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Reconstruction of Gaza Is the Way to Regain Initiative in War on Hamas

An UNRWA aid truck at the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. Photo: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Israel’s wars, according to Israel’s traditional defense strategy, are aimed at thwarting and removing military threats, not at politically shaping the region. Hence our familiar focus on the military dimension. But the goal of the war in Gaza is more ambitious: the destruction of the Hamas regime.

Accordingly, its realization depends on additional dimensions. A slow reconstruction of parts of Gaza based on military achievements can regain the initiative, transfer the pressure back to Hamas, and serve as a lever for a hostage deal. This is also a one-time opportunity for Israel to physically shape the ruined Strip according to its interests. Once we finally get out of the strategic corner we’ve fallen into, we would be wise to return to the more modest Israeli approach to war. We will focus on the effective removal of threats and leave the business of political engineering to the powers.

A total war of attrition

Since the War of Independence, the State of Israel has not known such a long and comprehensive war as the current war in Gaza. The 1970-1971 War of Attrition lasted about a year and a half, but it did not have the scope of forces or continuity of the current war. The First Lebanon War officially lasted only three months.

Elsewhere, I have called the current war Israel’s first total war. I don’t mean “total war” in the sense with which the phrase is applied to the two world wars of the 20th century. Those wars were total in terms of general mobilization, the use of all means of war, including unconventional weapons, and the intentional targeting of civilian populations. The situation in Gaza is the opposite.

It is difficult to recall any other war in which one side fought while making sure to deliver supplies and humanitarian assistance to the enemy population. By the term “total war” I mean to highlight the contrast between this war and its goals from the limited war approach that has always characterized the State of Israel.

Contrary to our original defense strategy, in this war we set as a goal not only the destruction of the Hamas army, but also the destruction of the Hamas regime.

The historical precedents are misleading. In the First Lebanon War (1982), we expelled the PLO from Lebanon and tried to stabilize Maronite rule. The PLO, as we know, was a foreign entity in Lebanon, hated by most Lebanese. The Maronites were a strong local faction and the historical rulers of Lebanon.

The Sinai operation (1956) was indeed intended to damage and overthrow the Nasser regime, but the State of Israel was only a junior partner in the Anglo-French scheme.

Both these affairs are far from the ambition of the current war, which is to remove a neighboring regime that has a strong grip on Gaza. Both those wars are also remembered as total failures.

The historical failures highlight the logic of Israel’s modest approach to wars. Our strategy recognized Israel’s power limitations. No matter how victorious it is on the battlefield, Israel cannot forcefully influence the hatred and hostile intentions on the other side, much less engineer its politics. The core concept of this strategy — decisive defeat on the battlefield — was always reserved for the military dimension alone. Eliminating the immediate military threat was intended to restore security and allow Israel to avoid a prolonged war of attrition that would inevitably serve the other side.

That is exactly what Hamas was aiming for when it invaded Israel on October 7. Sinwar’s strategy was to drag Israel into an attritional war that would eventually exhaust the IDF in general and the reserve forces in particular, empty the munitions stockpile, and turn the international community against Israel.

Rehab program

The goals of the current war, therefore, must by necessity extend beyond Israel’s comfort zone and the healthy understanding that characterized us in the past. Under the circumstances of October 2023, there was no better alternative.

In the article “Sustainable Strategy,” I analyzed the process in which we deviated from the correct basic assumptions of Israeli strategy. Wrong assumptions, primarily the assumption that the State of Israel had become a regional power, maneuvered us into corner where we remain stuck today. I further argued that the flawed theory according to which we can influence the intentions of the enemies in order to “deter them” without paying attention to their combat capabilities is what allowed the building up of the terrorist armies that delivered the blow of October. We now cling to the opposite error.

Much has been written about the Israeli refusal to deal with the “day after” issue. In the absence of a civilian alternative, Hamas has not only returned to control and restored its power in the neighborhoods from which the IDF withdraws, but it does not even feel threatened. There is, therefore, no time constraint from Hamas’s point of view, even in the context of a hostage deal.

If “total victory” means a complete and lasting removal of Hamas, it should only be understood as a long-term strategy that includes not only the military defeat of Hamas and the collapse of its government but also the stabilization and pacification of the Strip. Israel will be required to take care of the stabilization of the Strip through civil, security, and economic control mechanisms.

Clear strategic thinking, not politicization of the war, is required. The analogy of the Second World War, which was used to establish the idea of ​​”absolute victory,” indicates what is required here. De-radicalization of Germany and Japan was possible not only thanks to their unconditional surrender but also to some civil-economic measures that were taken.

In an attempt to correct the mistake of three decades of appeasement and deterrence strategy, Israel is now making the opposite mistake. We set a clear political war goal — removing the rule of Hamas — but continue to refuse to carry out any non-military war planning.

In principle, I do not believe a war for regime change is the right idea for the State of Israel. But in a practical sense, we have attached ourselves to that aim by allowing the build-up of terrorist armies on our borders. This war should be considered a painful but one-time weaning process. If we have committed to this, it is necessary to see the constraint as an opportunity as well.

Resume initiative by dictating the terms of restoration

The truth must be told. The war is stuck.

The pressure on all fronts — a hostage deal, international hostility, the economy, the northern front, the internal front, even the combat stockpiles — is all on Israel. The military raids returning to the Strip and the operation that started in Rafah, as important as they are, will not restore Israel’s strategic initiative. It is also absolutely clear from Hamas’ demands in the negotiations that the war has moved to the stage where the parties are competing for the future political order in Gaza.

The rehabilitation of Gaza should be transformed from a Hamas demand in the negotiations, which the State of Israel is presented as refusing, to a strategic lever that will return the initiative to Israel and the pressure to Hamas.

Meanwhile, the desired end state for Israel must be discussed again. The current strategic vision according to which the Gaza Strip will become a “lawn mowing” space is correct but not satisfactory. Although it is too early and too painful at the moment, we must seize the crisis in Gaza as an opportunity for a redesign of the Palestinian arena.

Instead of repeatedly occupying the same neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip, Israel should take advantage of the reoccupation to create safe spaces for rehabilitation. These spaces can be secured by IDF activity around them and managed by an Arab-American-Palestinian coalition. All the actors mentioned desire such an initiative and are ready for it. Initiating this move would allow Israel to influence the way secured neighborhoods are restored, such as through the registration of citizens; prevention of the entry of Hamas operatives; kicking out Hamas-supporting UNRWA people; introducing alternative education and welfare systems, including an extensive de-radicalization program; and more. Humanitarian and economic support mechanisms can make these supervised rehabilitation areas attractive. The threat to Hamas rule would intensify as the areas of rehabilitation are stabilized and expanded.

As the reconstruction expands to more neighborhoods, Israel will also be able to participate in the urban re-planning of the Gaza Strip. Roads and transportation, employment centers, and other infrastructures will be rebuilt with Israeli interests in mind, like an open buffer zone and other security needs. As the economic planning of the Strip expands, Israel will be able to better build its financial oversight mechanisms, which have been neglected under the fault strategy. Replacing the terror-finance-based economy with a productive one for the people of Gaza should also contribute to de-radicalization.

Focusing and concentrating efforts on specific neighborhoods for rehabilitation will increase the chances of success and build the capacity for gradual expansion. Successful reconstruction areas will not only undermine Hamas’s self-confidence. It is possible that local prosperity, conditional on systematic de-radicalization, could also influence the West Bank as a pressure lever on the corrupt and terror-supporting Palestinian regime there.

Take politics out of the equation

The issue of “the day after” is stuck on the political level. The right wing in the coalition refuses to discuss it since its vision is not Palestinian self-government but settlement of the Strip. But the Israeli strategy should not relate to the political vision. As long as no one assumes the two million residents of the Gaza Strip will disappear, the discussion about restoring their lives stands on its own. Since the Six Day War, the State of Israel has preferred civilian control mechanisms that are as independent as possible for the Palestinian population. Even before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, mayors were local and civil mechanisms functioned. The great 2002 anti-terror offensive in the West Bank was only possible because the IDF made sure the PA’s civil mechanism would continue to function. Today, the stabilization of the Gaza Strip as a safe and functioning civilian space is a condition for any political vision, settlement or disengagement, which includes the safe return of Israeli citizens to the Western Negev region.

The percolation of the concept of “decisive defeat” from the military level into the political culture has created a devastating paralysis. This paralysis played a role in the crisis that brought us to war and continues to play a destructive role.

It was absurd to think for years that we had the power to change the intentions of our enemies without overwhelming their military power. We are paying for this deterrence-based strategy today. It is essential that we do not now adhere to the mirror image of this error — a strategy of political defeat while stubbornly focusing on military means alone.

The rehabilitation of Gaza, as painful as the phrase may be to Israeli ears after the October attack, can and should be Israel’s ultimate weapon against Hamas. It is customary in wartime that the first stage of the campaign is intended to prepare the conditions for the next. In the current war, the ground maneuver did not cleanse the Gaza underground or eradicate the Hamas regime, but it created and can continue to create the conditions for the next stage. That stage should be dedicated to the stabilization and slow rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip.

Step by step, the IDF will secure limited locations and the reconstruction coalition will create a more attractive alternative in those areas. Time will turn against Hamas, the pressure will shift to it, and Israel will stop being seen as conducting a vengeful war and will start serving its own long-term interests. Above all, a quick hostage deal will return to the status of an existential interest of Hamas.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Eran Ortal recently retired from military service as commander of the Dado Center for Multidisciplinary Military Thinking. He is a well-known military thinker both in Israel and abroad. His works have been published in The Military Review, War on the Rocks, Small Wars Journal at the Hoover Institution, at Stanford, and elsewhere. His book The Battle Before the War (MOD 2022, in Hebrew) dealt with the IDF’s need to change, innovate and renew a decisive war approach. A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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Netanyahu Heads to DC After Biden Quits 2024 Race, Says Israel Will Remain ‘Strong’ US Ally Whoever Is in White House

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Jerusalem, Feb. 18, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday departed for a highly anticipated trip to Washington, DC, where he will meet with US President Joe and Biden and deliver a speech before Congress this week as America grapples with the aftermath of Biden’s unprecedented decision to end his 2024 reelection campaign.

During his first trip to the US capital in almost four years, Netanyahu plans to visit the White House and also address US lawmakers on Wednesday. Netanyahu was originally expected to meet with Biden on Tuesday; however, several Hebrew media outlets reported that the meeting will likely be delayed due to Biden still being sick with COVID-19.

It is unclear how Biden’s shock decision on Sunday to drop out of the US presidential race will impact Netanyahu’s address to the US Congress. According to Israel’s Channel 13, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, a close confidant of Netanyahu, assured US officials that the speech will not include criticism of or against Biden following repeated requests by US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan for information about what the Israeli premier will say.

Netanyahu issued a statement following Biden’s announcement indicating the Israeli premier will underline the importance of bipartisanship in maintaining a close US-Israel relationship.

“I will seek to anchor the bipartisan support that is so important for Israel. And I will tell my friends on both sides of the aisle [in Congress] that regardless of who the American people choose as their next president, Israel remains America’s indispensable and strong ally in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said while leaving Israel for Washington, DC. “In this time of war and uncertainty it’s important that Israel’s enemies know that America and Israel stand together today, tomorrow, and always.”

The Israeli premier also expressed gratitude to Biden, stating that he will thank the US president for helping the Jewish state as he prepares to exit the White House.

“I plan to see President Biden, whom I’ve known for over 40 years. This will be an opportunity to thank him for the things he did for Israel in the war and during his long and distinguished career in public service, as senator, as vice president, and as president,” Netanyahu said.

Amid declining support for Israel among US liberal Democratic lawmakers, Netanyahu hopes to use his congressional address and White House visit to mend relations with Democrats, who have become increasingly uneasy over Israel’s war effort against the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in Gaza.

Biden has come under heavy fire from Republicans as well as pro-Israel Democrats for what they’ve described as him turning against Israel amid the ongoing war in Gaza.

The US president expressed strong support for Israel following Hamas’ brutal invasion of southern Israel on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists murdered 1,200 people and kidnapped about 250 hostages during their onslaught. In recent months, however, Biden has paused some weapons shipments to Israel and accused the US ally of “indiscriminate bombing” — a charge rejected by Israeli officials.

The Biden administration also discouraged Israel from launching a military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah to target some of the last remaining Hamas battalions, arguing such an operation would put too many civilians at risk. Experts told The Algemeiner at the time that Israeli forces needed to operate in Rafah in order to dismantle Hamas’ military capabilities.

More broadly, the relationship between the Democratic Party and Israel has deteriorated in the months following Oct. 7. Several high-profile Democrats, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY), have suggested that Israel’s military operations in Gaza are tantamount to a “genocide.” Democratic lawmakers have also called on Biden to halt arms transfers to Israel, citing concern over mounting civilian casualties in Gaza.

While Israeli officials have expressed frustration about the Biden administration pressuring them to halt their military campaign, Netanyahu is expected to use his visit as a way to repair some of the damage. The trip could also serve as a way to make Israel’s case directly to the American public, which overall remains pro-Israel despite declining support among younger demographics.

The percentage of Americans that express “little or no confidence” in Netanyahu has increased by 11 points since 2023, according to an April poll by Pew Research Center. Among Democrats, a staggering 71 percent express “little or no confidence” in the Israeli leader. 

Anti-Israel groups have also organized protests in advance of Netanyahu’s congressional address. Far-left organizations such as Party for Socialism and Liberation and Palestinian Youth Movement are urging their supporters to “surround the Capitol” during Netanyahu’s address. Leaders of these groups have branded Netanyahu as a “war criminal” and have called for his arrest. 

The people charge Benjamin Netanyahu with genocide. When war criminal Netanyahu comes to Washington DC,” Palestinian Youth Movement wrote on Instagram, “the people of the world stand with Palestine and against the genocide committed by Israel with full support of the United States and impunity.”

In addition to meeting with Biden, Netanyahu may also speak with Republican presidential nominee and former US President Donald Trump. Netanyahu has requested an in-person meeting with Trump while in the US this week, according to Politico.

The Algemeiner could not immediately verify the report.

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Pro-Hamas Demonstrators Avoid Punishment Following Wave of Dropped Charges, Reports Say

Law enforcement officers detain a demonstrator, as they clear out a pro-Hamas protest encampment at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Los Angeles, California, US, May 2, 2024. Photo: REUTERS/David Swanson

The State Attorney’s Office of Cook County, Illinois has dropped criminal charges filed against three Northwestern University faculty and one graduate student who allegedly obstructed law enforcement’s efforts to clear an unlawful demonstration at the Deering Meadow section of campus.

According to a local National Public Radio (NPR) affiliate, the office said its decision is based on its “policy not to prosecute peaceful protesters.”

Charges against the four individuals were pursued by the Northwestern University Police Department, which said that they allegedly engaged in “obstructing a police officer during the protests,” a crime for which they could, if convicted, spend a year in jail and pay a $2,500 fine, The Daily Northwestern reported last week. They had already appeared before a judge and were scheduled to do so again in August.

The university had defended the recommendation of its police department and rejected the notion that the individuals acted peaceably, saying in a statement issued earlier this month that it “does not permit activity that disrupts university operations, violates the law, or includes the intimidation or harassment of members of the community.”

Many more protesters have similarly avoided punishment for the actions they took during a burst of pro-Hamas demonstrations at the end of the 2023-2024 academic year, according to a new report by The New York Times. Prosecutors in Travis County, Texas, for example, have dropped over 100 charges of criminal trespassing filed against University of Texas at Austin protesters, the paper said, and 60 other Northwestern University protesters saw their charges dismissed, with prosecutors calling them “constitutionally dubious.” The Times added, however, that some charges will stick, including those filed against someone who bit a police officer, and many students are still awaiting the outcome of disciplinary proceedings.

Per the report, “At the University of Virginia on May 4, as students were preparing for final exams, administrators called in police to break up an encampment. Police officers in riot gear used chemical irritants to get protesters to disperse and eventually arrested 27 people. The local prosecutor dropped the charges facing seven people after he determined there wasn’t enough evidence. He offered the rest an agreement: their charges would be dismissed in August if they didn’t have any outstanding criminal charges at the time.”

Prosecutors in other states have not been as forbearing. According to Fresh Take Florida, prosecutors in Alachua County, Florida charged seven University of Florida students, as well as two non-students, with trespassing and resisting arrest. The defendants have resolved to take their chances at trial, the news service added, noting that all nine have rejected “deferred prosecution,” an agreement that would require them to plead guilty, or no contest, in exchange for the state’s expunging the convictions from their records in the future so long as they abstain from committing more criminal acts.

One of the nine, computer science student Parker Stanley Hovis, 26, — who was suspended for three years — proclaimed earlier this month that they will contest the state’s cases.

“We did not resist arrest, and we are prepared to fight our charges,” Hovis said in a statement. “We’re standing in solidarity with each other, and collectively demanding that the state drop the charges against us.”

Jewish civil rights group have described the anti-Israel protesters across the US as posing an imminent threat to Jewish students and faculty while noting that many avert being identified by concealing their faces with masks and keffiyehs, a traditional headscarf worn by Palestinians which has become known as a symbol of solidarity with the Palestinian cause and opposition to Israel. Images and footage of the practice have been widely circulated online, and it has rendered identifying the protesters — many of whom have chanted antisemitic slogans, vandalized school property, and threatened to harm Jewish students and faculty during a weeks-long demonstration between April and May — virtually impossible.

On Thursday, one such civil rights group, StandWithUs (SWU), implored the US Department of Justice to crack down on masked protests at Columbia University by enforcing legal statues which are widely referred to as the “KKK Laws,” citing numerous antisemitic incidents of harassment and assault on its campus and the difficulty of punishing the perpetrators.

Dating back to the administration of former US President Ulysses S. Grant, the so-called “KKK Laws” empower the federal government to prosecute those who engage in activities which violate the civil rights of protected groups, as the Ku Klux Klan did across the US South during Reconstruction to prevent African Americans from voting and living as free citizens. StandWithUs alleges that five anti-Zionist groups — most notably Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) — currently operating on Columbia University’s campus have perpetrated similar abuses in violation of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which guarantees all students, regardless of race or ethnic background, has the right to a safe learning environment.

“We hope the Department of Justice will take this opportunity to restore justice on Columbia University’s campuses and hold bad actors responsible for violating federal laws,” Yael Lerman, director of the SWU Saidoff Legal Department, said in a statement.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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France Says Israeli Athletes ‘Welcome’ at Olympics Amid Mounting Threats, Added Security Measures

The Olympic Village prepared for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Photo: Paris 2024 / Raphael Vriet

French leaders said on Monday that the Israeli delegation to the 2024 Paris Olympics is welcome in France, despite what critics described as “antisemitic” comments to the contrary made by a French politician two days earlier

At an anti-Israel rally on Saturday, far-left French lawmaker Thomas Portes said, “I am here to say that, no, the Israeli delegation is not welcome in Paris. Israeli athletes are not welcome at the Olympic Games in Paris.”

Portes called for Israelis to be excluded from the Paris Olympics because of Israel’s ongoing war against Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip who perpetrated the Oct. 7 massacre in Israel.

Portes later also told the newspaper Le Parisien that “France’s diplomats should pressure the International Olympic Committee to bar the Israeli flag and anthem, as is done for Russia” due to its invasion of Ukraine.

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said Portes’ comments had “obvious antisemitic overtones” and “placed a target on the backs of the Israeli athletes.” He added, “I want to express my disgust at that. I want to assure the Israeli athletes of our full protection, like all athletes, but particularly them, also welcoming them.”

Darmanin also announced that Israel’s Olympic delegation, which includes 88 athletes representing the Jewish state, will have increased security and will receive 24-hour security from French police. He said the decision was made after taking into consideration the 1972 Munich Olympics — where 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September — and how Israeli athletes are a target for attacks, especially since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

France has experienced a record surge in antisemitic incidents since Oct. 7, when Hamas launched the war with its massacre across southern Israel.

French Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné reiterated that the Israeli delegation “is welcome in France” for the Paris Olympics during his visit to Brussels on Monday, the French-language newspaper Le Monde reported. He called Portes’ remarks “irresponsible and dangerous,” and added that France “will ensure the security of the [Israeli] delegation.”

Paris Police Chief Laurent Nuñez said 30,000 to 45,000 police personnel will be working daily to ensure safety at Olympic sites and fan zones in Paris.

It was previously reported that Israel doubled its security budget for this year’s Games, which will be Israel’s 18th appearance in the Olympics. Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar told The Telegraph that the Israeli Olympic delegation this year, which is the second-largest Israeli delegation in Olympics history, has received threats but he did not go into detail. He added that delegation members will receive security details from Israel’s Shin Bet security agency but not everyone will have their own bodyguards.

“We try our best to make sure the athletes feel free but also safe and not afraid. We don’t want them to notice the security guards too much. We want them to feel confident so they can do their job,” he explained to the publication.

There have been calls to ban Israel from the Paris Olympics because of the Israel-Hamas war, but Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said in March there is no doubt that Israel will participate in the Paris Olympics.

The 2024 Olympic Games will take place from July 26-Aug. 11.

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