Israel’s Disastrous Policy Comeback

Israel Defense Forces (IDF), take position during ground operations at a location given as Gaza

The Hamas massacre in Israel on October 7, 2023, was a result of two erroneous conceptzia. The first conceptzia, coined by Israeli military planners in the late 1960s, suggested that Egypt would not go to war until 1974 when advanced Soviet fighter jets were acquired. The Agranat Commission blamed this for a blindness to the preparations taking place before Israel’s eyes. The second conceptzia, driven by the idea that Hamas was undergoing an organizational evolution, believed that economic advancement would bring calm and give Hamas something to lose. This misunderstanding led to a call for continued economic activities with Gaza and increased work permits for Gazans to maintain calm on the border.

The ruling center-right in Israel takes a “conflict management” approach to the Palestinian issue, preferring to leave open the prospect of resolution as the region changes and new leaders emerge. They believe that Israel should ease tensions and improve living conditions for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza while reserving the right to hit back at terrorist activity selectively and intelligence-driven.

The conceptzia transformed blood-curdling threats by Hamas into empty words, leading to the security establishment disregarding statements from Hamas leaders. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, chairman of a security organization near the Gaza border, accused the government of abandoning them. A kibbutz member pointed out that his community had only four rifles and complained that senior security officials belittled his warnings about hundreds of murderers entering his town and killing its residents.

Avichai Brodetz, whose family was taken hostage by Hamas, expressed frustration at a Likud member of parliament for not destroying the group due to the collapse of the IDF’s conceptzia. He argued that Hamas was more clever than the Israelis and carried out an exceptional operation, raped women, and killed children because the IDF was not present.
Israel ignored warnings about Hamas’ plans, including live-fire exercises and videos on the Gaza border. IDF lookouts were warned but were threatened with court-martials. A noncommissioned
officer wrote documents highlighting Hamas’ invasion plans. Senior IDF officers dismissed these warnings as “fantasies.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is held personally responsible for the concept, as he promised to eliminate Hamas and claimed it was similar to ISIS, but allowed the organization to grow.

Israel’s political and military officials, including the media, supported the separation policy and backed Netanyahu’s decision to avoid crushing Hamas by land. They ignored the Islamist nature of Hamas, believing Israel’s economic strength and military superiority made it less dangerous. Post-Oct. 7, critics criticized Israel’s policies and paradigms. In response, politicians changed their stance, with Prime Minister Netanyahu speaking of victory and winning numerous times. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant declared himself responsible for the victory, and Bezalel Smotrich halted all budgetary outlays to focus on Israel’s victory.

Legions of other Israelis also called for victory and the destruction of Hamas, with former prime minister Naftali Bennett calling for the destruction of Hamas. Former national security advisor Yaakov Amidror, former national security advisor Meir Ben Shabbat, former deputy national security advisor Chuck Freilich, former IDF intelligence chief Tamir Heyman, former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin, and former head of Mossad Yossi Cohen calling for the elimination of Hamas officials.

Public figures expressed unprecedented verbal aggressiveness, calling Hamas “human animals” and Bennett “Nazis.” Television news anchor Shay Golden went off-script, threatening to destroy Israel for every 1,300 Israelis massacred. A hip-hop anthem promising to rain hell on Israel’s enemies jumped to the #1 spot, and a pop singer called for Israel to “Erase Gaza. Don’t leave a single person there.”

A Middle East Forum poll revealed that 70% of the public supports the destruction of Hamas and a ground operation to achieve this. Only 15% want the unconditional release of captives held by Hamas, and 13% want the complete disarmament of Hamas. A surprising 54% of Israeli Arabs prioritized eliminating Hamas. This indicates a strong anti-Hamas and anti-PA sentiment dominates Israeli politics, with only left-wing parties like Labor and Meretz in opposition.

The recent ferocity in Israel’s response to the October 7 massacre suggests a fundamental shift in outlook. The rhetoric of victory following the massacre ended abruptly, replaced by negotiations with Hamas over terms for the release of some hostages. Israeli officialdom and public showed signs of hastily reverting to the attitudes and policies that led to the massacre. The policies rely on the assumption that economic benefits like increased work permits, a larger fishing zone, and external funding discourage Palestinian aggression.

Symptoms of this reversion include the security establishment approval of the entry of 8,000 West Bank workers to Israel, mostly to engage in agricultural work, and oxymoronic orders limiting Arab access on the West Bank itself. The Palestinian Authority (PA) offered full-throated support for the Hamas massacre, and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement boasted of having played a role in it. Despite this, the Israeli cabinet continues to send tax funds to the PA. Ben-Gvir tried to loosen the rules of engagement for police officers, but Gantz managed to deflect the vote, keeping the more restrictive regulations in place. Five days after the massacre, Israel shuttered its Public Diplomacy Ministry, symbolizing Israel’s historically hapless information efforts.

Israel’s communications minister criticized Al Jazeera, a Qatari television channel, for inciting anti-Israel sentiment and attempting to shut down its office in Israel. The government rejected this, ignoring Qatar’s role in the October 7 attacks. Before the massacre, Israel supplied Gaza with 49 million liters of water through three pipelines. After the massacre, it reinstated 28.5 million liters through two pipelines, despite Hamas damaging the third pipeline on Oct. 7. Fuel supplies also resumed. The Israeli government’s efforts to dismantle Hamas have been met with resistance and criticism. Despite the talk of victory, negativism has persisted, with some students objecting to the display of patriotism, while others believe that the Palestinian Authority has built close to 20,000 structures near the Green Line, its border with the West Bank under full Israeli control. The Regavim organization warns that this phenomenon is a real danger and a ticking bomb.

Political and security establishment responses have been inconsistent, with polls showing a decrease in support for the destruction of Hamas and a rise in support for the hostage agreement. In mid-October polling, 70% wanted to “eliminate Hamas,” but in mid-November polling, only 38% defined victory as “Gaza is no longer under Hamas control.” A November poll of Israeli Jews found that 34% said incapacitating Hamas and 46% the hostages’ return. The public has pushed the destruction of Hamas aside in favor of rescuing the hostages, with the latter outweighing the former. A mid-November Maariv poll found that the National Unity party, headed by former chief of staff Gantz, jumped from 12 seats in the prior election to 43 seats in the next one.

Politicians began seeking ways to square the circle, with former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren suggesting changing the war goal to securing Hamas’s unconditional surrender. Israel offered Hamas “free passage from Gaza” in exchange for hostages’ release, leading to concessions such as freeing 150 prisoners, increasing supplies to Gaza, and not sending warplanes over southern Gaza, despite initial discussions about destroying Hamas.

This deal has several implications, including implying that the bargaining process will continue indefinitely, with multiple breaks, which Hamas uses to undermine the dismantling of its political and military power. Additionally, interrupting surveillance allows Hamas fighters to escape their besieged tunnels or bring supplies into the tunnels. Trading Palestinian security prisoners for October 7 victims confirms Hamas’ argument that a moral equivalency exists between criminals and innocent civilians violently abducted.

The Israeli leadership team that signed the hostage deal on October 7 made it vulnerable to appeals from hostage families and foreign states. Netanyahu and others, including the commander of the Unit 8200, refused to take responsibility, compounding the problem. The conceptzia still reigns, with hostage family relatives blaming Hamas when it is the Israelis themselves who are to blame. On November 22, Netanyahu announced that he had instructed Mossad to kill Hamas leaders, including those in Qatar. He denied that the ceasefire agreement grants immunity to Hamas leaders, stating that there is no commitment to not act in a truce against Hamas leaders. However, a source informed him that Netanyahu assured Qatar at the start of the hostage negotiations that Mossad would not go to the emirate to kill Hamas political leaders.

Not all Israelis place personal concerns over national interest. Eliahu Liebman, father of the hostage Elyakim Liebman, protested against the proposed deal, stating that they want all hostages released by attacking the enemy with all of their strength and not surrendering to their demands. Tikvah, a group of hostage families, suggests that the most effective method for recapturing hostages is to apply unwavering pressure on Hamas until they become a liability.

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