Meir Ben-Shabbat
Meir Ben-ShabbatLiron Moldovan

The ongoing war in Gaza, the end of which is not in sight, in addition to the explosive situation on the northern border and Israel’s minimal response there, has raised many doubts about the Israeli strategy in the current war and its ability to complete the war goals on the southern border, while simultaneously returning the residents of the north safely to their homes.

Head of the Misgav Institute for National Security and Zionist Strategy and former head of the National Security Council, Meir Ben-Shabbat, spoke with Israel National News - Arutz Sheva about the war in the various zones, as well as the internal division in Israel, that has serious repercussions on national morale.

Is the current Israeli strategy being applied in Rafah and the southern Gaza Strip correct?

"In a war against an organized army of a country, it is sufficient to break down its combat system and destroy its forces, so that fighting becomes futile in a way that leads it to withdrawal and surrender. This is what happened in our wars against the Arab armies from 1948 to 1973. However, in fighting against guerilla/terrorist units, like Hamas, two decisions must be made: the usual one, to dismantle the enemy's fighting system, which is necessary not to cause the enemy to surrender, but to make it easier for our forces to achieve the second decision: eliminating the enemy or removing it from the area."

“I believe that the current pace and intensity of the fighting in Gaza is affected by various constraints put on Israel: political, operational and legal-international, similar to the constraints put on Israel to give in to the demands to transfer humanitarian aid, even though a large part of it goes to Hamas and is used by the terrorist organization to equip its people and maintain control."

Do you feel that the IDF is making significant achievements in Rafah?

"Despite all the challenges I mentioned, the IDF has good achievements in Rafah so far, including the takeover of the Rafah Crossing and the Philadelphi Corridor, locating about 25 tunnel routes along this route, locating a complex underground area in the NPK neighborhood, elimination of hundreds of terrorists and weapons. The job is not yet complete, but we are heading in the right direction."

Has Hamas suffered a fatal and severe blow so far? Because this is one of the goals of the war.

"One doesn’t need to be an intelligence expert to understand that Hamas has taken a painful blow so far, but it is not fatal nor irreversible. Hamas is still the main power in Gaza, with military headquarters of thousands of able-bodied fighters at its disposal, a command center that is managing to function and coordinate its policies, many (maybe hundreds) kilometers of tunnels, weapons and launch capabilities. Hamas is still in control of every place where there is no Israeli presence."

We are hearing more and more calls from within Israel to end the war. Should Israel stop now? What message might this send to our enemies?

"Ending the war in the current situation will enable Hamas to recover quickly. It will be perceived by our enemies and by the countries of the region as an Israeli failure to achieve the goals of the war and as a success for Hamas, after forcing the war on Israel in the heinous surprise attack on October 7."

"Hamas’ residual capacity, together with its deep grip on the governing mechanisms and life systems in Gaza, as well as the broad support it has from the public, will allow it to continue to be the main power in Gaza and will make it very easy for it to recover. Its active headquarters abroad and the support of Iran, Qatar and Turkey will also help in this process."

Would a ceasefire pending the release of hostages create a different situation?

"If the end of the war involves a hostage release deal, then the benefits it is expected to receive from the deal will also be credited to Hamas (such as the credit for releasing terrorists to Gaza and the Palestinian Authority, the return of displaced people to their homes, IDF withdrawal and securities to avoid operations against the terrorist organization, and agreement to an internationally funded rehabilitation process). This way, Hamas will not only be restored, but will even upgrade its status both in Gaza and in the Palestinian Authority. As far as Hamas is concerned, the blow it imposed on Israel, as well as its eight-month survival and significant achievements at the end, will buy it eternal glory and destroy Israel's image as 'invincible'."

"From Israel's point of view, such a result would be a serious blow to its deterrence abilities and regional standing, which is largely based on its image of strength. You can imagine what conclusion our enemies and the countries in the region will reach if, despite the enormous and prolonged effort it has invested in the war against Hamas, Israel ends it without achieving the goals it defined."

Is the minimal response to Hezbollah in the north correct?

"The escalation in the war of attrition that Hezbollah is waging against us reached its peak last week. In addition to the many casualties and the damage caused to residential and security assets, the impact both on Israel's deterrent abilities and on national morale is great. The IDF is responding to Hezbollah, but this does not offset the negative effects in Israel.”

"Nasrallah has set the rules: Hezbollah will continue the fighting in Israel as long as the fighting in Gaza continues. He has consciously positioned the northern front as a secondary fighting zone even before it was defined as such by Israel. This gives Hezbollah not only the control over the height of the flames but also ability to define the exit mechanism from the war: When Israel ends the fighting in Gaza, it will be able to declare cessation of hostilities from his side and Israel will lose legitimacy of going to war against the terrorist organization. Nasrallah's method is to wage a war of attrition against us. He has explained many times that the side that shows determination, patience and steadfastness will win."

"It is clear that the political echelon in Israel should not dance to the tune of Nasrallah's flute, his decisions are not binding on us. Even so, Israel should not adopt Hezbollah's strategy of attrition in dealing with the situation. It should complete the building of military capabilities out of a strategy of decisiveness and not of war deterrence and attrition. In the meantime, Lebanon must pay a heavy price for this, because this war is taking place on its territory. I don't think it is necessary to provide the enemy with more details."

It seems that the public feels less connected to this war, which is manifested in extreme demonstrations against the government.

"Israel is facing many security and political challenges. Dealing with them in the short term will affect its position and the way these threats will play out in the long term. The complexity of dealing with them stems from a combination of five characteristics: the large number of threats and challenges, their geographical distribution, their mutual affinities, the high cost of making mistakes and the difficulty of prioritizing them, because of effects of time dimensions and an absence of agreement on the criteria for prioritization. The political echelon, together with top security agencies, must constantly see the overall picture and each section separately, and pinpoint its policy, while managing the moves in a delicate manner. For the first time in its history, Israel has been forced to manage such a campaign, both in the shadow of 120 hostages who are still being held in Gaza as well as the many residents of the north who have been evacuated from their homes."

"In addition to the fighting within the Gaza Strip, Israel faces threats from six other geographical locations: Judea and Samaria, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and above all – Iran, as well as difficult challenges in the international legal and political areas. The ongoing war, the direct and indirect prices that have been paid so far, the disputes regarding its continuation, the disagreements on the issue of the hostages and uncertain future of the evacuated northern residents, all add to the feeling of confusion. The cost of living and economic difficulties, as well as the agenda of other political issues and internal disputes, contribute their own weight to the general concern."

"One can assume that Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas are following events in Israel and hope that these trends will erode national strength and lead to a change in Israel’s positions. The idea of ​​a multi-area war with Israel was aimed at this as well. The basic concept among these forces is that the main weapon of victory against the West is and Israel is endurance. As Nasrallah said in the 'Spider's Web' speech: 'Israeli society is tired of wars, it does not have the endurance and resilience to withstand a bloody struggle.' Despite the difficulties at home and outside, Israel continues to fight with determination to achieve all its goals."

And yet the feeling that unity in Israel has cracked in recent months is growing.

"It seems that the majority of Israelis support the goals of the war in Gaza, believe that they can all be achieved, seeks to change the reality in the north and understand that this requires sacrifice, determination and patience. Along with continuing the military and political efforts, the country’s leaders are now required to invest in strengthening its citizens’ morale and national resilience.”

In order to help the public and strengthen its commitment and trust, the political echelon must reduce uncertainty as much as possible (as long as it is not giving any advantage to the enemy), clarify positions on key issues, such as the Biden outline and the hostage-release deal, form broad consent on these, and remove doubts on extended fighting, to strengthen support on the home front, ease the economic burden, postpone dealing with controversial issues and stand in one united front."