columnIsrael at War

The ‘conceptzia’ is harder to combat than Hamas

The IDF spokesman should learn to keep his pre-Oct. 7 ideas to himself or take a hike with his boss, Herzi Halevi.

IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari on his way to give a statement to the media in Tel Aviv, Oct. 16, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
IDF Spokesperson Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari on his way to give a statement to the media in Tel Aviv, Oct. 16, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

In an interview on Wednesday evening with Channel 13, Israel Defense Forces Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari made a statement so jaw-dropping that host Almog Boker was unable to refrain from muttering “Wow.”

Whether the broadcast journalist was actually stunned by the remark or merely aware that it would go viral isn’t clear. Probably a bit of both.

“The notion that Hamas can be destroyed, that it can be eradicated, is simply throwing dust in the eyes of the public,” he said. “If we don’t bring something else to Gaza, we will end up with Hamas again.”

He prefaced this by explaining that “Hamas is an idea. Hamas is a party. It’s planted in the hearts of the people. Whoever thinks we can make [it] disappear is wrong. It’s the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s been in the region for many years.”

No kidding.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said from the outset of the war that just as there are Nazis in the world, Hamas terrorists won’t vanish. Ditto for ISIS. The point is to strip them of political and military power and control of territory.

But Hagari wasn’t echoing Netanyahu’s words. On the contrary, he was steering them in a different direction entirely—one that his boss, Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, has been focusing on since the Oct. 7 massacre: the question of the “day after.”

 “What we can do is foster something new to replace Hamas—something that will make the population [of Gaza] aware that someone else is distributing food and managing public services,” Hagari said, before asking rhetorically, “Who will that be? What will it be?”

Here he suddenly pretended that he wasn’t stepping out of his lane and entering a realm that’s none of his business—or at least not until he takes off his uniform and joins his left-leaning compatriots waiting in the wings to supplant Netanyahu’s coalition.

“That’s for the political leadership to decide,” he said, without an ounce of humility. “But to truly weaken Hamas, this is the way.”

Big of him to share such outstanding insights, despite their being beyond his purview.

When asked about the Palestinian Authority as an alternative to Hamas, again he deferred to the political echelon, but this is precisely the point at which he made the assertion that elicited the “wow” from Boker.

It’s one thing for the IDF spokesperson to talk about troop movements, operational accomplishments and even certain inevitable failures—though his increasingly frequent apologetic breast-beating about the latter provides much fodder for the anti-Israel choir.

It’s quite another for the high-ranking officer to openly contradict the government’s stated war goal of total victory over Hamas. And this, while insisting that without replacing the jihadist governors of Gaza with “something new,” Hamas will remain.

In response to Hagari’s performance—not at his usual press-conference podium, but outdoors in Hezbollah-besieged northern Israel—the Prime Minister’s Office released a terse statement.

“The Security Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has defined the destruction of Hamas’s military and governing capabilities as one of the goals of the war,” it read. “The IDF, of course, is committed to this.”

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit then issued its own clarification, emphasizing that the army is “committed to achieving the goals of the war as defined by the Cabinet … and will continue to do so,” adding that Israeli soldiers “are fighting with determination and persistence to destroy the military capabilities and the governmental and organizational infrastructure of Hamas in Gaza, a clear military goal.”

Hagari’s comments, the military claimed, “referred to the destruction of Hamas as an ideology and an idea, and this was said by him very clearly and explicitly. … [A]ny other claim is taking things out of context.”

Uh, no. The context was left intact; it was the army’s clean-up that had the chinks.

Hagari used the “throwing dust in the public’s eyes” metaphor to warn against the ostensible delusion that Hamas will ever be demolished. Tweaking his feat of literary prowess, one could more accurately describe the IDF’s hasty elucidation as a ploy to pull the wool over those same public eyes.

Not that the details of this particular exchange are important. The upper echelons of the IDF haven’t exactly made a secret of their pre-Oct. 7 mentality.

They could almost be forgiven for holding on to what has come to be called the conceptzia without even realizing it. That’s how deeply ingrained it is in those who believed that Hamas was deterred right up until thousands of its bloodthirsty goons broke through the border fence and committed the worst atrocities against Jews since the Holocaust.

In fairness, the military elites weren’t the only ones to cling to that conceptzia. They were, however, tasked with keeping the enemy from harming Israeli citizens. And that didn’t work out so well, to put it mildly.

The least they could do, then, is to cease reverting to the conceptzia comfort zone, especially when addressing the country whose sons and daughters, husbands and wives and parents and siblings are either engaged in battle, evacuated from their homes, mourning the fallen or desperate to reunite with loved ones still in the hands of Hamas barbarians in Gaza.

Hagari pointed out, rightly, that the terrorist organization ruling the Strip is an “idea, a party.” Sadly, so is the conceptzia, which often seems harder for him and Halevi to combat than Hamas.

If this is the case, they need to be replaced with officers who—like our valiant soldiers on the ground—are not trapped in the old mind frame.

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