How To Think About the Hamas – Israel War
I know that 1) we’re all deeply concerned about the October 7 Hamas attack and about the ensuing war in Israel and Gaza — in agony about it really, and 2) there is a steady stream of news reports, interviews, commentary, op-eds, demonstrations etc. about all of it, including corollary matters of anti-semitic and anti-Muslim violence in the U.S. It is easy to be overwhelmed.
For my money, Ezra Klein’s podcast, posted yesterday, with Vox journalist Zach Beauchamp is the most helpful thing I’ve read/ heard. The title is, “If Not This, Then What Should Israel Do?” Beauchamp is deeply grounded in all of the relevant issues, and seemed to me not only knowledgeable but fair.
Here are a few of the major take-aways, though I encourage you to take the hour it takes to listen to the entire podcast.
- Israel’s aims in the war are neither sufficiently clear nor focused. While this may be changing, and have changed since the interview, there has been much talk of “destroying Hamas,” similar to our our own post 9/11 “War on Terror” with its goal of eliminating Al-Qaeda and terrorism. This is easy to say, but hard — if not impossible — to do. Terrorist organizations can, and should be, degraded and isolated. But eliminated? It does appear that Israel has shifted, for now, from an all-out ground invasion strategy to a more targeted campaign, which aligns with Beauchamp’s second point:
- A distinction needs to be made and held between a “counter-terrorism operation” and “regime change.” The latter, or “destroying Hamas,” which governs Gaza, would leave Israel occupying Gaza, which would prove as protracted and untenable as our 20 year long war in Afghanistan.
- Hamas doesn’t only have the 200 hostages seized on October 7 serving as its “human shield,” it has made all of Gaza’s residents its human shield. The political and military operations of Hamas are purposefully embedded in Gaza’s hospitals, mosques, and refugee camps. Hamas does not care about the welfare or fate of Gaza’s two million people. It actually wants Palestinian civilians to be killed to engender regional and international support for its cause. We should be cautious about accepting information from Hamas, or its affiliates in Gaza, about civilian deaths and casualties there.
- Netanyahu and his government are being blamed by the people of Israel for the October 7 security failure and attacks. Israelis are right to blame Netanyahu, who lost focus on the real threats and sewed deep divisions within Israel over his anti-democratic “judicial reform.” His disapproval rating among Israeli’s is 80%. Usually when a nation is attacked there is a rallying around effect for the existing leadership. That has not happened. Beauchamp said that this may be a time when the “log-jam” in Israeli politics which has sustained Netanyahu’s power, may finally break.
- Hamas and Netanyahu, and his right-wing allies, are actually in agreement on something: both are irrevocable opponents of a “two-state solution.” But other key leaders in the Middle East — in Egypt and Jordan, for example — continue to favor and work for that outcome. That said,
- Beauchamp makes the point that the “two-state solution” is a long ways off, but that there is a great deal Israel can do that would pave the way for such a solution and which would make life easier for Palestinians in Israel and on the West Bank, in particular. Such steps might become possible if Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition were to lose power.
A couple other notes. FBI Christopher Wray testified on Capitol Hill yesterday about increased terrorist threats in and to the U.S. because of the Hamas-Israeli war. He also addressed anti-semitic violence here in the U.S. noting that Jews make up 2.4 percent of the U.S. population, but hate-crimes against Jewish institutions and people account for over 60% of all such crimes.
While we should all be concerned about anti-Muslim violence here, we also all need to understand the deep anxiety and fear with which Jews in America, and throughout the world, are now living. Threats and attacks directed against Jewish people must be both acknowledged and condemned. We should also all be concerned about those on the right-wing who are sewing division in the U.S., making us more vulnerable to all manner of attacks from Putin’s info wars to China’s fentanyl.
Finally, I for one, continue to be impressed by the fine line that the Biden Administration and its Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, are managing on all this. On one hand, standing with Israel and it’s right to self-defense, while on the other cautioning and pressuring Israel and its government for restraint and resisting an all-out ground invasion with its inevitable terrible consequences.
Both agony, and prayer, continue. It is a tragic situation, built upon a tragic history. But for now, this is what I am thinking about it all. I welcome your thoughts. My thanks, again, to Ezra Klein for his work.