The Hamas attack in Israel on Oct. 7 has left in tatters Israeli intelligence’s previously unchallenged reputation as one of the top intelligence-gathering services in the world. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now trying to resurrect his nation’s image as militarily invulnerable by waging a total war on Gaza. His goal is to flush out the terrorist leadership of Hamas.
Gen. Vincent Desportes, former head of the French School of War in Paris, said on France 24 TV, “Israel knows it is entering a trap, a trap prepared by Hamas for years and years.” That is why there has been no D-Day-type invasion. The Israelis “have to advance and to secure everything very slowly.” Otherwise, they will be attacked from the rear.
Hamas wants “to create a shock” large enough “for the Israeli population to say it is too costly to go forward.” Dresportes added, “It is the issue of proportionality…If the war is too bloody….The Israeli strategist have known it has two enemies, the tactical enemy, that is Hamas terrorists, and the strategic enemy is public opinion…it has to balance the tactical effect and the strategic effect.”
“It is a real trap, and Hamas knew this perfectly” well and is pulling Israel into it, he said. “One of the important pillars in war in proportionality…they have to take account of the civilian population…You never go to war to kill …but to create a new political situation.”
Desportes thinks that Gaza will be divided in two by the Israeli military along the main waterway, with the northern section being slowly secured first. Because of this need to go slowly, he predicts this could be a long war.
So far, some 300,000 Israeli reservists have been called up for the fight. Given that the population of the Gaza Strip is, or was, 2 million, and the area is about the size of Washington, D.C., the traditional military advantage is Israel’s. But is this a traditional war? Israel can certainly rain down destruction on the population. Their use of air power and missiles has destroyed 11,000 buildings and killed 5,000.
But after Israel has completed its physical destruction of Gaza, then what? Dropping bombs from jets to kill Hamas leaders is ultimately about as effective as would have been dropping bombs on the Catholic neighborhoods of Belfast in the 1970s in order to disrupt the IRA leaders meeting in the basement of the local pub. Besides, leaders are expendable and replaceable if passions run high enough in the below-ground maze, out of range of the bombing, where Hamas actually runs its military operations.
Since Israel’s intelligence has failed, along with its ability to disrupt terrorist cells before they strike, only a ground war and diplomacy are left. And for now, Netanyahu has chosen the scorched earth war of unconditional surrender by Hamas.
He is invoking as his models FDR and his total war and unconditional surrender policy in World War II, which led to a 50-year Cold War and the loss of China as an ally, which still haunts us. He is also calling on George W. Bush’s global war on terror after 9-11, which required 23 years of blood and treasure through the American evacuation under fire from Afghanistan.
These are strategic models Americans might find disconcerting. The time has long passed for the United States to be involved in any more open-ended foreign wars. Peace will require Israel and Hamas to fight their own battles and find their own path through the spoils of war. Nothing on the ground indicates this will happen for a very long time, as many Jews and Muslims in the country invoke a God-given right to govern the same piece of contested land and are willing to die for it.