The war Hamas launched against Israel on Oct. 7 is unlikely to end soon.
Hamas is still firing missiles. It still has snipers in schools and mosques, and trigger-pullers blending in with civilians on Gaza’s streets.
Its two top military commanders, Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, are believed to have surrounded themselves with hostages deep in the elaborate tunnel network constructed over the years since Israelis withdrew from Gaza.
But Israel is changing the way it fights. The first phase was an air campaign targeting buildings in which—and under which—Hamas had command-and-control centers and armories.
In the second phase, Israeli infantry engaged in grueling urban combat.
Phase III is to be lower intensity, with fewer boots on the ground. Elite units will conduct special operations. More tunnels will be destroyed. Attempts to rescue hostages will continue.
The goal remains unchanged: to cripple Hamas’s military and governing capabilities.
One senior Hamas leader was killed last week, but not in Gaza. Salih al-Arouri was conducting a meeting in a high-rise building in a Beirut suburb. According to the Lebanon24 news website, a missile eliminated him and his deputies. No one else in the building was hurt.
While Jerusalem has not claimed responsibility, David Barnea, chief of the Mossad, has pledged that all those involved in planning or carrying out the atrocities of Oct. 7 will face justice.
On Oct. 8, Hezbollah, Iran’s most valued foreign legion, began firing rockets into northern Israel, causing close to 100,000 Israelis to flee their cities, villages and farms.
Hezbollah is capable of such aggression due to failed diplomacy. Under U.N. Resolution 1701, the Israelis agreed to a ceasefire in the Second Lebanon War of 2006. In exchange, southern Lebanon was to become “free of any armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon.”
Hezbollah went on to install as many as 200,000 missiles in southern Lebanese mosques, schools and hospitals, while both the Lebanese Armed Forces and the U.N. forces charged with enforcing 1701 looked on with bovine passivity.
Israel is now demanding the belated implementation of 1701, so that Israeli civilians can feel safe enough to return to their homes.
“There is a short window of time for diplomatic understandings, which we prefer,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant last week told Biden administration envoy Amos Hochstein. “We will not tolerate the threats posed by the Iranian proxy, Hezbollah, and we will ensure the security of our citizens.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah responded: “If the enemy thinks of waging a war on Lebanon, we will fight without restraint, without rules, without limits and without restrictions.” As you may have inferred, Hezbollah has never been punctilious about rules, limits and restrictions.
With one war simmering and another brewing, debates have nevertheless begun about what should happen in Gaza the “day after.”
Last week, Gallant presented to the United States a plan not approved by Israel’s coalition government, which though united on the necessity of defeating Hamas and Hezbollah, remains divided on other issues.
Under this plan, “Hamas will not rule Gaza, and Israel will not rule Gaza.” However, the Israel Defense Forces will retain “operational freedom of action and take necessary steps to ensure no terror resurgence.”
Responsibility to restore basic government services would be taken on by Palestinian civil servants regarded as more technocratic than ideological. Israel’s Defense Ministry reportedly has a list of such people.
The Biden administration, however, is insisting that a “revitalized Palestinian Authority” be given a leading role. How such revitalization might be achieved remains unclear.
Between 2006 and 2007, Hamas fought a civil war to force the P.A. out of Gaza. Since then, the P.A. has governed only the West Bank, and by no means effectively.
P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas was elected to a single four-year term that began in 2005. He’s remained in office ever since, not bothering to ask Palestinians for their vote a second time.
In November, Abbas celebrated his 88th birthday. A December poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, found that 90% of Palestinians want him to resign.
An idea that’s come from the IDF and the Shin Bet (Israel’s internal security service) would involve empowering traditional Gazan leaders, the heads of tribes and clans whom Hamas stripped of any authority, often through violence.
No one expects such figures to sing kumbaya with Israelis. But they might prefer to put their energies and additional aid from “the international donor community” into rebuilding Gaza rather than preparing for another round of slaughtering, torturing, raping and baby-stealing leading to another catastrophic war.
Yahya R. Sarraj, the Hamas-appointed mayor of Gaza City, last month published an essay in The New York Times, lamenting the destruction of his hometown’s “intricately designed Rashad al-Shawa Cultural Center,” its theater, its public library, its zoo, its “Children’s Happiness Center,” its “squares, mosques, churches and parks,” its seafront which includes “a promenade,” and “recreation areas.”
He didn’t address how it’s possible that the Gaza he describes is so dramatically different from the picture painted by Israel’s enemies: a territory under “occupation” (despite the 2005 withdrawal of every Israeli farmer and soldier); “blockaded” (despite the huge quantity of weapons Hamas managed to import); with Gazans subjected to Israeli “genocide” (even as the population has burgeoned); an “unliveable” (sic) “open-air prison” (in the words of the United Nations).
“Why can’t we live in peace and have open borders and free trade?” the mayor asks at the end of his essay.
I’ll answer: You can, Sarraj, if new Gazan leaders are willing to nonviolently coexist alongside Israelis rather than exterminate Israelis. That outcome, I hope you understand, can come about only after Hamas is defeated.