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All-over preamble: Hamas is a religiously-inspired terrorist organization that represents neither the people nor the interests of the Palestinians. It must be fought by means that will ultimately weaken rather than strengthen it.
December 18, 2023
The Netanyahu government had been warned long before October 7 of the high probability of a large-scale Hamas attack around Gaza. Despite this, it disregarded these warnings and left the border bare. As a result, Hamas was able to operate with the force and scale that we know. While it is indisputable that Hamas is solely and exclusively responsible for launching this aggression, and for the atrocities committed, it is equally indisputable that, had the border been properly defended, the scale of this attack would have been much smaller, the number of dead would have been well under 1,200, and the number of hostages well under 240. The attack would not have been experienced by Israelis as a trauma unique in its history, putting the country once again in existential danger.
Yet who can seriously believe that Hamas poses an existential threat to Israel? It has no battle tanks, no military aircraft and no long-range artillery. We all know that Tsahal would be perfectly capable of hermetically sealing the border with Gaza to prevent further sorties. And a large proportion of rockets can be neutralized by the anti-aircraft defense system. As for the possible hostages, a negotiation with the release of Palestinian prisoners could have taken place, as has already happened. Hamas is a serious threat, but anything but existential, and it could have been contained. Israel could have ensured its security by passive defense, without intervention on the ground inside Gaza.
Hamas's repeated declarations that it wants to "destroy Israel" are nothing but propaganda; it is objectively incapable of doing so. It is this propaganda that frightens the Israelis, and nothing else. This propaganda, relayed without critical analysis by numerous international experts, is very well exploited by the Israeli far right, enabling Netanyahu to make people forget his responsibility and justify the bloody military response in Gaza.
same deleterious scenario as in previous crises is thus being
repeated, but this time on an unprecedented scale: each time
Israel has felt threatened, it has overreacted by seeking to
ensure its "security" by weakening, in practice and by force of
arms, the legitimate capabilities of its neighbor, particularly
in the West Bank. And, each time, this leads certain Palestinian
groups to develop unconventional combat capabilities, each time
more powerful. The only intelligent way out would be for the USA
to bring Israel back to a reasonable measure of the threats it
faces, and force it to understand that recognizing the rights of
the Palestinian people to the territory defined in 47 by the UN
(or by stopping the fighting in 73) is the only way to weaken
Hamas, by proposing a non-violent political solution.
Since the Hamas attack on October 7, the vast majority of experts and journalists have been promoting and disseminating, sometimes without realizing it, the dominant idea that Israel is in a state of self-defence and facing a declared mortal enemy. This idea, put forward on the evening of October 7 by Israel's leaders, is based on the observation that the Hamas attack was of unprecedented scale and savagery, and that Israel is therefore fully legitimate in its determination to totally destroy its aggressor. At the request of the crisis government, the IDF's rules of engagement have been considerably increased to achieve this objective, resulting in tens of thousands of civilian deaths in Gaza.
Let's take a closer look at this idea of self-defence, in the light of the facts. We know that the Netanyahu government had been warned several times, long and short before October 7, of the high probability of a large-scale Hamas attack. Despite this, it disregarded these warnings and left the border with Gaza bare. As a result, Hamas was able to operate with the force and scale it is known for, for several days, before the IDF regained control of the area.
Many experts have documented this major security flaw in Israel's security system, but I haven't seen any of them estimate what would have happened if the border had been properly defended. Why is this? The main reason is that public opinion was so shocked that attention was massively focused on the Israeli civilian victims, particularly the hostages. Most observers and experts thus adhered, without taking a step back, to the thesis of self-defence, without questioning it further. Yet, while it is indisputable that Hamas is solely and exclusively responsible for launching this aggression, and for the atrocities committed, it is no less indisputable that, had the border been properly defended, the scale of this attack would have been much smaller. If the Netanyahu government had been competent and responsible, it would have asked the army to reinforce its defense of the border with Gaza (instead of lending a hand to settlers in the West Bank), and the populations of neighboring towns and kibbutzim would have been put on the alert.
It's obviously difficult to say how the attack would have unfolded, and what objectives would have been achieved, but it's safe to say that the damage would have been far less devastating. In particular, it's likely that the kibbutzim would not have been so massively affected, and that the music festival could have been alerted more quickly. Perhaps Hamas wouldn't even have had time to take hostages, or to perpetrate the atrocities it had plenty of time to do in the kibbutzim. Because he had plenty of time, probably more than he thought. This is the most serious mistake made by Netanyahu and his government, in not listening to their intelligence services: the very small number of troops on the border gave Hamas plenty of time. With a well-defended border, and high-level surveillance, the reaction would have been much quicker, and the death toll would have been much lower than 1,200. Perhaps 300? This significantly changes the point of view for the analysis afterwards. Because the attack would not have been experienced by Israelis as a unique trauma in its history. What happened that day was not only the major trauma of seeing a barbaric enemy devastate one's life, but also the trauma of a historic loss of confidence in one's army and intelligence and defense system. On this last point, the Netanyahu government is solely and entirely responsible. Hamas has nothing to do with it.
I haven't seen or heard these reflections anywhere. But they are essential to establish respective responsibilities. The result of this chain of events is that Netanyahu and his government, riding on the wave of the population's trauma, have been able to claim that Israel is in a state of vital, existential peril, whereas they are, through their negligence, directly responsible for part of the intensity of the catastrophe. In a rhetoric he has honed for decades, Netanyahu once again asserts that everything is the fault of the other side, that Israel is only a victim and that the country has the right to self-defense, which authorizes him to go to extremes in his military response. The problem is that the vast majority of experts and commentators absorb, accept and retransmit this doxa without any critical distance, without proposing any alternative scenario, thereby legitimizing in the media the catastrophic response of Tsahal in Gaza as the only one possible.
Who can seriously believe that Hamas poses an existential threat to Israel ? Hamas has no battle tanks, no military aircraft and no long-range artillery. Nothing to do with Ukraine, massively attacked on its soil in depth by numerous columns of Russian tanks supported by aviation and artillery fire. We all know that Tsahal would be perfectly capable of hermetically sealing the border with Gaza. There is still the problem of rockets and missiles fired from Gaza, but a large proportion of these can be neutralized by the anti-aircraft defense system, reinforced if necessary by systems from the USA or other allies. And rockets are not a new problem. Hamas is therefore a serious threat, but anything but existential.
It's a government's primary task to deal with reality, in a distanced and objective way, when its citizens are in shock. For those of us who have been following Israeli politics for a long time, we can only observe that the same story is being told over and over again, on the basis of different scenarios: the country sees itself en masse as a people in permanent vital danger, whereas this is no longer the case. In fact, for the past 50 years, there has been no real existential threat to the country, which is notoriously the greatest military power in the region. Neither Syria nor Iran, even in coalition with their supporters (Hezbollah and Hamas), attack Israel head-on, and its main neighbors, who were fierce adversaries at the outset, have signed peace treaties, some a long time ago. This is the role of deterrence, whether conventional or nuclear, which has proved its effectiveness since the 1973 war. Yet all Israel's leaders, first and foremost Netanyahu, still endorse this vital anxiety, without taking the necessary step back to make a sound threat assessment.
Hamas, for its part, also regularly threatens to destroy Israel. Firstly, to reinforce its military stature; secondly, to appear as the sole supporter of the Palestinian cause; and thirdly, to frighten the Israelis. Surprising as it may seem, it works very well, especially in Israel. And it objectively serves the Israeli far-right, which makes the same point. Terrified by the scale of the massacres committed by Hamas against civilians on October 7, a large proportion of Israelis believe that if Hamas is not totally destroyed, it will be able to launch equally murderous raids again. As we have seen, this fear is completely unfounded. But Israelis, and especially those of Jewish culture and/or origin, saw their worst nightmares come true on October 7, the return of the pogroms and mass barbarism inaugurated by the Nazis. And, for the most part, they fell into the arms of the "savior" Netanyahu, who has always been uncompromising in his security rhetoric and actions, to get them out of there. They forget that Netanyahu is directly responsible for the serious failure of the defense system on October 7. And without understanding, unfortunately, that the same causes producing the same effects, and perhaps even worse, one of the results of the destruction that Tsahal is currently committing in Gaza will be to prepare several generations of ferocious fighters for Israel, gathered under the banner of Hamas or another terrorist organization.
a textbook case of self-fulfilling prophecy. Israel's collective
survival mechanisms have built up, from the very beginning of
the state's existence, a culture of primal survival behavior, of
blind defense, consisting, for 80% of Israelis today, in
destroying its neighbor and denying the existence of its
legitimate rights, in order to ensure its "security". Since the
'73 war, whenever Israel has felt threatened, it has always
reacted with a disproportionate defense, leading each time to a
further stiffening of the Palestinian side. We are witnessing a
new stage in a journey where the steps are increasingly
terrible. The only intelligent way out lies in the ability of
Israel's friends (in this case, the USA) to help it regain a
foothold in reality, to bring it back to a state of lucid
awareness, to a reasonable measure of the threats hanging over
it, and above all to encourage it, or even force it, to finally
understand that its neighbor also has legitimate rights. This
recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people to the
territory defined by the UN in 47 (or by the cessation of
fighting in 73) is the only way to weaken Hamas, by proposing a
political solution that could turn the Palestinian people away
from violence. However, even with the encouragement of the USA,
the current democratically-elected government of Israel is
totally opposed to this "two-state" solution. We are therefore
witnessing an inescapable race to the abyss.
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