תיעוד מפעילות הכוחות במרחב ג'נין
תיעוד מפעילות הכוחות במרחב ג'ניןצילום: דובר צה"ל

It is undoubtedly true that “an eternal people are not afraid of a long journey,” but the moral flabbiness of the West does infiltrate the psyche of many Israelis as well. We do not seek war nor do we glorify war but “war fatigue” is a real phenomenon. In the West, people grow tired of war because generally their material lives are satisfying and they would rather indulge their physical desires than fight for abstract values. In Israel, there is weariness because of the persistent loss of young life, because life here is also blessed, and because – let’s face it – there is a lack of confidence that the security situation will markedly change if and when this round of hostilities ends.

To our detriment, many people entrusted with our security have long stopped speaking in terms of victory and their management of our wars reflects that resignation. Little effort is made to change the security situation fundamentally. That would entail a completely new reality, in which we no longer tolerate rockets and missiles fired at our cities and towns (whether or not they are intercepted by the Iron Dome) and, indeed, no longer even accept as normal the need for checkpoints to prevent terrorists from coming to murder us.

That is not simple, but it is manifestly doable, as wars have traditionally been conducted before effete liberals imposed on the West rules of war that guarantee neither victory nor defeat and serve to embolden the barbarians to wage incessant war until their goals are achieved.

It is thus fair to ask: what are Israel’s objectives in this war and how close are we to attaining them? And what are Hamas’ objectives in this war and how close are they to attaining them? The answers are sobering.

Our government has repeatedly declared that Israel has three aims: the elimination of Hamas as a military and political force, the safe return of all our hostages and repatriation of the bodies of the murdered, and the preclusion of Gaza as a future threat to Israeli civilians.

To be sure, some of these goals are in the process of being achieved, even if the first two have always been somewhat incompatible. Our soldiers – with G-d’s grace and their extraordinary dedication, competence, and bravery – have dealt a severe blow to the enemy’s capabilities, although they have not yet finished the job. They have been hampered, and not for the first time, by a government that has vacillated under American pressure, and that has produced too many starts and stops to conduct an aggressive campaign to victory. The enemy has repeatedly been given the opportunity to regroup, has foolishly been supplied with assistance by our generosity, has for months (until recently) been allowed to replenish their weapons stockpiles through the Rafiach tunnel system, and has effectively used its “citizens,” few of whom are innocent, as “human shields” and won the hearts of many Westerners already ill-disposed to our existence.

More than one hundred innocent hostages have been freed in exchange for hundreds of bloodthirsty terrorists and eight have been freed in heroic rescue attempts. It is unknown how many hostages are still alive; their lives mean everything to us and less than nothing to Hamas except as pawns. It is likely true that, as trading pawns, Hamas values the lives of the hostages more than it values the lives of the Gazans who elected them to power.

The first two goals have been partly achieved but by no means has the mission been accomplished. Dozens of hostages still remain in harsh captivity and Hamas terrorists are still active.

The third objective – foreclosing the possibility that Gaza will be a base of terror against Israel – is far from concluded. When occasional rockets are still launched from places that the IDF was supposed to control then we know that the enemy still lurks, still hates, and still lusts for our blood.

What are Hamas’ objectives, beyond its oft-stated goal of destroying Israel?

Hamas also has three, perhaps four, objectives:

1.murdering as many Jews as it can,

2.using hostages in order to gain freedom for its imprisoned terrorists, and

3. surviving.

A fourth might be blackening Israel’s name across the world but that seems to be an aspiration that emerged from the conduct of the war rather than an objective in its original attack.

In achieving its goals, Hamas has, unfortunately, fared better than we like to think. It murdered more Jews in one day than at any time since the Holocaust and retains control over dozens of other Jews that it can brutalize and murder at will. It still has rocket and missile capabilities that can terrorize Israeli cities and make life complicated. Sad for the Jewish people and civilization itself, that is a Hamas success.

Hamas also survives and it seems Israel has fostered the notion that defeat of Hamas in Gaza is tantamount to defeat of Hamas, period. That notion is false. Hamas today thrives in Jerusalem where it follows the same playbook it did to assert control over Gaza – dominating societal institutions such as mosques, welfare, education, employment, culture, sports, and the like, and then indoctrinating and radicalizing recipients of its largesse. In this endeavor, as in Gaza for years, it is subsidized openly by Qatar and Turkey.

Hamas also dominates the Arabs of Judea and Samaria, one (good) reason why the Palestinian Authority has not held an election in twenty years. The PA correctly senses it will lose.

And Hamas maintains its political base of power in countries around the world – and as is obvious from the violent anti-Israel and anti-Jewish protests in the United States and Europe, it is a burgeoning though surreptitious force there as well.

Furthermore, thus far, Hamas has gained the release of hundreds of its terrorists and will continue to up the ante and dangle our hostages as bait to free savage, barbaric murderers of Jews now imprisoned in Israel – to free them and again set them loose to try to murder more Jews. Israel has long failed to counter this diabolical strategy, achievable in two ways: first, executing convicted terrorist murderers (and attempted murderers) and, second, prohibiting the exchange of terrorists for hostages. Both concepts have been bandied about for years and legislation has been introduced but never enacted. Both would neutralize that tactic. Failure to authorize these measures has been gross negligence and has made us vulnerable to the hideous methods of the terrorists. The fear – expressed by some Israeli politicians for years – that the death penalty for terrorists would lead to harsh treatment for captive Jews is, in retrospect, tragically myopic.

Let it be said: a deal that frees vicious murderers of Jews even in exchange for our innocent hostages endangers even more Jewish lives down the road, and that road is not very long. It literally helps Hamas fulfill one of its primary war aims, renders it a hero in the Arab world, and will ensure its survival.

The unpleasant reality is that, at this point, Hamas seems closer to achieving its war aims than does Israel. It already murdered more than 1500 Jews, it has gained and plans to gain the release of its even more incarcerated terrorists, and since it hides among civilians, does not always wear uniforms, is not always identifiable, and has bases outside of Israel, it will likely survive as well, even in Gaza.

How can this trend be reversed? It doesn’t help to pummel more buildings or even destroy more tunnels, although such is obviously justifiable and must be done. Defeat for Hamas – indeed, defeat in the Arab world generally – is defined as loss of territory. The stark reality is that the only way to ensure that Gaza is never again a base of terror against Israel is to depopulate Gaza. Its population is already radicalized. Sinwar can be killed tomorrow (we hope) and Gaza will remain radicalized. A new Sinwar will arise the day after. There is no shortage of homicidal maniacs to take his place.

But the depopulation of Gaza – say, at first to Europe, which absorbed five million Syrian refugees in the last decade – will be perceived as a defeat for Hamas and its humiliation among the Arab populace.

Add to that the resettlement of Gaza by Jews – and that is the picture of victory.

The truth is, anything else, even coming from our leaders, is empty spin and rhetoric. Plans to bring in the PA (G-d forbid), some assortment of friendly local Arabs, foreign entities, etc. are all nibbling at the edges and paving the way for the return of Hamas. Biden’s plan to rebuild Gaza from afar will inevitably rebuild all the tunnels and the terror infrastructure. Alternatively, resettlement of this hostile population also spares further harm to the “civilians” whose humanitarian interests are an overriding concern to the West, and apparently to Israel, despite the ubiquitous danger they pose to our well-being.

How that is to be done is of less import at this point that a consensus that this is the only decent, humanitarian way forward, the only approach that preserves Israel’s interests and even improves the plight of the Gazans.

The question is, in this regard and in all matters relating to war, in the modern era: does the will to win exist? And the answer has far greater implications than we can imagine because the situation in the north and the homelessness of 80,000 Israelis should be intolerable to any self-respecting sovereign government.

The great American economist and social scientist Thomas Sowell once wrote that “if you are not prepared to use force to defend civilization, then be prepared to accept barbarism.” We have indulged barbarism far too long – bombs on buses and in markets, suicide bombers, stabbings and shootings, and now mass murder, rapes, torture, burning, dismemberment, and kidnapping.

The more we tiptoe around the reality of barbarism and shy away from confronting it with the full force that it deserves, the more we encourage it and the further we are from achieving our objectives in this war. Those who fantasize about accommodating barbarism were the originators, proponents, and administrators of the “conceptziyah” who brought upon us the failures of Oslo, the flight from Lebanon, the Gaza Expulsion, and the catastrophe of October 7.

The West is replete with politicians who, whatever they say publicly, are prepared to “accept barbarism” in exchange for the illusion of quiet, the temporary cease-fire. They are ones who are now clamoring for a cease-fire so that Hamas, not Israel, can achieve its war aims. They are afflicted with war fatigue because their primary interest is not our physical survival but their own political survival. An eternal people know better.

The Torah – the source of Jewish morality in its pure form, untainted by Western values – teaches us otherwise about the perennial war against evil, the conduct of such a war, our rights to the land of Israel, and the rights of the enemy population that seeks to murder us and strangle our national life.

We should no longer settle for the half-measures of secular politicians that simply seek to push off the next debacle but seek workable solutions that remove these “pins in our eyes and thorns in our side” (Bamidbar 33:55).

The existing approach cannot achieve our declared war objectives. As such, that approach must and should change, and it is not too late to change it. All we need is the faith, spirit, and willpower to do it.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky, Esq.was a pulpit rabbi and attorney in the United States and now lives in Israel where he teaches Torah in Modiin and serves as the Senior Research Associate for the Jerusalem Center for Applied Policy and Israel Region Vice-President of the Coalition for Jewish Values.