hours after the IDF withdrew, terrorists in Khan Yunis fired four rockets toward towns in the Eshkol region. A day earlier, four IDF commandos were killed in action in Khan Yunis when terrorists emerged from a tunnel and ambushed them at close range.

Twenty-four hours before the pullout, the IDF highlighted an operation in the Al-Amal neighborhood of Khan Yunis where more than a hundred sites were searched “and terrorist infrastructure was found in every location.” Israeli forces also destroyed a 900-meter-long tunnel route where large quantities of weapons were stored.

On Monday, the military said that Israeli Air Force fighter jets in recent days struck three Hamas rocket launchers embedded in the humanitarian zone in western Khan Yunis.

Is this what mission accomplished looks like?

Meanwhile, the military is hailing the arrival at Stage 3 in the war; namely, “targeted raids,” which are in practice a recipe for endless low-intensity conflict, as is the case in Judea and Samaria.

Gallant provided an insider’s look into what lies ahead. “The forces came out [of Gaza] and are preparing for their future missions. We saw examples of such missions in action at Shifa [Hospital in Gaza City],” said the defense minister on Sunday.

To recap: In November, the Israel Defense Forces launched a major operation at Shifa Hospital—the Gaza Strip’s largest medical facility—which also moonlighted as a Hamas command and control center. The IDF released a huge amount of evidence “unequivocally” proving the terror group “systematically operates from hospitals.”

Hamas held at least three hostages abducted on Oct. 7 at Shifa.

On March 19, the IDF launched another operation to eliminate a renewed terror surge at Shifa. Approximately 200 terrorists were slain and more than 500 Hamas and Islamic Jihad members were arrested during the two-week battle.

“The fact that this operation saw no harm to a single medical staff member or patient, but we were able to kill and capture many, many terrorists, is a very significant achievement,” Halevi said after the mission wrapped up.

This, then, is the new definition of “success” in Gaza: Not to defeat Hamas once and for all, but to “mow the grass” every time the terrorists regroup.

Failed strategy

In other words, nothing has seemingly changed from an overarching strategic vantage point.

“Mowing the grass” is what the IDF has been doing for nearly two decades in Gaza. It is what led to the wars against Hamas in 2008-9, 2012, 2014, 2021 and 2023-24.

This philosophy led to Oct. 7.

This is not to diminish the IDF’s achievements over the past six months, as significant damage has been inflicted on the Palestinian terrorists. The military turned the tide after one of the darkest days in the state’s history, showing the world that the Jewish people will not fold in the face of genocidal violence.

But past “victories” over Hamas were easily rolled back, and too much blood has been spilled and too many people are still suffering to return to the status quo that prevailed on Oct. 6.

“Citizens of Israel, there is no war more just than this one, and we are determined to achieve total victory,” Netanyahu said following the retreat on Sunday.

Until then, without IDF boots on the ground in southern Gaza, who will stop Hamas from regrouping in Khan Yunis and elsewhere? Based on military estimates, Hamas had between 30,000 and 40,000 armed operatives before Oct. 7 and only about half of them have since been killed. Cross-border raids are going to prevent the rest from regenerating into a “functioning military unit?”

How can we ensure that none of the hostages is smuggled out of Rafah to other locations? Who is securing the massive amounts of aid being flooded into Gaza, and, for that matter, how do we intend to stop Hamas from administering the enclave now that there is a power vacuum? What is the plan to deradicalize over 2 million Gazans so that they never again spawn a genocidal terror group?

Israel will survive Hamas, even if, in what should be considered a worst-case scenario, Khan Yunis transforms into Jenin, Rafah becomes Nablus and the plethora of “refugee” camps in Gaza end up like Nur Shams, Balata and Tulkarem. Applying the Judea and Samaria model of perpetual conflict to Gaza (i.e. Stage 3: “targeted raids”) would be a terrible mistake, but not fatal.

The Jewish state can also outlast Hezbollah, if and when the northern front explodes into a full-blown war. The colossal error of allowing the terror army in Lebanon to amass tens of thousands of rockets in the wake of the unfinished 2006 war will result in unimaginable damage and end countless lives, but we shall pull through.

However, lurking in the wings is both terror groups’ patron.

Oct. 7 and everything that has ensued is merely a rehearsal for Iran, which continues marching toward a nuclear weapon in order to acquire the means to carry out on the mullahs’ explicit threat to perpetrate another Holocaust.

At some point, then, victory will absolutely need to manifest in absolute terms—or we risk being defeated.

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