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OpinionIsrael at War

The battlefield of the mind

Israel should make every effort to convince Hamas terrorists to surrender.

Terrorists surrender to Israeli forces near Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza, Dec. 14, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Terrorists surrender to Israeli forces near Kamal Adwan Hospital in Beit Lahiya, in northern Gaza, Dec. 14, 2023. Credit: IDF.
Robert Nash
Robert Nash retired from U.S. government service in 2021 after a 30-year career as an analyst at the departments of Justice and Defense.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre, it has become clear to almost everyone in Israel that Hamas must be eliminated because Israel can never be secure as long as Hamas rules Gaza.

While doing the hard work of destroying Hamas, however, the IDF must also engage the enemy on the battlefield of the mind. To shorten the war and limit casualties, a serious effort should be made to convince Hamas terrorists to surrender rather than fight to the death.

Is it possible to convince Hamas terrorists to surrender? In fact, many already have, and many more might be persuadable. Israel and its allies should make every effort and use every means of communication—including leaflets, billboards, flyers, radio and television broadcasts, podcasts, email, voicemail, automated phone calls and even skywriting—to reach these terrorists and urge them to surrender now.

However futile this might seem at first glance, there are compelling reasons to believe that individual terrorists could be brought to see surrender as being in their best interests:

Self-preservation: It should be made very clear that the only options for Hamas terrorists are to surrender or be killed. The idea that Hamas might prevail over the IDF is delusional and should be relentlessly refuted. Every ally of Israel should repeat, amplify and reinforce this message.

The corrupt Hamas leadership: It should be demonstrated to Hamas members that their leaders are using them and wasting their people’s lives while putting their own interests ahead of their subordinates’ interests.

Martyrdom lies: The obvious lie that martyrs will be rewarded with 70 virgins in heaven should be ridiculed. The hypocrisy of religious and political leaders who preach martyrdom for their followers but not for themselves should be exposed. Hamas members need to know that their leaders are lying to them, manipulating them and exploiting them.

Humane treatment by the IDF: The IDF is the most moral army in the world. It has to be because it is also the most scrutinized army in the world. Hamas members need to be told that they will be treated humanely by the IDF after they surrender.

Israeli prison will be an improvement in living conditions: Hamas terrorists in Gaza are hiding from the IDF in tunnels where the availability of food, water, sanitation, sleeping arrangements, heating, ventilation and air conditioning is, to put it mildly, less than ideal. In addition, they are living with the constant threat of death. These living conditions will be immediately and dramatically improved by surrendering. An Israeli prison would be like a resort hotel compared with life in the terror tunnels.

Respect for power: Palestinian Arabs in general and Hamas members in particular have great respect for power. Their survival instinct and their culture both impel them to align with the “strong horse.” As IDF ground operations have taken control of most of the territory of Gaza and are well on their way to taking the rest, the balance of power in Gaza has shifted in favor of Israel. It is now the “strong horse” in Gaza, not Hamas.

The promise of a better future: An individual Hamas terrorist contemplating whether to surrender or die needs to know that surrender is far superior in both the short and long-term. Most terrorists will not receive life sentences and in prison they can learn job skills that will give them a more promising future upon release.

Fear: There is more to fear in continuing to fight Israel than in surrendering. Fear persuasion is the strongest form of persuasion. The IDF and Israel’s allies must understand this and act accordingly.

The IDF should use these arguments and win on the battlefield of the mind.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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