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What Would ‘Total Victory’ Mean in Gaza?

Hamas leader and Oct. 7 pogrom mastermind Yahya Sinwar addressing a rally in Gaza. Photo: Reuters/braheem Abu Mustafa

In recent years, the concept of decisive victory has eroded in Israel, but October 7 brought it forcefully back to the center of the national security process. There are four types of victory: tactical (the ability of the IDF to negate the enemy’s fighting ability); operational (the ability of the operative echelon to dismantle the fighting system facing it, which is currently happening in Gaza); military strategic (the ability to remove the military threat posed by the enemy for many years to come); and grand, or national, strategic (military victory leads to a fundamental change in the geopolitical situation, like a peace treaty or the establishment of a new regime).

It seems that the “total victory” that is spoken about in the context of Gaza is a strategic victory, which, given the right interfaces among military, civil, and economic moves, can bring about a relatively calm security situation for a decade or more.

Victory and decision are one and the same. Over the years, attempts have been made to distinguish between them: for example, victory is tactical and decision is operational or strategic; or victory is the result and decision is the process. The word “victory” is more popular than the more professional word “decision,” but the two concepts overlap. The words used depend on the user’s needs and image.

Decision/victory is one of four elements of Israeli national security doctrine (along with early warning, deterrence, and defense), but in fact, it is the most important, because it is the only optimal outcome of a military campaign. In the last three decades, ever since Operation Accountability against Hezbollah in 1993, the theoretical discussion about the use of force in military operations has gone awry: deterrence has become the desired outcome of a military campaign, while decision/victory has essentially disappeared as the primary goal.

This pushing aside of victory and centralization of deterrence was largely due to the limitations the State of Israel and the IDF placed on themselves regarding the use of force. The goals of these limitations were to reduce casualties among IDF soldiers and avoid ground maneuvering as much as possible; reduce civilian losses as a result of missiles and rockets hitting the home front; rely on active defense to postpone a long-term solution to challenges; reduce enemy collateral damage by avoiding war-fighting within dense urban spaces; reduce international criticism of Israel over its military conduct; resist holding onto territories that are not part of the State of Israel (a lesson from the long stay in Lebanon); avoid the need to provide a civil response to the needs of a local enemy population and to incur the cost in terms of resources and attention that such an effort would entail; and more.

The IDF’s use of the term “victory” in recent years has not been aimed at victory/decision, which will be defined below, but at a significant improvement of deterrence.

Israel’s belief that it can rely on intermittent deterrence operations (“rounds”) and does not need a victory/decision was painfully shattered on October 7, 2023. It took a severe blow to national security to force a review of the security doctrine, and a rediscovery of the concept of victory/decision. While it was quickly understood that victory/decision is required in the current campaign and probably also in future campaigns, the need arose to define what a “victory” is.

Tactical victory is the ability of IDF units to annihilate enemy forces in battle and control territory in a way that negates the enemy’s ability to continue to fight in that area in a military framework. This kind of victory is the achievement towards which fighting is directed. This is not about the killing of all opposing military soldiers or terrorist operatives, but about breaking their ability to fight as an organization or a combatant framework. A tactical victory is a military action that is a means to achieving broader goals. It does not mean that all threats to our forces or to the home front have disappeared from the area where victory was achieved.

Operational victory is the ability of the IDF’s operative echelon, usually the regional command operating in the operational arena or front, to dismantle the fighting system facing it. In a cluster of battles (usually many dozens are required) in which tactical victories and control of terrain are achieved, the combined fighting force of the IDF manages to render the enemy’s military system dysfunctional — i.e., unable to achieve military strategic goals or to deny the IDF’s ability to achieve such goals.

The operational victory achieved in the Six-Day War forced Egypt and Syria into a military reconstruction process that led them to embark on another war — with improved opening conditions for a military surprise — six years later. In the current war, operational victory does not mean the threat of guerrilla warfare and terrorism has been removed from the Gaza Strip, but that Hamas’ ability to cause damage, especially to the Israeli civilian home front, is declining dramatically. It can be said that in most areas of the Gaza Strip, the IDF has already achieved an operational victory. Its completion depends on Israel’s decision to fight in the limited remaining areas (Rafah, some of the center camps).

Strategic victory is the removal of the enemy’s ability to pose a military threat in the operational arena for many years to come. This kind of victory is achieved by continuing military operations after the operational victory is achieved in order to weaken the enemy’s guerrilla warfare and terrorism capabilities until they either stop completely or are reduced to the scale of individual events. Strategic victory requires fundamental changes in the situation on the ground: the loss by guerrilla and terrorist operatives of the support of their population; isolation of the arena to prevent the insertion of new weapons and funding in a way that could allow guerrilla and terrorist operatives to recover; and a distancing of junior operatives or supporters from leading terrorist operatives that significantly impairs those leaders’ ability to command their juniors.

Such a change in the situation on the ground requires steps that go beyond military combat. These include rehabilitating the economic and civilian infrastructure for the population that is not engaged in terrorism; gaining the consent of neighboring countries and other partners to block weapons smuggling routes and money transfer channels into the territory; and the regulation of local government such that it can satisfy and develop the civilian and economic needs of the population. Such a strategic victory was achieved in 2004 at the end of the Second Intifada, and it resulted in relative quiet for about a decade.

The Grand Strategy victory, or victory on the level of national security strategy, is when a military victory leads to a fundamental change in the strategic posture of the State of Israel. This can stem from a desire among enemy leadership to fundamentally change its hostile attitude toward Israel and sign peace agreements with it that end the military conflict. Such a great victory — some would call it a mutual victory — was achieved with Egypt about five years after the Yom Kippur War.

Another type of grand victory is a situation in which the IDF controls territory following a military victory, and the failure of the previous regime in the war leads to regime change of a kind that creates fundamentally different national conduct. The classic historical examples of such a change are Germany and Japan after World War II. Israel won this kind of victory in the Golan Heights when it applied sovereignty over the territory in 1981.

Another form of grand victory stems from the complete dissolution of terrorist elements and the integration of their political movement into national mechanisms, as occurred in Malaya (part of Malaysia) in the 1950s, and with the Tamil rebels in Sri Lanka in 2009.

Grand victory cannot be achieved only by military means. It requires dialogue with local forces, deep and ongoing economic and civil rehabilitation, and permanent security control and policing mechanisms that create law and order and are acceptable to the population.

So what would “total victory” mean in the current Gaza conflict?

Tactical victory alone, as it is defined above, cannot lead to total victory.

Nor can an operational victory be “total.” While such a victory does mean a fundamental weakening of the enemy’s military capacity to do harm, it will, over time, be able to continue to fight guerrilla or terror warfare. The State of Israel strives to return all residents to the Gaza envelope region and create a situation of “absolute” security for them. This goal cannot be fulfilled solely by an operational victory.

Grand victory in Gaza would mean a years’ long process until the creation of fundamental change. During that period, the IDF would continue to eliminate guerrilla and terrorist operatives until they are completely subdued. A civilian authority would be established with an effective police force and the capacity for civil, economic, and law enforcement governance. The population would implement a basic approach of coexistence with Israel. Actions taken by the civilian authority toward this end, and its delicate coordination with Israel’s military activity, would receive international and regional support.

Such a process does not yet appear practical or feasible in Gaza, and even if it were, it is highly complex. It will be even more complex to connect Gaza to the civil and political processes in the West Bank, and ultimately to a political peace agreement that would lead to the establishment of a single Palestinian state entity in both areas simultaneously.

In light of all this, it seems that “total victory” in the Gaza conflict is most likely to come in the form of a strategic victory. This means the Israeli military will continue to fight guerrilla and terrorist operatives in the Strip alongside extensive activity by a local civilian government with an effective police force and international and regional economic and civil backing. This should lead in the coming years to the stabilization of the Gaza Strip without Hamas control over it.

In such a scenario, it will be possible to ensure relative quiet for a decade or more. However, it will not be possible to ensure quiet beyond that, since the absence of a fundamental change in the situation on the ground is likely to lead to a long-term erosion of security quiet and the re-creation of challenges to Israel. This is what happened in the West Bank after a decade of relative quiet, and in relatively stable Iraq after the withdrawal of the United States at the end of 2011.

Col. (Res.) Shai Shabtai is a senior researcher at the BESA Center and an expert in national security, strategic planning, and strategic communication. He is a strategist in the field of cyber security and a consultant to leading companies in Israel.  A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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‘Israel Is Not Jewish People,’ New York Times ‘Daily’ Guest Really Wants You to Know

Anti-Israel protesters outside Columbia University in Manhattan, New York City, April 22, 2024. Photo: USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connect

When producers from the New York Times podcast “The Daily” posted on social media looking for “Jewish students who represent a range of feelings and experiences, from being enthusiastically pro Palestinian to enthusiastically pro Israel, and everything in between,” I replied, “This is a trap! They’ll use the ‘pro-Palestinian’ (the polite term they use for the ones who want to wipe Israel off the map) ones to make it sound like the Jewish community is divided and give listeners the illusion that the anti-Israel protests aren’t antisemitic.”

Sure enough, the Times podcast episode that finally aired, headlined, “The Campus Protesters Explain Themselves,” included three students.

Mustafa Yowell, of Irving, Texas, said his mother was from “Nablus, Palestine” and described himself as a Palestinian Arab. He’s a student at the University of Texas, Austin who complained to the Times that “two IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers had infiltrated the campus.” By “IDF soldiers” he meant Israeli students at the university who had, like many Israelis, served in the army before college.

The second student interviewed, Elisha Baker, a student at Columbia University, described himself as a proud Zionist and a graduate of Jewish day school.

And the third student, Jasmine Jolly, a student at Cal Poly Humboldt, described herself as the daughter of a Catholic father and “of Ashkenazi descent on my mom’s side.” Jolly showed up at protests with a sign that said “in honor of my Jewish ancestors, I stand with Palestine.” Jolly also chanted “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.”

“There’s nothing that has come across to me as antisemitic if you are able to pause and remember that Israel is not Jewish people and Zionism is not Jewish people,” Jolly explained to the Times audience.

Jolly read an email from her Jewish grandfather claiming, “Israel is an increasingly apartheid state.”

This is just such a misleading view of reality on campus and in American Jewish life. Even polls like Pew that use an expansive definition of who is Jewish find overwhelming Jewish support for Israel and negligible support for Hamas, including among younger Jews 18 to 34.

In reality, a lot of the anti-Israel protesters aren’t even Palestinians; they are European or Asian students or white or black Americans who either have been brainwashed by their professors or who have underlying, pre-existing antisemitic attitudes. Few of them have been to the Middle East and many of them are ignorant about basic facts about it — remember the Wall Street Journal piece, “From Which River to Which Sea?

“The Daily” episode made it crisply concrete, with the Times representing Jews as being split 50-50, with one normative Jew and one Jew chanting “there is only one solution, intifada revolution.” That’s ridiculous, yet a similar approach contaminates other Times coverage of the Jewish community, misleadlingly portraying American Jewry as deeply divided rather than unified around the goals of getting the hostages back, eliminating the threat of Hamas, and making American college campuses safe for Jewish students.

The Times was at this game well before Oct. 7, 2023, proclaiming “the unraveling of American Zionism” and trotting out old chestnuts such as the Reform movement’s Pittsburgh Platform of 1885 and the New York Times‘ favorite Jew, Peter Beinart.

I find myself rolling my eyes at such depictions, but there is clearly some audience for them among the Times readership and top editorial ranks. The Times executive editor, Joe Kahn, told Semafor’s Ben Smith in a May interview, “I’m not an active Jew.” Maybe the New York Times can sell sweatshirts: “Inactive Jew.” Who, exactly, is supposed to find that distinction between “active” and “inactive” Jews reassuring? Maybe they can put it on top of the front page in place of “All the News That’s Fit to Print”: “Edited by someone who wants the public to know he’s not an active Jew.”

Of all the moments to choose to distance oneself publicly from the Jewish people, this is sure quite one to choose.

This “Daily” episode seems calculated to appeal to the inactive Jews, and to others who want justification to believe it’s not antisemitic to set up on Passover and falsely accuse Israel of genocide. It’s nice for the Times to include a Zionist voice on the program, but he wound up sandwiched in between a Palestinian and an “only one solution, intifada revolution” person. It’s fairly typical for the New York Times these days, but it isn’t pretty.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. His media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here. He also writes at

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Palestinian Islamic Jihad Releases Second Video of Israeli Hostage Sasha Troufanov

Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov as seen in an undated propaganda video released by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group on May 30, 2024. Photo: Screenshot

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group on Thursday released a second propaganda video this week featuring Israeli hostage Alexander (Sasha) Trufanov, 28, who was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists during Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel.

In the video, Trufanov says he is doing well and criticizes Israel’s prime minister and government in remarks that were likely scripted by his captors.

There was no information about when the video was filmed. However, Trufanov refers to Israel’s decision on May 5 to order the local offices of Qatar’s Al Jazeera satellite news network to close, indicating he may have been filmed in the last few weeks.

The latest video came just two days after Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed Palestinian terrorist group in Gaza, released its first video featuring Trufanov.

The 30-second undated video shows Trufanov, an Amazon employee, identifying himself and saying that he will soon discuss what has happened to him and other hostages in Gaza.

Similar videos have been released by terrorists groups in Gaza. Israel has lambasted them as psychological warfare meant to torture the Israeli public, especially the families of the hostages being held in Gaza.

Trufanov’s mother said after the first video was released that she was happy to see her son after all this time, but it was “heartbreaking” that he had been a hostage for so long.

“Seeing my Sasha on my TV was very cheering, but it also breaks my heart that he’s still been in captivity for so long,” she said in a video released by the family. “I ask everyone, all the decision-makers: Please do everything, absolutely everything, to bring my son and all the hostages home now.”

Hamas-led Palestinian terrorists abducted over 250 people during their Oct. 7 onslaught. Sasha was kidnapped alongside his mother, grandmother, and girlfriend. All three women were released as part of a temporary ceasefire agreement negotiated in November. His father, Vitaly Trufanov, was one of the 1,200 people killed during the Hamas massacre.

“The proof of life from Alexsander (Sasha) Trufanov is additional evidence that the Israeli government must give a significant mandate to the negotiating team,” the Hostages Families Forum, which represents the families of the hostages, said in a statement.

More than 120 hostages remain in Gaza, which is ruled by Hamas. Islamic Jihad is a separate but allied terrorist organization in the Palestinian enclave. Both are backed by Iran, which provides them with money, weapons, and training.

Negotiations brokered by Qatar, Egypt, and the US to reach a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas in Gaza have been stalled for weeks.

Trufanov was an engineer at the Israeli microelectronics company Annapurna Labs, which Amazon owns.

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Israel’s Kafkaesque Ordeal at the ICC

Proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands, February 16, 2021. Photo: ICC-CPI/Handout via Reuters.

Israel is facing unprecedented and bizarre proceedings at the International Criminal Court (ICC), crescendoing with a request by Prosecutor Karim Khan for arrest warrants against its sitting Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant.

These events are the result of a multi-faceted and long-developing campaign by anti-Israel activists that has largely advanced under the radar.

Firstly, Israel is not a member of the Court and does not recognize ICC jurisdiction over its actions. In the late 1990s, Israel was initially a strong backer of the ICC, but during the drafting of the Court’s governing Rome Statute, the Arab League blocked efforts to include terrorism as an international crime and helped invent a new crime that would specifically target Israeli activity across the 1949 armistice lines. For these reasons, Israel refused to ratify the Rome Statute and join the Court.

In any other situation, this would be the end of the matter. However, beginning in 2009, the Palestinian Authority (PA), acting in collaboration with UN Rapporteurs and European-funded NGOs linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group, attempted to join the Court.

Rather than dismiss the PA’s effort immediately because the PA is not a state — and ICC membership is only available to states — the ICC Prosecutor at the time, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, launched a PR campaign to ostensibly “debate” the issue. Three years later, he rejected the PA’s application, but instead provided a blueprint facilitating the Palestinians’ ability to circumvent the clear standards of the Rome Statute.

In November 2012, the Palestinians succeeded in upgrading their status at the UN to “non-member observer state.” Merely on the basis of this semantic, rather than substantive change, ICC officials allowed the Palestinians to game the system and join the Court.

Despite these machinations and exploitation of the Court, the next Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, filed a request with the Court’s Pre-Trial chamber (PTC) in December 2019 seeking authorization to open an investigation into crimes allegedly committed on the territory of the “State of Palestine,” despite the fact that this state does not exist and has no defined territory. Moreover, she argued that the Court could proceed against Israelis, regardless of whether it was a member of the Court.

This action, endorsed by the PTC in February 2021 in a controversial 2-1 opinion, essentially eviscerated the Oslo Accords, the agreement mutually agreed to between Israel and the PLO in the mid-1990s, which lays out governance of the West Bank and Gaza.

A key provision of the Accords is that the PA would not have any authority to exercise or delegate any criminal jurisdiction over Israelis to the Court. The Prosecutor and the Court completely ignored this issue.

In yet another unbelievable move, the Court next also allowed the Palestinians to retroactively assign temporal jurisdiction going back to June 13, 2014, precisely the day after the kidnapping and subsequent murder of three Israeli teenagers, which triggered the war that summer. This meant that Hamas’ brutal murder and kidnapping of Jews, a preview of what Israel would experience on a larger scale on October 7, would get a free pass from the Court.

Fast-forward to Khan’s move to file for arrest warrants against Netanyahu and Gallant. Here, too, the Prosecutor’s office engaged in highly questionable conduct. Khan could have already issued indictments against Hamas leaders on October 7 itself, when their flagrant crimes were broadcast around the world. Instead, he chose to wait until after manufactured allegations of “starvation” could be crafted against Israeli officials. He also inexplicably ignored thousands of other war crimes, including each rocket attack on Israel, committed by Palestinians since 2014.

In yet another outrageous move, at the time of the announcement, Khan’s team had been scheduled to attend meetings in Israel. However, the planned trip appears to have been a bad faith ruse. Instead of the team boarding the plane, Khan went on CNN to tell Christiane Amanpour in an exclusive interview about the arrest warrant requests. It doesn’t take an expert in communications to know that such a step would generate a storm of PR almost solely focused on Israel, meaning attention on the Hamas atrocities and real crimes committed on October 7 would be virtually ignored.

One also wonders if any mind was paid to what this action might mean for any hope of a ceasefire to secure the release of the hostages.

Egregiously, Khan’s actions offended another cornerstone of the Rome Statute, that of complementarity. The ICC is only supposed to act as a court of last resort in situations where a judicial system is unable or unwilling to investigate international crimes. As he himself acknowledged on a visit to Israel in early December, Israel has robust investigatory mechanisms and judiciary — one that has never shied away from intervening in military matters, nor in going after the most senior officials, including prime ministers.

Instead of giving the Israeli system a reasonable time to proceed, however, the Prosecutor disregarded the complementarity requirement and decided to bulldoze forward. In contrast, although Khan has had for years the jurisdiction to act against President Maduro in Venezuela, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and military junta in Myanmar — authoritarian governments responsible for horrific atrocities — no cases have been filed.

Multiple procedural irregularities and political maneuverings of the Office of Prosecutor have been well-documented, and there are several other disturbing aspects to the “Situation in Palestine” not mentioned here. For years, the ICC has been under intense criticism for its lack of accomplishments in its more than 20 years of operation. Khan was brought in to serve as a sober and responsible actor to right the ship. The actions of his office the past few months now call this assessment into question.

In an interview published with the Times of London a few days after his inexplicable actions, Khan stated, “if we don’t hold on to the law, we have nothing to cling onto.” The Prosecutor would be wise to reflect on his Office’s history and follow his own advice.

Anne Herzberg is the Legal Advisor of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research organization.

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