Using Savagery as a Strategy
Cruelty as an intention is what happened last weekend in Israel. On the way to the Gaza corridor, Yonah Jeremy Bob reminds WSJ’s Elliot Kaufman that it’s a straight drive to the Gaza corridor, “so let’s talk.”
Who Will Pay
Yonah Jeremy Bob is an expert on the Israeli shadow war with Iran. That’s also the subject of his new book “Target Tehran.” In it he covers the Israeli intelligence agencies and military for the Jerusalem Post.
(Mr. Bob) is looking for answers to the “questions every Israeli wants answered: “How could this have happened? What’s the plan? Who will pay?”
Mr. Kaufman continues with the interview, declaring it’s still a nightmare, “even after corpses of Israeli citizens have been cleared.”
Israeli intelligence misjudged Hamas. “In the worst case,” Mr. Bob says, the expectation was that “Hamas might be able to take over one village that’s really small for three hours” and kill 20 people. “There was no scenario where anybody talked about 22 villages, a whole area of the country, 1,200 Israelis killed, including 800 to 900 civilians. That wasn’t conceivable.”
Shock First, Rage Followed
… “and then rage crystallized into a very steely determination,” Mr. Bob says.
“It’s the thing Israel’s enemies never fully understand. They think of Israel as a weak Western state, where people care about their looks and money and all the things that will make them flee rather than fight.”
Hamas often scoffs that “the Jews love life.” But that’s why they fight for it.
“Hamas was playing the long game,” Mr. Bob says. “Probably after the 2021 war”—in which Israel delivered it a beating — “Hamas diagnosed everything we did and took notes and started to plan.” When Israel next fought in Gaza, with Islamic Jihad, Hamas stayed out. Then, having lulled Israel, it executed a devastating plan.
“They fire 2,000 rockets in one day. They’d never fired that many rockets at once,” Mr. Bob says. But it was all a diversion.
“While Israel focused on the unprecedented barrage, Hamas deployed men on “motorized hang gliders, which were not even on our radar [as a threat], and dropped makeshift bombs on our lookouts. So, when they start sending people to the border fence, we’re blind. . . . They attack the big border crossings first, so we send reinforcements there, which means we leave the other spots open. We don’t realize that our lookouts are dead or blown up because we’re thinking about the rockets and they’re attacking everywhere at once.”
It wasn’t unreasonable, explains Yonah Jeremy Bob “for Israelis to think they had deterred Hamas.”
“But you need to plan for every eventuality.” That was the lesson of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, which has become an Israeli metonym for military disaster. But Mr. Bob notes that war had a second half. “By the end, Israel had in some ways an even greater tactical triumph than in ’67. It retook the Sinai, which became the basis of the peace agreement with Egypt.”
Nothing Left to Win
“Hamas took its best shot, and it won big on the first day,” continues Mr. Bob.
“But it really doesn’t have anything else. It isn’t going to accomplish anything else close to what it has already done. From here on, it’s going to be Israel demolishing them.”
Retaliation with No Hesitancy
“Israelis used to worry that it might cost 1,000 soldiers to topple Hamas, and that ISIS could fill the vacuum. But by letting Hamas reign, Mr. Bob says, “We’ve now lost 1,200 people,” and Hamas is no better than ISIS. “So nobody has a hesitancy.”
“I still think Israel feels that it would be more trouble, that more soldiers would die over a long period of time, and it would rather hand Gaza back to somebody else,” Mr. Bob says. But to whom? “The Palestinian Authority was routed there in the past. Why wouldn’t that happen again? If multinational forces in Lebanon and the Sinai have shown that they’re incapable of protecting Israeli interests, why would this time be any different?”
A Hybrid Solution
There could be autonomy for the Palestinian Authority, which would be helped by a multinational group along with the Israeli military to oversee that a Hamas comeback is not possible.
“That is utter speculation on my part,” Mr. Bob says. “No matter how hard you push it, officials right now are not hinting what their plans are for afterward. I think it’s because they haven’t decided.”
Perhaps unsure how to win the peace, Israel is focusing on total victory in the field, hazards Mr. Elliot.
“Hezbollah is the strategic threat,” Mr. Bob says, and a second front in the north would spell trouble. “Israel would win, but it would look different.”