Despite rosy assessments offered to global media about Israel’s military successes in Gaza and the gradual tightening of the noose around Hamas, events were grim on the ground yesterday. Three separate IDF contingents were ambushed leading to ten soldiers killed. Two of the dead were senior officers: a Lt. Colonel and Colonel. When the first group was ambushed. It lost contact with its commanders, leading to the fear that they might be captured. The second contingent went to rescue them. If the first group had been captured, the Hannibal Directive would call on them to kill their own soldiers for fear they would become Hamas captives. The second unit too took heavy fire leading to a third contingent going in to find them. All told, it was a disaster of major proportions. The highest loss of life in a single day since the war began.
On 10/7, 360 IDF soldiers were killed during the Hamas attack. Since the war’s beginning 115 more have died. 20 (nearly 20%) of them were killed by friendly fire: a total of 475 dead. 1,600 have been wounded. 255 of them were seriously wounded, which could mean permanent physical disability or paralysis.
Earlier this week, the army mounted an operation to retrieve the bodies of two Israelis taken hostage on 10/7. But during it, a battle broke out with Hamas defenders in the tunnel and two soldiers were killed. One of them was the nephew of former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, who had joined the security cabinet after the war began. He had lost his own son in battle the day before. These military men are certainly tough and have endured hardship. But even a general has to develop doubts when such losses become so heartbreaking and personal.
It raises the question: why did the IDF decide it was worth losing any soldiers to retrieve the bodies, knowing there were defenders there to engage them? Yes, it’s important to bring bodies of the dead back to their families for burial. But it’s certainly not worth adding more to the death toll.
Hamas and the lesson of urban warfare
Hamas has taught the IDF an abject lesson in urban warfare, especially when the defenders have built a 300 mile tunnel network. Military doctrine says that an army that is defending its own territory has a distinct advantage over the invaders. It knows the terrain. It knows the best location for an ambush, the best location from which to make an escape, the best position from which to view the field without being detected.
The IDF went into the war believing it would wipe out Hamas and that would be that. It would mount a massive attack destroying everything in sight, and leaving Hamas exposed. From there, it would make short work of it and mop up whatever last pockets of resistance remained. But as any country which has fought a war against insurgents on their own ground can tell you: air power cannot win a war. Against insurgents in an urban environment, massive firepower cannot win a war.
Though the IDF does have heavy infantry presence, it will not send them underground to root out the militants. The tunnels’ narrow confines eliminate the army’s firepower advantage. The odds tilt in Hamas’ favor because it knows the tunnels and has practiced for such combat, while the IDF could only simulate a tunnel environment in its training.
As others have said: Hamas does not need to win the war. It only needs to survive. Its survival is victory. As long as Hamas survives (and it will), the IDF will have lost. no matter how many Palestinian fighters or civilians it has killed. Even if Israel succeeded and totally eliminated Hamas, what it stands for will not die. Something else would arise reflecting the same Palestinian interests. The chances are, that whatever arose from the bodies of the Hamas dead would be an even more savage enemy.
I’ve written here too many times (and its useless to say as far as Israel is concerned)–there is no military solution to this conflict. There is only a political solution, which Israel refuses to consider. So unless the world is willing to impose its will, as it has in Serbia and Kosovo, it could go on longer than the Hundred Years War, and be much deadlier.
Global mounting opposition
Today, global leaders and organizations issued statements much more critical of the war. The prime ministers of New Zealand, Australia and Canada, among the US’ closest allies, released a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire. In the UN General Assembly, 153 of 193 countries voted in favor of ending the war. Only 9 states voted No. Even Pres. Biden seems to have developed a few more vertebrae in his spine and offered far stronger and more critical statements, which were sharply critical of the Israeli government.
This is due, no doubt, in part to miserable poll numbers showing that the American public opposes the war and Biden’s handling of it:
- 41% (a plurality) disapprove of Biden’s handling of the war
- 21% felt that Biden favors Israel too much (16% that he favors Palestinians too much)
- 45% (a plurality) say that Israel has “gone too far” in the war
- 48% worry about the war endangering Jews in the US
- 44% are concerned about the war “going on for a very long time”
- 42% worry that the war could spread throughout the region
- 41% fear a terror attack on US resulting from the war
It’s unclear how much longer the war can continue. Israel certainly wants it to go on indefinitely. But the world seems to have lost patience.
It doesn’t help that Israel has increasingly resorted to disturbing tactics in humiliating and torturing Gazans for sport. Israeli media are circulating photos and videos of scores of Palestinian half naked, blindfolded and handcuffed men kneeling in public streets. In some, the victims are forced to hold aloft a rifle and lay it down, as if they were surrendering fighters.
Haaretz has found that only 10% of those arrested in this degrading fashion are actually Hamas militants. The rest are UN employees, teachers and Palestinian civilians with no connection to Hamas. None of this matters to the IDF.
This is not an army. It is a rampaging mob. There is no strategy. No discipline. Decisions are haphazard which lead to disastrous results. It is an army without leadership with no clear or coherent goal. It leads to the behaviors described above, which in turn arouses disgust in the world public That adds pressure on Israel, global leaders and the UN to take dramatic action to halt the carnage.
Drowning rats in the sewer
Despite bunker buster bombs, gas, dogs, and explosives in Gaza’s tunnels, the IDF has made limited progress in clearing them. Its newest plan is to flood them with seawater. If you can’t kill them with missiles and bombs, then maybe you can drown them like rats. What’s to happen to the Israeli hostages held in these tunnels after they’re flooded? Drown your own too? Not to mention that with 300 miles of tunnels, how can the army hope to pump enough water to fill them? But that hasn’t stopped them from trying.
The Wall Street Journal article adds hopefully that the tunnels could be inundated “within weeks.” How does anyone come up with these ideas and, what’s worse, actually implement them?
An unnamed source pours cold [sea] water on the overall plan:
The weekslong process of flooding the tunnels would enable Hamas fighters, and potentially hostages, to move out, a person familiar with the plan said…“We are not sure how successful pumping will be since nobody knows the details of the tunnels and the ground around them,” the person said. “It’s impossible to know if that will be effective because we don’t know how seawater will drain in tunnels no one has been in before.”
Another anonymous source elaborated on the environmental dangers to Gaza, and the political danger to Joe Biden himself:
The former officials acknowledged such an operation would put the Biden administration in a tough position and perhaps bring global condemnation, but said it was one of the few effective options for permanently disabling a Hamas tunnel system estimated to stretch for about 300 miles.
Five days of ceaseless torture with death approaching
Al Jazeera has published a harrowing account of five days of torture faced by hundreds of Palestinian men, away from video and cell phone cameras. 150 men in a single neighborhood were stripped naked, with all the valuables in their homes looted by soldiers.
These are excerpts of their account. I’ve quoted extensively, because it is simply an extraordinary story of suffering for the victims and brutality for the perpetrators:
Inside one of the rooms of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, Mahmoud Zindah stays close to his father, Nader, the horrors of the past week etched on both of their faces. Their eyes are wide, darting around.
The 14-year-old and his father were among hundreds of Palestinians rounded up on December 5 by Israeli forces…who endured five days of torture and degradation before they were released – without any explanation.
…The men and teenage boys were taken to a warehouse where they sat on a bare floor…There they were beaten, interrogated and verbally abused…
Mohammed Odeh, 14… and his family were stuck in their homes for five days, starving…Two of the neighbourhood boys who left to look for water were killed on the street by Israeli snipers. After the bulldozer knocked down the walls of several homes, the soldiers dragged the men and teenagers out, slapping, punching and hitting them with their guns.
“There was no reasoning with them,” Mohammed recalls. “They kept saying, ‘You are all Hamas.’ They wrote numbers on our arms. My number was 56.” When he stretches his arms out, the red marker is still visible on his skin.
Let that sink in: Israeli soldiers arrested, beat and tortured Palestinian men in a cold, dark chamber and inscribed numbers on their arms. Haven’t we seen enough numbers on the arms of Jews? Do we need to do the same to Palestinians?
The account of torture continues:
“They hit me in the back where my kidneys are and my legs. They took my family, and I don’t know where they are,” he says, his voice breaking.
Before they were forced inside the warehouse, Israeli female soldiers came and spat on the men, Mohammed recalls.
In the warehouse, it was common for groups of five soldiers to suddenly enter and beat one person while the others were forced to listen to his screams of pain. If any of the men and teenagers nodded off from exhaustion, the soldiers poured cold water on them.
…“Some people didn’t return from the torture sessions,” Nader says darkly. “We would hear their screams and then nothing.”
At one point, Mahmoud told his father that his wrists were bleeding from the handcuffs. A soldier overheard, asked where it hurt and then proceeded to press down on the spot. Nader tried to shield his son, and one of the soldiers tried to drag the teenager away. When Mahmoud resisted, he was kicked in the face
“My dad kept shouting at them that I’m a child and threw himself on top of me,” he says….
Blindfolded and handcuffed the entire time, the men and boys endured hours of beatings. Every time you tried to talk, asking to go use the bathroom or wanting a drink of water, they would come and beat us up, using the butts of their M16 rifles.”
The soldiers interrogated them and threatened to kill them all. They accused the Palestinians of stealing their army jeeps and raping Israeli women. When they asked Mahmoud where he was on October 7 and he answered that he was sleeping at home, the soldiers hit him, he says.
“They have this unbelievable racism. They really hate us,” Nader says. “This isn’t about Hamas. This is about wiping us all out. This is about a genocide, signed off by [US President] Biden.”
…The men were given only a few drops of water and some scraps of bread to eat. Some were forced to relieve themselves on the spot while others were handed a foul-smelling bucket.
On the fifth day, Saturday, Nader, Mahmoud, and 10 other men were [released].
The group took off their blindfolds and let their eyes adjust to the light after days of darkness. They were exhausted and hungry and still did not have any clothes. After walking painfully for two hours, a group of Palestinians spotted them.
“They clothed us and gave us water,” Nader says. “An ambulance was called, and we arrived at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital…”
All the talk from Netanyahu, Gallant, Halevi and even Biden that the war would last until Hamas was eliminated–with even Bernie Sanders refusing to call for a ceasefire because Hamas had not yet been defeated–has come to naught. Unless Israel and the world permits a war lasting months, if not years longer, in which 50 or 100,000 civilians are killed, this war will end in a stalemate like all previous ones.
Further, US plans to install the Palestinian Authority as Gaza’s new rulers is a hopeless Hail Mary pass in the midst of an intractable morass of a conflict. Not only does Netanyahu refuse this plan, the Gazans want nothing to do with the corrupt, dysfunctional PA. A Palestinian poll released on December 13th shows that 90% of Palestinians want Abbas to resign. It also shows substantial rise in support for Hamas. Though it might not be the first choice of Gazans, it is the best among worse ones:
The findings by a Palestinian pollster signal more difficulties ahead for the Biden administration’s postwar vision for Gaza and raise questions about Israel’s stated goal of ending Hamas’ military and governing capabilities.
The pollster adds that the only likely result of the war is a return to the 2005 status quo, an outcome the Biden administration has opposed:
“Israel is stuck in Gaza… they might [at some point] decide to withdraw unilaterally from Gaza. But the default for the future, for Israel and Gaza, is that Israel is in full reoccupation of Gaza.”
We are back to Square One, after 1,400 Israeli dead, hundreds injured or disabled; 18,000 Palestinian dead 75% of whom are civilians and 70% are women and children. And all for what? To satisfy Israel’s blood lust for vengeance? To pursue a Final Solution to its “Palestinian Problem?”