Israel has made a huge mistake
The terms of this ceasefire couldn't be better for Hamas. Unless (and this is unlikely) Israel has reached secret side deals with Arab countries to destroy Hamas, it has made a terrible mistake.
How to suffer humiliating national defeat in three easy steps:
1: Sat., Oct. 7: Hamas fighters break out of Gaza, overrun Israeli army bases and villages, brutally kill over 1,000 Israelis - and bring almost 250 hostages back to Gaza.
2: Sat., Oct. 28: Israel invades the Gaza Strip, Hamas’s home territory. The invasion and air attacks kill thousands of civilians and stir worldwide outrage, but do not bring Israel close to its stated goal of destroying Hamas.
3: Friday, Nov. 24: Hamas agrees to release 50 hostages (but keep almost 200) over a four-day period. In return, Israel stops its invasion for those days and releases 150 Palestinian prisoners. But wait, there’s more: after the first days, Israel will continue the ceasefire for up to another week, as long as Hamas releases 10 hostages a day.
(Bad news explained succinctly, for 20 cents a day. And don’t forget - the Black Friday deal is still in effect!)
It is impossible to overstate how bad this deal is. The ceasefire - whether it lasts four days, 11, or much longer - is a disaster for Israel on every level.
Symbolically: By agreeing to a hostages-for-prisoners swap, Israel has implicitly agreed the Palestinian criminals in its prisons are no different than the civilians that Hamas’s terrorists grabbed from their beds and homes on Oct. 7.
Militarily/Tactically: The pause gives Hamas’s fighters a chance to rest after weeks of bombardment, rebuild their defenses, and rearm.
Worse, Israel has lost the chance to force the action. Hamas decides whether to keep the ceasefire in place by releasing more hostages; Israel has no choice in the matter.
Militarily/Strategically: By agreeing to a ceasefire only weeks only beginning a bloody invasion, Israel enables its critics to question if the invasion was necessary at all - especially because it has failed to capture any senior Hamas commanders and killed only one, the commander of the group’s “Northern Gaza Brigade.” Even the most fervent Israeli partisan cannot justify killing thousands of civilians to take out the equivalent of one mid-level general.
Morally: Most importantly, Israel has squandered what is left of the world’s sympathy for it. It should have told Hamas that the taking of hostages was a war crime and it would never agree to a ceasefire as long as Hamas held them. It should have drawn that line and stuck to it. It should have repeated over and over: As long as Hamas holds hostages, Israel views all of Gaza as a legitimate military target.
Now Israel has lost that moral clarity.
Israel cannot simultaneously claim Hamas is ISIS and be willing to swap prisoners with it. Once the ceasefire ends (again, on Hamas’s timetable), Israel will be stuck in the worst of all possible places. When it announced the ceasefire, the Israeli government talked tough, promising when it ended Israel’s “security forces will continue the war to return all the abductees, complete the elimination of Hamas and ensure that Gaza does not present any further threat to the State of Israel.”
In reality, though, Israel will face an impossible choice: to push deeper into Gaza - and face even more civilian casualties and worldwide outrage - or to pull back, without coming close to achieving its goal of destroying Hamas.
The deal is so terrible that it raises the question how the Israeli government could possibly have agreed to it. One possibility is that the Biden White House - despite its public support for Israel - essentially forced it to do so. Another, more hopeful, is that Israel has reached secret side deals with major Arab countries that will help it eliminate Hamas’s leadership - and quickly, in months, not years.
But the third is that Bibi Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is lurching through this crisis with only one goal - his own political survival. As pressure from inside Israel to release the hostages grew, Netanyahu buckled, instead of telling his people the truth - that allowing the hostages to be taken was his failure, and he would not compound it by making a terrible deal to release them, as innocent as they are.
No competent leader would have made the deal that Netanyahu just did. But then no competent leader would have allowed the Oct. 7 attacks to happen at all.
For the first time, I am seriously worried about Israel's future. As things stand, it has shown that it cannot protect its civilians yet has also managed to turn much of the world against it through its bombardment of Gaza.
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Israel and Netanyahu have a secret plan. Maybe they have a pinky promise from Qataris that Hamas’s leaders will be shipped to Tel Aviv for speedy trial and even speedier execution.
I hope I’m wrong.
Because at this moment, things look grim.