What Israeli Victory Would Look Like

T. Belman. I totally disagree with Bob’s suggestion about turning over Gaza to Arab countries who would govern it along with the PA. Instead,  I want to push all Gazans to the southern 20% of Gaza and for Israel to annex the northern 8o%. And then to reject any Arab return.

To achieve its objectives in Gaza and secure the Jewish state, Jerusalem needs to turn the tables on Tehran.

By Elliot Kaufman, WSJ  Oct. 13, 2023 5:18 pm ET

“I’m driving south to the Gaza corridor, the place Hamas invaded on Saturday,” Yonah Jeremy Bob says in our first phone conversation. “But it’s a straight drive, so let’s talk.” Mr. Bob is an expert on the Israeli shadow war with Iran, the subject of his new book, “Target Tehran,” and he covers the Israeli intelligence agencies and military for the Jerusalem Post. He’s busy tracking down answers to the questions every Israeli wants answered: How could this have happened? What’s the plan? Who will pay?

Even after the corpses of Israeli civilians had been cleared, “it’s some sort of nightmare,” Mr. Bob says when we catch up later on Wednesday. “What I saw was once a living, happy place, and it has been utterly destroyed.”

Israeli intelligence misjudged Hamas. “In the worst case,” Mr. Bob says, the expectation was that “Hamas might be able to take over one village that’s really small for three hours” and kill 20 people. “There was no scenario where anybody talked about 22 villages, a whole area of the country, 1,200 Israelis killed, including 800 to 900 civilians. That wasn’t conceivable.”

Saturday’s shock gave way to rage, “and then rage crystallized into a very steely determination,” Mr. Bob says. “It’s the thing Israel’s enemies never fully understand. They think of Israel as a weak Western state, where people care about their looks and money and all the things that will make them flee rather than fight.” Hamas often scoffs that “the Jews love life.” But that’s why they fight for it.

“Hamas was playing the long game,” Mr. Bob says. “Probably after the 2021 war”—in which Israel delivered it a beating—“Hamas diagnosed everything we did and took notes and started to plan.” When Israel next fought in Gaza, with Islamic Jihad, Hamas stayed out. Then, having lulled Israel, it executed a devastating plan.

“They fire 2,000 rockets in one day. They’d never fired that many rockets at once,” Mr. Bob says. But it was all a diversion. While Israel focused on the unprecedented barrage, Hamas deployed men on “motorized hang gliders, which were not even on our radar [as a threat], and dropped makeshift bombs on our lookouts. So, when they start sending people to the border fence, we’re blind. . . . They attack the big border crossings first, so we send reinforcements there, which means we leave the other spots open. We don’t realize that our lookouts are dead or blown up because we’re thinking about the rockets and they’re attacking everywhere at once.”

Each stage of the attack prepared the next, and each involved something new. “In terms of military strategy, they schooled us.”

It wasn’t unreasonable for Israelis to think they had deterred Hamas, Mr. Bob says. “But you need to plan for every eventuality.” That was the lesson of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which has become an Israeli metonym for military disaster. But Mr. Bob notes that war had a second half. “By the end, Israel had in some ways an even greater tactical triumph than in ’67. It retook the Sinai, which became the basis of the peace agreement with Egypt.”

He sees a similar two-part story here. “Hamas took its best shot and it won big on the first day,” he says. “But it really doesn’t have anything else. It isn’t going to accomplish anything else close to what it has already done. From here on, it’s going to be Israel demolishing them.”

Israel has issued one of its largest military call-ups ever, 360,000 reservists. Its comprehensive bombing campaign and siege tactics are laying the groundwork for a counterinvasion to destroy Hamas. “They decided that they need to get rid of the people who are running Hamas, and most of their military force, and most of their weaponry.” Mr. Bob says. But as Aaron MacLean writes in Mosaic, “Were the IDF simply to withdraw after a maximal campaign, the last surviving member of the Qassam Brigades will, as it were, grab a bloody Hamas flag, wave it for the cameras, and declare victory.” Gaza would still be fertile soil for terrorists.

That why’s regime change is on the table, too. Israelis used to worry that it might cost 1,000 soldiers to topple Hamas, and that ISIS could fill the vacuum. But by letting Hamas reign, Mr. Bob says, “We’ve now lost 1,200 people,” and Hamas is no better than ISIS. “So nobody has a hesitancy.”

That doesn’t mean Israelis want to govern Gaza themselves. “I still think Israel feels that it would be more trouble, that more soldiers would die over a long period of time, and it would rather hand Gaza back to somebody else,” Mr. Bob says. But to whom? “The Palestinian Authority was routed there in the past. Why wouldn’t that happen again? If multinational forces in Lebanon and the Sinai have shown that they’re incapable of protecting Israeli interests, why would this time be any different?”

Israel could turn to a hybrid solution, with autonomy for the Palestinian Authority, helped by a multinational group, and the Israeli military in some way involved to prevent a Hamas comeback. “That is utter speculation on my part,” Mr. Bob says. “No matter how hard you push it, officials right now are not hinting what their plans are for afterward. I think it’s because they haven’t decided.”

Perhaps unsure how to win the peace, Israel is focusing on total victory in the field. “Hezbollah is the strategic threat,” Mr. Bob says, and a second front in the north would spell trouble. “Israel would win, but it would look different.”

He says Israeli intelligence believes Hezbollah could fire 6,000 to 8,000 rockets a day early in a conflict, several times Hamas’s capability. “If you’re shooting down 90% of 2,000 rockets versus 90% of 6,000 or 8,000, it makes a huge difference. And probably the intercept rate drops to 80% because of the volume.” No Israeli leader would welcome that conflict, Mr. Bob says, even if it could generate a more decisive victory over the Iranian proxy network.

Hezbollah has fired on Israel and started cross-border skirmishes in the past week—“small things,” he says. Israel has so far declined to escalate. “It’ll kill whoever shot at it,” and maybe the people around it, but that’s it. “Clearly, Israel doesn’t want to be distracted by another fight.”

But the enemy has a say. Does Hezbollah want to fight? Mr. Bob thinks not. If it had been waiting “for the right moment to strike, it missed its chance” by holding back in the massacre’s immediate aftermath, Mr. Bob says.

Instead, “Hezbollah has been as careful as Israel. It wants to be seen as having gotten on the playing field and drawn blood, . . . not being cowardly and staying out. But unless something changes, since Saturday it has basically been cowardly and stayed out.” Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, “has a lot to lose,” Mr. Bob says. “He basically controls a real country. I mean, Lebanon’s a mess, but he has real power. It isn’t Gaza.”

Mr. Bob acknowledges that the situation is fluid, and new orders could always come down from Tehran. Ultimately, that’s the point. Israelis may need to think big right now. “Israel will beat Hamas, but there’s still going to be the larger problem of Iran,” a revolutionary theocratic regime devoted to Israel’s destruction.

The Obama and Biden administrations have assumed that the right combination of incentives can moderate Iran’s ambitions. Surely, given a choice between prosperity and hardship, between fellowship and enmity, Iran would do the reasonable thing. It can be hard for Americans, who also love life, to understand a regime that chooses multigenerational sacrifice to make its dream of annihilating Israel come true.

“Iran is aggressively pushing Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah—anybody it can—to fight Israel, to make trouble with Israel, to destroy Israel. It’s giving funding, logistics and training for that purpose,” Mr. Bob says. Even if “nobody has been willing to go on the record and say, ‘Iran gave the order on this day,’ everybody would say that Iran’s fingerprints are on the idea of it, which would happen at some point.”

But perhaps the ayatollahs should have been careful what they wished for. “On Saturday, I think the Iranians are feeling great,” Mr. Bob says. “But when they see how much damage Israel is going to do to Hamas in response, and proxies that they’ve invested so much in are going to lose most or all of their power, they’re going to say, ‘This wasn’t worth it. These Israelis don’t turn the other cheek.’ ”

Not only proxies will feel the pain. “The Mossad’s abilities within Iran are astounding,” Mr. Bob says, referring to the Israeli intelligence agency. He points to “multiple instances when Israel went into Iran, kidnapped top Iranian officials, interrogated them within Iran, put the videos out, and then left the country without anybody knowing.” Mr. Bob’s years of “working to penetrate to top Mossad sources, all of the chiefs, and a lot of other people” lead him to conclude: “If the Mossad wants to go after someone in Iran, it can.”

Asked what Israel needs from the U.S. now, Mr. Bob rattles off four answers. First, “give Israel bunker-buster bombs.” Second, “declare that the U.S. won’t pressure Israel to prematurely halt its counterinvasion,” even as civilian casualties inevitably follow. Third, “shoot down one Hezbollah or Hamas rocket to show that the U.S. is willing to lean into this, and the naval movements aren’t for show.” Fourth, “move up delivery of the KC-46 refueling planes.”

It’s a plan of action whose meaning would be clear to Tehran. The bunker buster is a “dream weapon” for any potential strike on Iran’s underground nuclear facilities. Since Iran knows these bombs and KC-46 planes would “transform what Israel might be willing to risk,” he says, their transfer would make it think twice about ordering Hezbollah into the war. “Do I really want my proxy to do X, Y or Z, which could lead to an overreaction?” he imagines Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asking. “The spectrum of those ‘overreactions’ that Israel could offer would be much greater. And that could affect Iran’s calculations in every zone.”

One effect would be to deter a sprint to a nuclear breakout, which some fear Iran will try while Israel is distracted. Iran “could get to the 90% weaponized uranium enrichment level in either days or a week and a half,” Mr. Bob says.

President Biden has been weak on Iran, but his support for Israel after Hamas’s invasion has been steadfast. Ophir Falk, a foreign-policy adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, praises Mr. Biden’s remarks Tuesday on the subject: “We’re cynical and everything, but it was one of the most moving speeches that I’ve ever heard.”

Israelis know all too well, however, how fickle the world’s sympathies can be. Half the point of the state of Israel is to free the Jews from dependence on those sympathies. “There was shock when people saw the pictures,” Mr. Bob says, “but that lasts for only so long.” Israel’s assault on Gaza will lead to “new pictures on the Palestinian side” and moral equivocation from the West. That’s when Israel needs the U.S. to stand firm, because no one else will.

Mr. Falk says, “I truly hope, and I actually expect, that the civilized world will support us not only when we’re the victims, but also when we’re the victors here.” Victory might also save the prospects for a peace agreement with Saudi Arabia. “In this neighborhood, the strong survive,” Mr. Falk says. “The main reason that prior peace agreements were reached was because we’re strong.”

But if the peace plan goes by the boards, too bad. As Mr. Bob puts it, “This isn’t the Jew of the ghetto for 2,000 years. This is the modern Israeli army, which will do what it needs to do to defend the state.” Israeli society may be “richer and a little more spoiled now than it once was,” no longer the Jewish Sparta of the early days. “But underneath, there’s a determination that should not be underestimated. That’s what I’ve seen the past few days. You’re going to see more of that.”

Mr. Kaufman is the Journal’s letters editor.

October 20, 2023 | 9 Comments »

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9 Comments / 9 Comments

  1. Destroy Hamas, and find ways to get the Gazans to places they surely will prefer. They need find homes in Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and other Arab or Muslim countries where they will have an easier to time adjusting.

    Gaza needs to become eventually sovereign Israeli territory. Reconstitute Gush Katif and three northern Kibbutzim.

  2. @Raphael
    Yes that’s a better solution but it is not up to us.The UN will set up a displaced person camp and it is up to them to find a place for these people to go to. Israel should refuse to take them back.

  3. FELIX-

    A good find. But I must say that I have the autobiography of Herbert Samuel the High Commissioner of Palestine at that period. He was the man, to placate (as he thought) the Arabs, who appointed Haj Amin, and that was not until 3 years after Feisal’s letter, in 1921.
    It was his older brother, a non-aggressive, intelligent man, and due to be appointed to this made-up, NEW position, but he died-so foolish but well meaning 100% strong Zionist, Samuel made the mistake of a lifetime.

    Incidentally I don’t completely make Haj Amin the villain here who put slaughtering the Jews into Hitler’s mind. It was already there for many years, but he was a ruler who had been installed with a minority vote, and was still exploring other ways to rid himself of the Jews. His actions of bringing in Laws which progressively made Jews less than human beings would ultimately have led to the Holocaust anyway, and in the same time period..

  4. Edgar

    Another quote from the letter

    “People less informed and less responsible than our leaders and yours, ignoring the need for co-operation of the Arabs and Zionists have been trying to exploit the local difficulties that must necessarily arise in Palestine in the early stages of our movements. Some of them have, I am afraid, misrepresented your aims to the Arab peasantry, and our aims to the Jewish peasantry, with the result that interested parties have been able to make capital out of what they call our differences.”

    A clear understanding of the role of Haj Amin el Husseini…getting going

  5. T. Belman. I totally disagree with Bob’s suggestion about turning over Gaza to Arab countries who would govern it along with the PA. Instead, I want to push all Gazans to the southern 20% of Gaza and for Israel to annex the northern 8o%. And then to reject any Arab return.

    I don’t disagree with Ted on this, but I wonder if it is physically possible to do it. Can the entire population of Gaza be fit into that small of a space? Even if it is possible, wouldn’t a better solution be to have all these people transfer out of the area? Egypt is not a good option. They would still be close enough to lob missiles or to send savages into Israel. No, they must be sent away; and the farther away, the better.

  6. That doesn’t mean Israelis want to govern Gaza themselves.

    Move out the Arabs, and Gaza will be easy to govern. It’s the “North Cyprus” solution, the “Novorossiya” solution, the “Kaliningrad” solution.

  7. FELIX-

    Anti-Semitism “got going” 1700 years before 1919. That very same friendly Feisal, suddenly decided that he wanted to rule the whole Arab world from Damascus. He put his backside onto a “throne” there.(for 3 months) As you may be aware the post war relationship between Britain
    (perfidious Albion) and France, always shaky, was in a turbulent mode, and the French, seeing it as a British plot to deprive them of their plum mandatory territory, immediately kicked him off his seat with hob nailed boots. Whereupon, the British made him the king of Mesopotamia. He lasted 12 year s there before death at a young age of about 47-8-9.

  8. LOOK …We Arabs,especially the educated among us look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organisation to Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate proper.
    We will do our best, in so far as we are concerned, to help them through: we will wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.

    King Faisal Of Iraq and Syria to Zionism in 1920 …late December 1919

    (Before Antisemitism got going)

    So the problem we are facing, from 1920, just 100 years in length, not a long time considering all things, is

    Antisemitism

    Antisemitism has been used as a weapon

    And it is today just Antisemitism no more no less