Columnist Richard Fein: Is Hamas winning the long war?

Richard Fein

Richard Fein FILE PHOTO

By RICHARD FEIN

Published: 11-27-2023 6:00 AM

In four previous columns I have written about my love for my Jewish religion and for the State of Israel. It is because of that love that I am appalled by the Netanyahu government’s attempt to undermine that nation’s democracy and for its occupation of the West Bank.

I’m now writing about a different topic, namely the current war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. To summarize the background to these events: Hamas is a Palestinian terrorist organization. It does not want peace or an end to the West Bank occupation. Hamas wants Israel annihilated.

Hamas has ruled Gaza for 16 years. It has seized money and material intended for basic civilian infrastructure and used it to build weapons and miles of tunnels to serve its military agenda. In response, Gaza has been blockaded by Israel and Egypt. The UN has called Gaza “an open air prison,” but has forgotten to mention that the wardens are Hamas and Iran.

On Oct. 7, Hamas launched hundreds of rockets and a ground assault for which Israel was inexplicably unprepared. Hamas massacred about 1,200 Israelis, and took about 230 people hostage. Israel has responded with a massive bombing campaign and a ground incursion into Gaza.

In terms of defining “winning” as achieving war aims, let’s consider what Hamas has already achieved:

■The humiliation of Israel’s army and intelligence agencies has punctured the myth of Israel’s military invincibility and weakened Israel’s power of deterrence against Iran and its proxy armies.

■Hamas has traumatized Israel and shredded faith in its government and national defense establishment. Daily rocket attacks continue, although on a reduced scale. Israelis still need to head to bomb shelters and many sleep in their safe rooms. Israel has evacuated 250,000 of its citizens from the Gaza border and the northern border near the Iranian proxy army Hezbollah. At least for now, the space in Israel where its citizens can live is shrinking. The mobilization of 360,000 soldiers and other war-related factors have seriously damaged Israel’s economy.

■Hamas benefits from the high death rate among Gaza’s civilians and the developing humanitarian crisis because Israel is being blamed. Demonstrations in Western countries have justified or even praised the Hamas massacre of Oct. 7. Opposition to Israel’s military action in Gaza is morphing into a de-legitimization of Israel’s fundamental right to exist.

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■The current war has undermined Israel’s relations with Arab countries. Talks with Saudi Arabia about normalizing relations have been suspended. The Abraham Accords with several Arab countries in the region are on shaky grounds. Bahrain and Jordan have already withdrawn their ambassadors.

■The most feasible approach to peace has been called the “two-state solution” ( The State of Israel coexisting with a State of Palestine) . Hamas does not want peace. Hamas wants to rule over everything “From the ( Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean ) Sea” which necessitates the annihilation of Israel. Hamas’ years of attacking Israel with rockets, the Oct. 7 massacre and Israel’s extensive bombing in Gaza in response have made the two-state solution more remote than ever. The Israeli public will not accept a Palestinian state that could become a launching pad for thousands of rockets aimed at them. Israel’s bombings in Gaza have given Palestinians new reasons for hating Israel.

■Hezbollah, Iran’s large proxy army on Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, may enter the war at some point. That would open another front against Israel. Hezbollah is capable of launching about 150,000 rockets.

■Using the war as a justification, Israeli settlers have intensified violent and unprovoked attacks on West Bank Palestinians. This increases the possibility of a large-scale Palestinian uprising in that territory thus opening yet another front. Suppressing that violence would give Israel another black eye in world public opinion.

■In contrast to Hamas, Israel has announced two goals that it probably cannot achieve: Destroying Hamas as a military force and rescuing the hostages. Hamas has about 30,000 soldiers. Based on past history, even if all the current military leaders are killed others will take their place. In addition, key political leaders live in Qatar. The fate of the hostages will be determined by Hamas. It can release them or kill them as it wishes.

It is my fervent prayer that Hamas will be destroyed but that thousands more Palestinians won’t be killed in the process ; that Israelis and Palestinians find a way to live in two independent states with peace, security and dignity for both peoples. None of those things is likely to happen at least in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, let us not give up hope. That will be the topic of a future column.

Richard Fein holds a master of arts degree in political science and an MBA in economics. He can be reached at columnist@gazettenet.com.