Dr. Martin Sherman
Dr. Martin Shermanצילום: MS

The enemy of …conventional wisdom is not ideas but the march of events—John Kenneth Galbraith

Saturday 7th of October marked the demise of conventional wisdom and of "respectable" Establishment perceptions regarding the conflict over the Gaza Strip. Decades-old precepts were washed away in a deluge of blood. The idea of Palestinian Arab self-rule (the two-state solution), along with the notion of "managing the conflict" (a.k.a. "mowing the lawn", or "kicking the can down the road") were swept away by the gory events of the past week.

A delusionary pipe dream

The savage assault proved definitively that the idea of a Hamas-governed Gaza, placated by economic well-being, is a hallucinatory pipe dream. Indeed, despite being the preferred illusion of much of the Israel decision-making echelons—particularly the military—it was, in fact, brusquely rejected by the Hamas leadership years ago.

Indeed, in 2017 then-defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, offered a seemingly tempting proposal. He proposed transforming Gaza “into the Singapore of the Middle East” by the construction of a seaport and an airport and by creating industrial zones that would help create 40,000 jobs—if Hamas would only agree to demilitarizing and to dismantling the tunnel and rocket systems it had built up.

The Hamas response was swift and dismissive. Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official, rejected it disdainfully, sneering, “If we wanted to turn Gaza into Singapore, we would have done it ourselves. We do not need favors from anyone.”

His tart retort prompted a stark comment from Bassam Tawil a Palestinian scholar at the Gatestone Institute: “Why did Hamas reject an offer for a seaport, airport and tens of thousands of jobs for Palestinians? Because Hamas does not see its conflict with Israel as an economic issue. The dispute is not about improving the living conditions of Palestinians, as far as Hamas is concerned. Instead, it is about the very existence of Israel.”

Caustically Tawil added: “Hamas deserves credit for one thing: its honesty concerning its intentions to destroy Israel and kill as many Jews as possible. Hamas does not want 40,000 new jobs for the poor unemployed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. It would rather see these unemployed Palestinians join its ranks and become soldiers in its quest to replace Israel with an Islamic empire.”

Yet, our leaders clung fast to the idea of economic welfare as a panacean balm—allowing the flow of Qatari dollars to stream into the Islamist coffers of Hamas. On October 7, this defective doctrine of "dollars for dummy stability" collapsed—tragically and catastrophically.

Why "mowing the lawn won't cut it"

Another "mainstream" doctrine that has been definitively disproved is that of "Conflict Management"—i.e. rather than Conflict Resolution. This is an approach—dubbed by some as "mowing the lawn"—that entails Israel launching a new bout of fighting every time the Palestinian Arab violence reaches levels it finds unacceptable. Thus, it essentially endorses a policy based on resignation to a reality of recurring rounds of violence, separated by intermittent periods of calm, whose length was determined by either the enemy’s willingness to engage, or by its desperation, making it impossible not to.

However, in the past, I pointed out that:“…the periods of inter-bellum calm have been consistently used by the Palestinian terror groups to enhance their capabilities…After all, when Israel left Gaza (2005), the range of the Palestinian rockets was barely 5 km., and the explosive charge they carried, about 5 kg. Now their missiles have a range of over 100 km. and warheads of around 100 kg. When Israel left Gaza, only the sparse population in its immediate proximity was threatened by missiles. Now well over 5 million Israelis, well beyond Tel Aviv, are menaced by them.”

Thus, Hamas—and its more radical off-shoots—exploited the periods of calm to further advance and extend its infrastructures and other abilities, which were barely imaginable a decade ago.

Accordingly, it is clear that successive bouts of limited fighting did little to deter Hamas in the sense of breaking their will to engage in battle. Rather, after every round, they have been forced to regroup, redeploy, and rearm—only to re-emerge spoiling for a fight, ever bolder, with ever-greater (indeed, once inconceivable) capabilities.

Demilitarizing/deposing Hamas: Futile & foolish fetishes

Shortsighted proposals like disarming or deposing Hamas ignore the very problems that their implementation would inevitably raise.

The fetish with the demilitarization of Gaza is both timeworn and futile. Indeed, it has ostensibly been part and parcel of the noxious Oslowian “peace-process” since its inception.

However, those who until October 7th, persisted in suggesting demilitarization of Gaza, were apparently oblivious to the fact that Gaza was already supposed to be demilitarized under the Oslo Accords, and they gave little clue as to why future demilitarization is likely to be any more effective than it was in the past—or by whom it might be enforced and how such enforcement is to be effected. 

But even if Hamas were effectively disarmed, how could it impose law and order on any more radical opponents or heavily armed criminal elements that permeate the Strip? Moreover, beyond day-to-day challenges to law and order, how was a defanged Hamas supposed to contend with attempts to overthrow it by more radical opponents both from within the Gaza Strip and from within the adjacent Sinai Peninsula?

If a demilitarized Hamas—or any disarmed successor regime—were faced with a significant challenge to its rule, whether from domestic or foreign sources, would Israel be called upon to defend it? Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a more Kafkaesque prospect than one in which IDF forces need to be mobilized to prop up a virulently Judeophobic Islamist regime, against even more virulently Judeophobic Islamist adversaries.

On the other hand, if Hamas were deposed, it is more than likely that its successor would be even more radical and extreme than Hamas itself. After all, it is highly implausible that a more moderate entity would be prepared to adopt the kind of behavior required to take power—and keep it—in the ruthless Gaza environment.

The inexorable logic of the Gaza conflict

The political rationale of the Gaza conflict can be expressed in the inexorable logic of an almost mathematical algorithm—studiously, and tragically, ignored by Israel's policy-making echelons.

Clearly, the only way Israel can ensure who governs Gaza is to govern it itself. Moreover, the only way Israel can govern Gaza without imposing its rule on "another people", is to remove that "other people" from the confines of Gaza, over which it is obligated to rule.

Up until October 7th, it was possible to conceive of this being conducted in a non-coercive manner by economically induced emigration. Lamentably, that possibility has been overtaken by events. Now, such an exodus must be implemented coercively and rapidly.

After all, Israeli lives matter!

The appalling experience of October 7th underscored the cruel—and hitherto disregarded—dilemma, which Israel can now ignore no longer!

It must choose between having Jews live in the Negev, or Arabs in Gaza. It is no longer possible there will be both.

Dr. Martin Shermanspent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project