Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s War Aims – A No Go
Lt Gen (Dr) V K Saxena (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VSM
Prime Minister’s War Aims

Even before the blood-stains could dry up in the bloody massacre by Hamas, turning the Super Nova Music Festival and other places in Southern Israel into a nightmare of merciless bloodshed, death and wanton destruction, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced his two war aims. [1] The undertones of deep frustration anger and revenge could not be missed in his address. He vowed the following: -

  1. Total annihilation of Hamas from face of the earth.
  2. Securing the release of all Israeli and foreign hostages.
Total Annihilation of Hamas

It is a well-known fact that none of the two war aims are anywhere near achievement. The point is; is it even possible? Here are some thoughts: -

  • What would a total annihilation of Hamas mean? Obliterating its existence not only from Gaza but also from all other places on the planet? Such an end-state is not even conceivable, leave alone achievable.
  • Hamas is not some finite cohesive definable entity limited to the mere 41 miles of Gaza strip that can be wiped clean and job done. Hamas is a concept. It is an ideology, a faith that is vowed to the destruction of the State of Israel and creation of an Islamic Palestinian state throughout the entire territory of Mandatory Palestine. [2] [3]
  • Hamas has managed to perpetuate its rule (of terror and oppression) in Gaza that remains without an election ever since 2007. In this journey, it has amassed such a huge range and depth of arsenal, both in-house and ex Iran and Syria which has transformed it into a force to reckon with. (Hamas arsenal - some 18000-30000 rockets, missiles and mortar shells at start of war; [4]rockets - Qasam, Fazr, M75, J80, J 90A 120, R 160. M 302 and more, Mortar shells- 81 mm, 82 mm, 120mm.) [5] Hamas is holed up in more than 360 km of tunnel network in Gaza alone (some of it partially /fully destroyed as on date). [6] Hamas is no small entity capable of being wiped out to extinction.
  • Having already inflicted a ghastly casualty count of some 33000+ civilian casualties that includes children and women, as Prime Minister Netanyahu in defiance of good counsel from friends and allies prepares for a show down in Rafah - a fait-accompli and a refuge of last resort to some 1.4 million Palestinians, Hamas has already started to re-surface in several areas in northern Gaza. [7]
  • Also, does the PM really believe that Hamas is simply Gaza based? He knows very well such a belief is far from reality. Hamas exists well outside the confines if the 41-mile strip, it exists in the West Bank, It exists in many a Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, it exists in the regional capitals of Doha and Cairo [8], it exists and will continue to exist so long as pipeline of financial and military support remains open to it from Iran. The ‘total annihilation’ of Hamas thus sounds hollow.
  • Also has the PM taken into account a bigger Hamas (Hamas 2.0) taking shape in the form of radical youth rising from the corpses of 33,000+ dead and boiling in blood to avenge their catastrophic destruction of life and times at the hands of Israel Defence Force (IDF).
  • The only justification for a relentless pursuit of an offensive by Israel bereft of the desired end result could therefore lie elsewhere in the narrow political gains of one man trying to hold on to power on a war-card when there are serious rifts even it its own war cabinet and his approval ratings hitting a rock bottom of (57% rate him poor/very poor, 28% good/excellent; 15% so-so in a sample size of 700). [9] This is in addition to the big stigma he carries of a total intelligence failure for the debacle on 07 Oct 23. No wonder it claimed the resignation of its his Intelligence Chief. [10]
  • That the situation will continue to boil in the blood of the innocents so long Israel continues and has post-war plans of military control at the border retaining the capability to cross into Gaza anytime for security operations.[11]
Securing the Release of All Israeli Hostages

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Netanyahu is nowhere near achieving this proclaimed war aim. Some thoughts in this context are presented: -

  • On 07 Oct, the Hamas terrorists knew very well that while the massacre of innocent lives, (total killed 1139; 695 Israeli civilians, 71 foreign nationals and 373 security personnel) [12] will cause mayhem, shock and fear, the bigger catch of ‘disproportionate value’ lay in taking hostages and using them as ‘bargaining chips’.
  • The huge number of 253 (Israeli and foreign hostages) was thus in accordance with a well thought out game-plan. Hamas knew that each hostage was worth more than his/her weight in gold in terms of its bargaining power potential.
  • The hostage story has run the predicted course. Already passed its 7-month mark, some 134 hostages still remain unaccounted for. Reports also say some 34 of them are presumed to be dead (sic). [13]
  • For every little concession on hostages, Hamas is firm in extracting its pound of flesh. For instance, on Jan 17, following an agreement brokered by Qatar and France, even for allowing to deliver medicines for the elderly hostages (that too through Red Cross), Israel had to concede for allowing more aid trucks into the Gaza strip. Also, for the release of 50 hostages in Nov 23, Israel had to release three times the number, i.e. 150 Palestinian prisoners besides being compelled to agree to an extended pause in fighting (basically a breather for Hamas to regroup). [14]
  • Cutting to the latest on the hostage crises, US and 17 other countries on 25 Apr 2024 have urged the Hamas to release all hostages thus creating a pathway to end the war in Gaza.
  • What has been the response from the Hamas? In the initial months of the war, Hamas was putting out three main conditions: Cessation of all hostilities by Israel; total withdrawal of IDF from Gaza strip and post war governance of Gaza by Hamas.
  • It is easy to see that all the above three demands stand diagrammatically opposite to the Israeli standpoint. That is why the hostage crises stand at a NO GO.
  • Much is now alive again on the possible ceasefire agreement and the eventual release of hostages. Brokered mainly by US, Egypt and Qatar, the deal is reportedly being looked at by both parties with some degree of ‘accommodation’. Salient details of the same are presented: - [15]
    • Cease Fire Phase 1
      • This period will last for 40 days (approximately 6 weeks).
      • The first two weeks will witness the following: -
      • Release of female civilian hostages in exchange for Palestinian Prisoners (exchange ratio not known).
      • Partial withdrawal of Israeli forces inland from Southern Gaza to permit displaced Gazans to return to their homes in Northern Gaza and facilitating more aid trucks to flow into Gaza from Rafah.
      • Hamas to provide a list of hostages those who are still alive (estimated 100 out of 134)
    • Third week onwards: -
      • Start of indirect negotiations to restore a permanent calm.
      • Israeli troops to withdraw from Central Gaza.
    • Cease Fire Plan Phase 2 (next six weeks)
      • Finalise arrangement for permanent calm.
      • Release of balance hostages including the remains of the deceased.
      • Commencement of 5-year reconstruction plan for Gaza.
      • Hamas may agree to not rebuild its military arsenal if a Palestine State is agreed to.

So much on the war aims of the PM and where they stand.

Steeped in a ‘No Go’

It is the sense of the author that the entire situation as on date is steeped in a NO GO scenario and is headed nowhere. Some salient points are presented: -

  • Talking of the proposed cease fire plan per se, the very fact that it envisages a political (devoid of military arsenal) avatar of Hamas stands in a 180-degree confrontation with the core war aim of total annihilation of Hamas. Also, so long as Hamas stays, who can guarantee that it is actually not building up its power to strike again under its civilian cloak?
  • While the proposal does talk about the reconstruction plan there is no clarity on who will fund it. A latest UN report pegs the probable cost of rebuild to a whopping 30-40 Bn $. [16] Who will pay for this?
  • While the immediate and fuming danger of the Rafah offensive appears to lose some traction with this proposal, it stands at a many cross- roads running in opposite directions. Sample these: -
    • As stated, while the Prime Minister is adamant (read defiant) to go through the Rafah misadventure there are winds for and against it in his coalition political set up. Whether the PM goes through with it either pursuing the will of its hardliners or to prolong his own political survival, the fate of 1.4 million Palestinians hangs in balance.
    • Also standing opposite is the firm view of the US against Rafah offensive without a definite plan for the safety of the innocent civilians.
    • Also against the tough talk of the PM vowing to go through with the offensive leading to total victory and destruction of the Hamas commanders stands the huge pressure building up from the families of the Hostage urging him to enter the ceasefire deal at the earliest – the chants of ‘GET THEM HOME’ are gaining as much decibels on the streets of Tel Aviv as the flags of protest by thousands and thousands of Israelis demanding immediate resignation of PM Netanyahu. Surely, the Prime Minister is caught between the devil and the deep sea.
    • The Two State solution is also something which is demanded by one side and not in the wildest dreams of the other. Then there is total imbroglio on who governs Gaza after the conflict? The US proposal of reinstating the Palestinian Authority stands junked by Israel very firmly.
    • This position of Israel now also sits in direct conflict with the two main demands of Saudi Arabia with whom, ironically, the relations were on way to normalisation days before 07 Oct happened.
    • Riyadh has put down two firm conditions; firstly, exit from Gaza and a 3 to 5 year pathway to Palestine State for Israel to comply before the on-going security deal with US sees the light of the day. Will Israel agree? No guesses solicited! [17]

How much has Israel lost as a nation in the aftermath of 07 Oct is seen to be believed. Sample these: -

  • According to a Feb 2024 assessment, Israel’s economy has shrunk. It contracted sharply in GDP terms that returned a measly growth of 2% in FY 2023 as compared to 6% in 2022. Private spending has dropped by 26.3%, exports have fallen by 18.3% and investment in fixed assets has fallen by a whopping 67.8 %. On the other side, the Govt spending on war expenses has jumped by a whopping 88.1%. [18]
  • According to one other report the cost of Gaza war is costing Israel a huge 272 million every day. Cumulatively, the toll of the Gaza war is estimated to cost Israel some 400 bn $ in lost economic activity over the next ten years. [19] These are drastic figures. It requires no expertise to see how the war is ‘bleeding’ Israel economically. [20]
  • On 07 Oct 23, the world opinion stood strongly in favour of Israel. Even India described the massacre as a ‘terrorist’ attack. Where it stands now?
    • Nine countries (Bahrain, Belize, Chad, Columbia, Chile, Honduras, Jordan, South Africa and Turkey) have ether recalled their ambassadors from Israel or severed diplomatic ties citing humanitarian concerns arising out of Israel’s offensive in Gaza. [21]
    • The latest on the list is Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who after trading many a superlative with PM Netanyahu one-on-one, has finally halted its trade relations with Israel on 03 May 2024 citing humanitarian tragedy in Gaza (volume 6.8 Bn $ in FY 2023). [22]
    • Also, the recent past has seen some of the harshest criticism of Israel from the US (something which was never heard off). President Joe Biden has accused PM Netanyahu of hurting Israel because of the huge civilian death toll in Gaza. [23]
    • The highest-ranking Jewish leader in the US Senate, Mr Chuck Schumer has called for new elections in Israel stating that Netanyahu has ‘lost his way’. [24]
    • Something totally unheard of happened recently when US of all the nations came close to sanctioning an Israeli military unit Netzah Yehuda on accusation of human rights violations during operations in the Occupied West Bank. Thankfully the same is currently on hold. [25] [26]

Such is the NO GO scenario that obtains in the path of PM Netanyahu’s war aims. If there is anything certain about this fast-evolving scenario it is UNCERTAINITY.

Endnotes

[1] 2023 Hamas led attack on Israel,” at www.en.m.wikipedia.org. Accessed on 11 Apr 2024.
[2] “Hamas.” At www.en.m.wikipedi.org Accessed on 11 Apr 2024.
[3] “Mandatory Palestine,” at www.en.m.wikipedia.org. Accessed on 11 Apr 2024.
[4] “Hamas weapons arsenal.” at www.inss.org.il” Accessed on 11 Apr 2024.
[5] ibid
[6] “Inside the tunnels of Gaza,” at www.reuters.com. Accessed on 11 Apr 2024.
[7] “Hamas showing signs of resurgence in parts of Gaza,” at www.time.com. Accessed on 22 Apr 2024.
[8] Hamas-National Counterterrorism Centre, “ at www.dni.gov.nctc.hamas” Accessed on 22 Apr 2024.
[9] “57% of Israelis think Netanyahu’s performance since Oct 7 has been sub par,” At www.timesofisrael. Accessed on 22 Apr 2024.
[10] “Israeli military intelligence Chief resigns .” at www.moneycontrol.com. Accessed on 22 Apr 2024.
[11] Governing Gaza after the war: the Israeli perspective,” at www.carnegieendownment.org. Accessed on 22 Apr 2024.
[12] “Casualties of Israeli-Hamas war,” at www.en.m.wikipedia.org. Accessed on 22 Apr 2024.
[13] “Hamas hostages: stories of the people taken from Israel,” at www.bbc.com. Accessed on 01 May 2024.
[14] “What is known about Israeli hostages.” at www.ajc.org. Accessed on 01 May 2024.
[15] “Here is what on the table for Israel and Hamas in the latest cease fire talks.” At www.apnews.com. Accessed on 04 May 2024
[16] Ibid.
[17] ‘US very close to bilateral deal with Saudis, but it hinges on Israel normalisation,” at www.timesofisrael.com. Accessed on 04 May 2024.
[18] “Looking at causes, measuring effects of Israel Hamas War,” at www.harvard.edu.
[19] “Economic impact of Israel Hamas war,” at www.en.m.wikipedia.org. Accessed on 04 May 2024.
[20] “Cost of Israeli war on Gaza reaches $60 Bn,” at www.aa.com.tr. Accessed on 04 May 2024.
[21] “Diplomatic impact of Israel Hamas war,” at www.en.m.wikipedia.org. Accessed on 04 May 2024
[22] Turkey halts trade with Israel,” at www.bbc.com. Accessed on 04 May 2024
[23] “Netanyahu rails against US criticism..” at www.indianexpress .com Accessed on 04 May 2024
[24] Ibid.
[25] “What is Netzah Yehuda, the Israeli battalion facing possible US sanctions,” at www.aljazeera.com. Accessed on 05 May 2024
[26] “US holds off sanctioning Israeli military unit..” at www.abcnews.go.com Accessed on 05 May 2024

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>


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