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As Israel retaliates against Hamas, questions remain about the long road ahead – Twin Cities

Nature

As Israel relentlessly bombs Gaza and moves its troops toward the border, it is difficult to predict how the war against Hamas terrorists will end.

The scenes of carnage in Israeli towns and villages near the border with Gaza: 900 dead, including dozens of families with young children executed in cold blood; young women taken hostage, some with babies; and 260 youths shot dead at a music concert – horrified Israel and much of the world. It was an ISIS-style massacre.

Yet the challenges Israel faces in its stated goal of destroying Hamas are daunting. The terror group and others held about 150 Israelis hostage in Gaza and threatened to kill them if the bombing continued. The war could spread to the occupied West Bank and Lebanon, where Iran-backed Hezbollah militants aim 150,000 missiles at Israel.

And above this crisis lies the question of whether the current Israeli government, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, can meet this immense challenge, after the incomprehensible intelligence and security failures that allowed Hamas to invade the country.

Below are some reader questions that I ponder in my mind, along with answers based on conversations with Israelis, conference calls, and my own experiences in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza over several decades. .

How could such a catastrophe happen?

Israel has suffered an unimaginable security failure. Egyptian intelligence officials say their Israeli counterparts ignored repeated warnings that “something big” was about to happen with Gaza. Netanyahu’s office denies it, but Hamas’ training operations near the Gaza border fence before the attack were apparently dismissed as unimportant.

“No one (in the government) wanted to see that they were practicing,” said Nimrod Novik, an Israeli Middle East expert who advised former Prime Minister Shimon Peres and is a member of Foreign Policy’s board of directors. Research Institute of Philadelphia. Meanwhile, he said, “80 percent of the Israeli standing army has been deployed to police the West Bank,” which government ministers seek to annex. This meant that only a handful of exhausted units guarded the Gaza border and were easily overrun.

Why did Hamas attack now and what was its objective?

Most experts agree that one of the main goals was to disrupt a possible U.S.-led deal to normalize diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel. Iran, a major backer of Hamas, views such a deal as a threat because, if ever reached, it would provide the Saudis with security guarantees, weapons and perhaps nuclear technology. And that would do very little for the Palestinians.

However, Hamas had more ambitious goals. The hostage-taking gives Hamas a bargaining chip to exchange for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. Moreover, his military “success” reinforces his prestige in the West Bank, which he dreams of taking control of when 86-year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas – who leads the anti-Hamas Fatah faction – leaves. the scene. And he no doubt hopes that Hezbollah fighters in southern Lebanon will eventually join the war.

Meanwhile, the Netanyahu government has undermined and blocked funds for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, whose police force is helping Israeli forces eliminate Hamas terrorists there. Israeli media blame this paradox on the fact that unlike Hamas, which wants to destroy Israel, the Palestinian Authority supports a two-state solution that Netanyahu opposes.

Why do Gazans support Hamas?

Not everyone has done this in the past. Hamas won only a third of the vote in the 2006 Palestinian elections – mainly because voters were angry at Fatah’s corruption – but a bizarre electoral system gave it a majority of parliamentary seats. Hamas then seized power by military force in Gaza in 2007. Since then, Israel has maintained a land, sea and air blockade on Gaza, creating a virtual prison into which unemployed young men are all too easily lured into a violent Islamist movement. which rejects Israel’s right to exist. Gaza civilians who oppose Hamas’ authoritarian rule have no way to challenge it. They are now at the mercy of the Hamas war and Israeli bombs.

Can Israel militarily destroy Hamas?

Not clear. Israel has tried several times before, with bombing strikes and limited military incursions. Each time, Hamas bounced back. Previous Israeli governments have sought to avoid getting drawn into a dangerous and protracted ground war in a tiny strip 25 miles long and between three and seven miles wide. A place populated by 2 million people and where the streets and alleys have been trapped. Israel does not want to find itself stuck in the reoccupation of Gaza – as it has been in southern Lebanon for 20 years.

What is the best possible outcome? And can the United States help?

First, it would be best to avoid a wider war. Second, if Arab mediators, like Qatar (which provides Hamas with funds to run its government), could negotiate a prisoner exchange. And third, whether the Netanyahu government can pursue a military strategy that includes a viable long-term vision for dealing with the issue of Gaza and the West Bank.

Right now, all of the above seems doubtful. The first might be possible if Iran could be convinced that a broader war would boomerang on Tehran. As for the second, Hamas declared that there would be no exchange of prisoners before the end of the war.

But the third is the most problematic, because Israel faces one of the greatest challenges in its history. As of this writing, Netanyahu is still resisting forming a national unity government with opposition parties, as has been the norm in previous wars. Such a cabinet is essential to convince much of the country that its leaders will not repeat the failures that enabled this disaster.

American assistance – in the form of weapons, intelligence or diplomacy – can only be useful if the Israeli government has both a short- and long-term strategy for success.

Yet Netanyahu has so far refused to respond to opposition demands that he sideline his most radical and reckless ministers, who could push Israel toward a counterproductive expansion of the war. deep in Gaza and the West Bank.

One can only hope that, one way or another, the wisest heads will prevail.

Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer, PO Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19101. Her email address is trubin@phillynews.com

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