Commentary Magazine


Gaza’s Future

The Israeli historian Benny Morris has a tough-minded article in Haaretz that is worth pondering.

He notes that before long Israel will end its military operations in the Gaza Strip and Hamas will start rebuilding. “In a few months, the tunnels leading into Israeli territory will resume operation and the missile stockpiles will be replenished, perhaps with new and improved homemade models (or even smuggled ones). Therefore, the next war will surely come.”

Morris is surely right. Hamas remains dedicated to Israel’s destruction and it remains intent on keeping its grip on Gaza. What can or should Israel do about it?

He suggests, correctly I think, that truly defeating Hamas would “require months of combat, during which the Strip will be cleansed, neighborhood by neighborhood, of Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives and armaments.” He concedes that such operations “will exact a serious price in lives from both Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Palestinian civilians,” but he argues that Israel has no other choice and he bemoans the unwillingness of Israeli society to pay the toll in blood required to win this war. He writes:

In recent decades, Israeli governments and the Israeli people have turned into carbon copies of the West: All they want is peace and to hide their heads in the sand; there’s no willingness to sacrifice soldiers (and no willingness to exact a heavy price in blood from the enemy’s civilians), even if it’s clear that the price today – in terms of both our soldiers and their civilians – would be lower than it will be in the future.

There is something to this analysis–a lot, actually–but it is incomplete. It is true that Israel, like the U.S., is casualty-conscious (reluctant not only to lose its own citizens but even to inflict heavy losses on the other side) and that our enemies exploit this mindset. But even if Israel were willing to engage in the hard and bloody task of defeating Hamas, the inevitable question comes: What next? What entity will next rule the Gaza Strip? To this Morris does not have a convincing answer: “After gaining control of Gaza, it must be hoped that some moderate Arab power, perhaps the Palestinian Authority, will take over the reins of government.”

“Some moderate Arab power”? It’s hard to imagine any power wanting to occupy Gaza. Certainly Egypt, which once ruled it, wants no part of it today. The only realistic alternative is the Palestinian Authority, but it has already lost a power struggle with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and there is little reason to think it would be strong enough to suppress Hamas even after an Israeli invasion.

The “post Hamas, what?” question is one that I think is a major deterrent to the kind of action that Morris advocates, probably an even bigger deterrent than fear of casualties in clearing operations. Actually, support for the war in Israel has soared even as IDF casualties have mounted. But Israelis remember how easily they got into Lebanon in 1982 and how hard it was to get out. They don’t want to repeat that experience. The U.S. invasion of Iraq provides a similar cautionary lesson; the U.S. had no firm idea who would replace Saddam Hussein and wound up getting sucked into a costly war.

Unless someone in Israel can figure out what comes after Hamas, the Israeli government will, for better or worse, leave Hamas in place after the current round of fighting.

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5 Responses to “Gaza’s Future”


    Morris is correct that a drawn out and costly campaign in Gaza, difficult as that would be, is what Israel must do. Essentially it must take a large fortified city and destroy an enemy therein. The IDF has done this before (Jerusalem, Beriut) and can do it again.

    Boot and Morris each pose an obstacle. Morris–that Israelis won’t pay the price. Boot–that the consequences of destroying Hamas are worse than leaving it in place.

    In these pages there are answers to each. Boot notes that the Israeli public seems willing to accept losses this time, polls show support for action unprecedented since 1967. And just yesterday Tobin explained exactly why the “worse than Hamas” argument lacks merit.

  2. JAY GOLDSTEIN says:

    Israel is going to have to re-occupy both Gaza and Judea/Samaria. And pray for Moshiach to come quickly. Or give in to the Palestinian’s terms for a peace treaty.

  3. BEN ORLANSKI says:

    Boot’s last sentence is a classic punt: “the Israeli government will, for better or worse, leave Hamas in place . . . .” Well, which is it Mr. Boot: better or worse? As you leave it, this is more like an NYT “News Analysis” rather than real strategic thinking. Have you considered how leaving Hamas in place impacts the calculations of other regional actors like Hezbollah, Iran and Syria? Not to mention the measure of respect quasi-allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia would have if Israel ousted Hamas? Finally, with Hamas in place there is a 100% certainty of a new war, but with it gone, there is at least the certainty that Hamas won’t launch a new war–of course what follows is indeed unclear but Israel might have more ability to influence the outcome. Please Mr. Boot, show us some real strategic thinking!

  4. PETER GOLDMAN says:

    Israel should re-occupy Gaza. Wait a couple of hundred or thousand years for Hamas and friends to die out.


    Israel was not built with feelings of hopelessness and futility. Nor do plans of war survive the first engagement. Israel will figure it out as events evolve.

    Right now , they are winning the military conflict. They could do better on the PR, if only the media would put casualties in context.

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