Gallant after meeting Sec. Blinken
Gallant after meeting Sec. BlinkenIMoD
Caroline B. Glickis the senior contributing editor of Jewish News Syndicate and host of the “Caroline Glick Show” on JNS. She is also the diplomatic commentator for Israel’s Channel 14, as well as a columnist for Newsweek. Glick is the senior fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs at the Center for Security Policy in Washington and a lecturer at Israel’s College of Statesmanship.
(JNS) There was a comical aspect to Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s press appearance on Wednesday night. With his best imitation of Patton, he sternly demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abandon Israel’s war aims and instead adopt America’s, which happen to be Hamas’s war aims as well.

“I urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to make this decision and proclaim that Israel will not impose civil rule on the Gaza Strip; that there will be no Israel military government in the Gaza Strip. And that a [Palestinian] civilian alternative to Hamas in Gaza will be advanced immediately.”

Gallant insisted that the public expects the prime minister to crown the Palestinian Authority leader. “The nation of Israel is looking to us and expects us to make the right decisions.”

Yet since Oct. 7, the public’s expectation has been precisely the opposite of what Gallant proclaimed it to be.

Shortly after Hamas’s invasion and slaughter on Oct. 7, opposition politician and former defense minister Benny Gantz brought his party into the Netanyahu government and entered the new war cabinet along with Netanyahu and Gallant.

The cabinet’s first decision—made unanimously—was to set three goals for the war.

-First, eradicate Hamas as a military and political body.

-Second, bring all of the hostages home.

-Third, prevent Gaza from re-emerging as a security threat to Israel in the future.

The decision did not include specific directions for how to achieve those goals. But for most of the public, the answer was clear: Israel had to conquer and control the Gaza Strip. The only way to dismantle Hamas’s military units and eradicate its terror cells is by controlling Gaza and killing or capturing the terrorists. The only way to dismantle Hamas’s regime is to seize governing authority from Hamas and so cut the connection between Hamas and the civilian population.

Hamas is holding 132 hostages, some of them dead. (Four bodies have been recovered since Friday due to information obtained from interrogated terrorist prisoners.)The Israel Defense Forces has confirmed that 40 were murdered; that leaves 92 who may still be alive. The best way to save them is by gathering intelligence from the locals in Gaza and having military control over the area to conduct successful rescue operations.

The only way to reach a hostage deal with Hamas that will not pose a strategic threat to Israel over time is by having sufficient operational control over Gaza to threaten resources that Hamas cannot survive without.

The final goal—preventing Gaza from ever posing a threat to Israel in the future—likewise can only be achieved with Israel in full control over Gaza. Not only does the IDF have to be physically in control over the area to prevent Hamas from rebuilding or from a successor group from emerging, but it must also be present to prevent Hamas from retaining the loyalty of the people of Gaza. Only by denying the Gazan Arabs hope that Hamas will return will they be willing, over time, to accept a non-hostile local governing authority to replace Hamas.

While the vast majority of Israelis recognized that the war goals could only be achieved through the conquest and occupation and civil administration of Gaza, the IDF had other ideas.

Make the regime ‘pay a price’

With Gallant’s full support, the IDF failed to prepare any plans for the conquest of Gaza. Instead, in the immediate aftermath of Oct. 7, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi only prepared plans for a ground manuever in northern Gaza. In the first three months, the dynamics of battle and the competence of the 300,000 reservists brought two-thirds of Gaza under IDF control. Rather than build on this achievement and complete the conquest of Gaza, with no prior warning, Halevi sent the reservists home with a “thank you” card.

Critics rightly warned that Halevi’s move meant that Hamas forces would return and reassert control. Israel has retaken the same cities and towns multiple times now.

Many commentators had assumed that Israel’s first operation on the ground would be to seize Gaza’s international border with Egypt—the town of Rafah and the border zone, which is assumed to be filled with a tunnel network that transports men and weapons unimpeded from Egypt to Gaza. To block Hamas from rebuilding its forces in the midst of the IDF operation, it was self-evident that the first place to strike was the border.

But Halevi refused. Indeed, by January, when the need to seize Rafah and the international border had become inarguable, and Halevi was directly ordered to prepare plans for the cabinet’s approval, he stalled for three months before presenting the plans.

This brings us to the issue of civil governance, which Gallant raised so angrily on Wednesday evening. The U.S. demand that Israel provide humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza was and remains deeply hostile. On the ground, it meant that Hamas would be restocked and capable of waging a war of attrition against Israel.

While hostile, this American demand was also an opportunity. If the IDF were to take responsibility for distributing humanitarian aid, then it could drive a wedge between Hamas and the civilian population by denying Hamas the capacity to deliver required services to the public or give an advantage to its supporters over those less enthusiastic in their cooperation with the terror regime.

By taking on responsibility for distributing food, water and medical care to the local population, Israel would develop networks of informants and supporters itself at Hamas’s expense. Rewarded for their cooperation, they could serve as sources of accurate information about the whereabouts of both hostages and Hamas forces.

Over time, the networks Israel would build in aid distribution could form the nucleus of future civilian leadership in Gaza independent of and hostile to Hamas.

Despite the obvious strategic opportunity afforded by the U.S. demand, with Gallant’s full support, the IDF General Staff refused to take on the task. Instead, they subcontracted it to humanitarian aid groups that operate at Hamas’s mercy. In other words, the IDF itself ensured Hamas’s continued control over the civilian administration of Gaza.

The IDF top brass operational notion is that through limited ground engagements, it will degrade Hamas’s forces sufficiently to make the genocidal terror regime “pay a price.” This “price,” in turn, will convince Hamas to release the hostages.

Compel Israel to accept a Palestinian state

This brings us back to Gallant’s demand to install a Palestinian Arab alternative to Hamas (aka, the Palestinian Authority) in Gaza. Since shortly after Oct. 7, General Staff sources have let it be known that they want the P.A. to take over civil governance and even military control of Gaza. In the minds of Halevi, Shin Bet director Ronen Bar and their generals, with the P.A. in charge, Israel will be able to achieve the long-term aim of pacifying Gaza by carrying out occasional, small counter-terror raids against specific targets in operations lasting no more than a few hours.

Aside from the last part about the IDF having the right to enter Gaza to carry out assaults when necessary in the future, the IDF plan is the U.S. one. From the outset of the war, Washington has strenuously opposed an Israeli conquest and occupation of Gaza. It has demanded that Israel only carry out limited attacks against Hamas strongholds and allow Hamas to retain its control over the international border with Egypt.

The United States wants the P.A. in charge of Gaza because the Biden administration views the war as a means to advance its central goal of establishing a Palestinian state.

To push the IDF out, America has overseen hostage negotiations on Hamas’s terms. With the administration’s support, Hamas’s terms involve the release of some 20 hostages in exchange for thousands of terrorist murderers now held in Israeli prisons and the full withdrawal of IDF forces from Gaza—permanently.

Needless to say, if the United States achieves its goals, more than 100 hostages will remain behind in Gaza, and Oct. 7 will be Palestinian Independence Day.

And Hamas will be the ruler of Palestine.

The Biden administration and the IDF brass present the P.A. as a viable alternative to Israeli rule. But it isn’t. It isn’t just that the P.A. itself is a terrorist group. It’s also that it is weaker than Hamas.

This week the P.A.’s ruling Fatah faction bragged about the role that its personnel played in the Oct. 7 atrocities. Although both the Biden administration and the IDF General Staff have refused to admit it, already on Oct. 7, Fatah released footage of its own terrorists in the kibbutzim slaughtering Jewish families and taking hostages. And this week, Fatah released a statement glorifying its terrorists’ contribution to that day’s slaughter.

Fatah’s move may have been a ploy to woo Hamas. The P.A. and its state sponsors, including the United States, seek to “solve” the “Hamas problem” by integrating Hamas into the P.A. and its governing Palestine Liberation Organization. Since Hamas is much more popular and militarily powerful than Fatah in Gaza, and in Judea and Samaria, the only way for the P.A. to “take over” Gaza is for it to serve as a fig leaf for continued Hamas control over Gaza. Under the protective mask of the U.S.-sponsored P.A., Hamas will be free to rebuild its forces and maintain its total control over Gaza.

In other words, far from serving as a proxy for Israel, as the IDF top brass apparently thinks, the P.A. will serve as cover for Hamas. Even worse, since Washington insists that the P.A. is legitimate and moderate, by operating from within it, Hamas will be protected from Israel by the United States. Any act to dismantle or even diminish Hamas’s military capabilities by Israel in the future will be attacked as a destabilizing move that weakens the “moderate” P.A.—or Palestine government—as the case may be.

Arguably the most dangerous aspect of the IDF top echelon’s position is how it will implicate Israel in the transformation of the P.A. into “Palestine.” From the perspective of the administration and the rest of the international community, if the P.A. takes over Gaza, then the next step will be to compel Israel to vacate Judea and Samaria, and enable the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.

This week, the “moderate” Arab states met in Bahrain to discuss American efforts to install the P.A. in Gaza. These “moderates” released a set of conditions for agreeing to the administration’s plan. Conditions included the deployment of an international force in Gaza, and Judea and Samaria; international condemnation of Israel’s control over the Rafah border crossing to Egypt; acceptance of “Palestine” as a member state at the United Nations; an international peace conference charged with dictating the terms of a “peace” deal between Israel and the Palestinians; and recognition of Jordanian custody over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem—that is, rejection of Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.

By backing a P.A. takeover of Gaza, the IDF brass is also supporting the U.S. plan to use the war to compel Israel to accept a Palestinian state, effectively controlled by Hamas not only in Gaza but in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem.

More rigid axioms of the peace process

The question is why is the IDF leadership ignoring the obvious fact that the only way to achieve the war aims set forth by the cabinet is to occupy and control Gaza?

In an article this week in Tablet magazine, Michael Doran and Can Kasapoglu of the Hudson Institute placed the IDF’s doctrinal delusions in the context of the post-Cold War determination by NATO and U.S. strategists that the era of large conventional wars is over. Worth reading in full, the article makes clear that Israel’s national security elites’ attachment to Western counterparts detached them from their immediate surroundings and encouraged them to ignore the operational imperatives of life in a country surrounded by forces ideologically dedicated to its physical eradication.

But there is a more local cause as well for their refusal to countenance basic realities of military science in their stewardship of Israel’s national security. Since Israel’s establishment 76 years ago, the IDF General Staff has operated as a closed gentlemen’s club. Only those aligned with the zeitgeist of Israel’s secular, leftist elites have been permitted to enter. In the initial decades of the state, the social and ideological uniformity of the General Staff wasn’t that significant. Israel had no option other than fighting to win.

But since the United States transformed Israel into a military client in the 1970s, membership in the club involved embracing a doctrine of subservience and dependence on the Pentagon and the American liberal political establishment.

Moreover, since the failed peace process with the Palestinian Arabs began in 1993—and negotiations were led by members of the General Staff—the General Staff became a stakeholder in the process and in the success of its “partner,” the P.A. This position rendered the General Staff’s already rigid framework for viewing local threats through the prism of how various responses would affect the IDF’s relationship with the United States even narrower. Now generals also need to align their strategic lens with the even more rigid axioms of the peace process. Among those axioms is the determination that controlling the lives of the Palestinian Arabs is a disaster. The fact that militarily the opposite is the case is irrelevant.

By attenuating its relationship to military realities on the ground first through its U.S.-centric filter and second through its P.A.-centric filter, the actual realities are, at best, a third-order consideration for the General Staff.

Gallant’s speech enraged the political right. A Channel 14 poll Thursday showed that 73% of right-wing voters want Netanyahu to fire him. Overall, Likud is leading Gantz’s “Stateliness” party by five seats, and Netanyahu is leading Gantz by nine points in a head-to-head matchup.

Buoyed by those numbers, Netanyahu would be well-advised to ask Gallant to present his plans for transferring civil governance to the P.A. to the security cabinet, which will reject his plan. Then Gallant might just resign.

The state of affairs where the General Staff is aligned with a hostile administration in Washington against the prime minister and the public doesn’t allow for any major strategic initiatives. Israel must proceed slowly towards achieving its war goals. And its supporters must stand with it, step by plodding step as it moves to achieve them.