For the past few days I have been wondering if Netanyahu has a plan for responding to the Hamas terror killings, or if he’s just temporizing. More and more, it seems like he is just skating in front of the breaking ice. If this is right, it’s one more misdeed for which he and his cronies need to be held accountable.
Any competent military would have a carefully worked out contingency plan for all-out war against Hamas. That plan would take into account questions like how to avoid civilian casualties, and how to avoid IDF casualties. Presumably it would involve setting up an evacuation corridor, as President Biden has urged, and providing all kinds of humanitarian assistance to displaced Gazans – shelter, food, schools, hospitals, etc. With most Gazan civilians out of the way the IDF could move slowly if needed, perhaps waiting out Hamas, without causing mass civilian death from starvation or dehydration. They would have some time to negotiate for hostages, although the prospects for their release seem dim given the stated aim of wiping out Hamas.
Instead, the Israelis started bombing before civilians had a chance to evacuate. Now the hospitals are filled with people who cannot be moved. Little seems to have been done to alleviate the humanitarian crisis that will emerge in southern Gaza.
The bigger problem, I suspect, is post-war planning. What plans are being made for helping the Gazans get back on their feet, economically and politically? There may be an opportunity to get the peace process moving, with Netanyahu discredited, Israelis doubting the viability of their recent approach to security, and (perhaps) a substantial number of Gazans willing to embrace some kind of coexistence with Israel.
Thomas Warrick was responsible for post-invasion planning for Iraq before being removed by Cheney/Rumsfeld. He has an interesting piece in the NYT today:
What we’re seeing now in Israel and Gaza gives me the same grave concern so many of us felt 20 years ago: a lot of talk about military plans and the devastation of war and not enough about what will need to come after. . . .
Just as Iraqis rightly told us before the 2003 invasion that Iraq is not Afghanistan, Gaza is neither Iraq nor Afghanistan. Factors unique to Gaza, such as decades of Hamas’s anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish propaganda and Israel’s treatment of Gazan civilians since 1967, will make both physical and political rebuilding especially challenging to Israel and even more challenging than southern Lebanon was to Israel from 1985 to 2000. The deep-seated hatred that many Gazans have for Israel today has no parallel to what U.S. forces faced entering Kabul or Baghdad. Anything Israel touches in a post-Hamas polity in Gaza risks becoming toxic; you must plan for this. Your plans need to understand what Gaza needs and to recognize that the government of Israel may not be the best means to deliver that.
Plan for the length of time you will need to bring about the fundamental changes that will break the cycle of violence Israel and Gaza have inflicted on each other over the past 50-plus years — not the time politicians think you will need. One reason the State Department’s best postwar plan for Iraq, which has still never been made public, was rejected by the White House was that Pentagon officials argued that a three-year timeline was too long. Decision makers opted for the siren song of one year or less and vastly inadequate physical or political reconstruction money, without regard for the reality that fast and cheap was doomed to fail. Instead, the United States expended more in blood and treasure from 2003 to 2011 and ended up strategically worse off than if a better postwar plan had been given the resources and time needed upfront. A repeat of Israel’s 15-year occupation of southern Lebanon is neither realistic nor desirable, but neither is the more recent pattern of quick ground incursions followed by withdrawals, or what’s called mowing the grass.
Finally, remember that military victory is an asset whose power decreases over time. If and when Israel succeeds in defeating Hamas, use that limited time wisely. What you decide to prioritize may be all you get done, so it has to lay the groundwork for constructive steps, not chaos, to follow. Recovery from disastrous decisions at the outset — like the U.S. decisions to disband the Iraqi army and to fire tens of thousands more Baath Party members than necessary from their government jobs, thus largely creating the Sunni insurgency — is almost impossible.
He goes on to make some sensible suggestions for post war priorities, with the aim of moving towards a durable peace.
Of course, success would be far from guaranteed, but why not try? And I would add that the United States may need to pressure the Israelis to take this route and to stay the course, and it will need to help bankroll Gazan reconstruction. I worry that exerting pressure on the Israelis may not come naturally to President Biden, who seems to take a go-along, get-along approach to coalition management, perhaps rooted in his time in the Senate.