Fighting in Gaza
Fighting in GazaRoi Ben Yaakov Hy"d instagram photo

There is much to criticize about PM Netanyahu’s governance over the last year – but it is wrong to malign him for failure to announce his plans for “the day after” the victory over Hamas, a victory that has not yet been achieved and seems harder to achieve each day.

The Allies, one month after D-Day, did not announce their plans for “the day after” victory over Germany nor were they asked. Such would have been premature; besides, the world had not yet developed its duplicitous theories about the sacred, inviolable rights of enemy civilians in wartime which render absolute victory at best more remote and at worst impossible. It still, then, embraced such sane notions [against implacable, brutal enemies] as “unconditional surrender".

Those who harp on the day after – Americans, the media, Benny Gantz, and other assorted opponents of Netanyahu – are acting from nakedly political ambitions and harming the war effort. How and why? There are only several possible options that are being considered, none of them efficacious, and the only one that can actually succeed and satisfy Israel’s interests is not now on the table. Here are the options and the problems each engenders:

-Let Hamas survive and govern Gaza. This seems to be the American plan, although they would never express it aloud. Failure to utterly vanquish Hamas means that Hamas survives, and a Hamas that remains in existence will continue to exert dominion over all of Gaza, including local and third party elements that seek to manage or govern Gazan affairs. Mere survival is the Hamas definition of victory and a defeat for Israel, however it is spun. Hamas would, in this scenario, have literally gotten away with murder, rape, torture, and kidnapping, while persuading the world that Israel is the villain.

-Let the Palestinian Authority govern Gaza. This has literally been done before, in 2005. It didn’t work then, it won’t work now, as the PA is incompetent, corrupt, and evil, and differs with Hamas only on tactics, not on goals. For Israel to allow this would make a mockery of our suffering and the deaths of our soldiers, and would be repeating a past mistake hoping for a different result.

-Bring in a third party (like local Gazans, the UN, an Arab country, or an international organization) to govern Gaza. This sounds better in theory than it would apply in practice, but even in theory it is preposterous. Israel sub-contracted its security in south Lebanon to the UN, which only succeeded in bolstering Hezbollah. Who wants to try that again? And even if Hamas is defeated in Gaza, it still exists in Judea, Samaria, Yerushalayim, and outside Israel. No Arab country will risk antagonizing Hamas (or Iran), which has never been averse to killing Arabs. Any international organization would quickly come under the influence of nefarious, anti-Israel forces. Any local Gazans would perforce be subject to the control of the most violent entity extant.

-Let Israel govern Gaza, with or without Jewish resettlement. This is logical and appropriate (see below) but it would obviously lead to an insurgency - guerilla attacks on Israeli forces that would resemble Lebanon in the two decades before the year 2000 Ehud Barak-led flight in the middle of the night. Attacks on Jews would be routine, the death toll would mount, and the opposition of Israeli society would expand proportionately. The presence of Israeli settlements would somewhat ameliorate the security situation but would provide the enemy with fresh targets.

If these are the options, it is no wonder why Netanyahu refrains from articulating a “day after” policy. None of these will work and, frankly, none justify the terrible devastation we in Israel have endured for the last seven months. We will soon again find ourselves in the exact same situation – terror, rockets, missiles, now augmented by cross-border raids that attempt to seize hostages – but from a more precarious security position and with residents of the south justifiably afraid to return to their homes.

What might work is only understandable in context of Israel’s military history

Israel has won several wars in our 76 years of existence: the War of Independence, the 1956 Sinai Campaign, the Six Day War, and even the Yom Kippur War – but none since. What characterized those victories was not just the survival of Israel but especially the loss of territory by the enemy. We retained the land won in 1948, but surrendered within months the territory gained in 1956 and 1973, and over the ensuing decades most of the land liberated in 1967.

The diplomatic failures that led to retreat are not necessarily relevant in this context; what is relevant is that Arabs perceive loss of land as the primary indication of defeat. (Egypt considers the Yom Kippur War a victory because they immediately recovered the land west of the Suez Canal that Israel had seized, and within months, parts of southern Sinai, and within few years, the rest of Sinai.)

Loss of territory spells defeat. Any military victory (even over Hamas) that does not entail a loss of territory produces a stalemate, is simply preparation for the next round, and emboldens our enemies. While Israel has no designs on Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, or any other country, Gaza is not a foreign, sovereign entity at a distance from Israel. Gaza has a Jewish history, but, more importantly, is adjacent to Israel, and as we have learned to our detriment, close to our population centers via missile and, sadly, ground attack.

If parts or all of Gaza are not controlled by Israel, then we are spinning our wheels, kicking the can down the road (perhaps not even that far down the road), and simply accepting that we will forever live with terror.

Alternatively, we can employ strategic creativity and change the dynamic. What would that look like?

Hamas’ strategy can best be described as the “protracted war” approach. It does not seek to engage Israel on the battlefield in a frontal assault and not only because they are cowards or they cannot win; it is primarily because this is not their strategy. Hamas seeks to wear us down, demoralize us, so that over time we lose faith in ourselves, our leaders, our mission, and our very right to live in Israel, and make concessions until finally there is nothing left to concede.

This tactic is not new; in fact, it goes back to ancient times, and is known as the “Fabian strategy,” named for the Roman general Fabius the Delayer, who avoided direct battles with the more powerful Carthage and instead bled them over time. More recently, it is what caused the United States to cut and run from Vietnam and Afghanistan. Of course, unlike Israel, those countries were thousands of miles from the US, not right next door, as is the Gaza Strip to us.

What allows an entity to engage in “protracted war”? I quote from Donald Stoker’s “Why America Loses Wars.” The weaker enemy avoids any battle that would result in a decisive defeat, instead engaging in many small attacks that wear down the will and resources of the stronger party.

-“The one executing this strategy has to have space into which to flee in the face of enemy pursuit.” In our context, that means the extensive tunnel network that Hamas built.

-“This means the existence of internal or external sanctuary. The delayer also must have significant support among his people, because he is betting that the will of his side will last longer than the will of the opponent.” In our context, that means that undeniable, indisputable fact that Israel has foolishly failed to emphasize in this conflict: Gazans are not innocent civilians who must be indulged, fed, and supported. They are part of the Hamas terror network and serve the vital function of human shields, whose homes are arsenals and whose living rooms conceal the tunnel openings. Rather than being horrified by the October 7 massacre, they were exhilarated by it, and many joined in the macabre festivities.

Here is where the strategic creativity comes in.

All the conventional approaches that are being proffered literally play into Hamas’ hands. They want a third party governance, or the PA or UN to assume control, and certainly an Israeli security presence. Even “destroyed,” they will quickly regroup, as many have already blended back into the population of “innocent civilians,” and salivate at the opportunity to wage a guerrilla war against Israeli soldiers.

What does not play into their hands? What will confound their plans and frustrate their diabolical ambitions?

The loss of territory – and the dispersal of the civilian population.

Simply put, there is no way to ensure Israel’s security and preclude guerilla attacks on our soldiers and missile attacks (and worse) on Israel while a hostile Arab population remains in Gaza. And that has to be the focus of Israel’s diplomacy in the months ahead. Most of the Gazan Arab population must be resettled elsewhere in the world, save for those who wish to live in peace with Israel.

Resettlement is moral – condign punishment for those who voted for Hamas and have long supported its terror. Resettlement is logical, for how many times must we fight over the same tiny territory? Is seven times not enough? Are three withdrawals insufficient? When will we learn that most of this population hates us and wants to murder us? And when will our leaders hammer home these obvious points to the world, instead of blathering about the quantity of humanitarian aid we provide our enemy?

How that goal is accomplished is a question of tactics; more important at this point is to agree on the strategy. Clearly, the “world” in the short term will freak out, notwithstanding that the resettlement of hostile populations has taken place since time immemorial and stabilized regions, including in the United States, Europe, Asia, and India/Pakistan.

But this is the same “world” that objects to and constrains our right of self-defense, that wants to punish our leaders as war criminals for exercising that right, that offers condolences to Iran on the death of a mass murderer, that accuses us of genocide the more we try to save lives, that seeks to appease evil rather than eradicate it, and has lost the desire to “win” wars against evildoers, regardless of the consequences. This is the same world that loses every “protracted” war and thereby rewards and encourages evil.

It is an open secret that hundreds of thousands of Gazans have fled in recent years to other countries and that most Gazans – even many tacit Hamas supporters – would leave Gaza today given the opportunity. That makes resettlement both moral and practical, and anyone motivated by concern for Gazans rather than contempt for Israel should embrace it. Otherwise, these Gazans are being sentenced again to a life of misery.

Resettlement will not be easy – no Arab country wants the Gazans – but a willing, creative, sympathetic world has the resources to do it. It is the only plan that has a chance of succeeding; all the other suggestions are tired clichés that have been tried and failed before. We can try what might work or we can try again what won’t work. If history is any guide, our leaders will again choose to recycle the failed policies of the past. The desire of the West to "rebuild Gaza" will be nothing less than the reconstruction of Gaza's terror infrastructure no matter how the aid is presented or distributed and no matter which party provides oversight.

The next round of attacks are inevitable if we continue to play this game according to their rules, but that need not be our fate if our strength and fortitude somehow permeate our leaders.

What then is our vision of “the day after”? Hamas is vanquished from Gaza, and Jews and however many peace-loving Arabs that exist residing side-by-side transforming Gaza into a Mediterranean oasis. Certainly, this is a dream, but every other suggestion is a nightmare – an avoidable nightmare.

Let us pursue the dream, which at least provides the hope that our sacrifices were not in vain. We have begun the 77th year of our existence – oz (strength) in gematria. May Hashem grant us this strength (Tehillim 29:11), which we will need in the days ahead, and through strength may we achieve the blessings of peace, even a partial peace.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky was a rabbi and attorney in the United States and now resides in Israel where he teaches Torah and serves as Israel Chairman of the Coalition for Jewish Values and Senior Research Associate at the Jerusalem Center for Applied Policy.