Tragedy and Folly

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It gets lost in the myriad headlines at the moment about Rafah, weapons cut offs, Biden, horrific civilian loss of life, etc. But there’s a short piece in the Times of Israel this afternoon that captures a dimension of what’s happening right now in Israel that is mostly off the radar in the U.S. The piece is about a reported blow up between Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi. Specifically, it has the latter telling Netanyahu that because he refuses to make diplomatic arrangements for the post-war government of Gaza, the IDF is having to go back to fight again in areas it already took over. In some cases they’re having to go back and fight for the same ground a third time!

(Here’s another article in Haaretz on how the IDF is now going back into northern Gaza, which they conquered back in the fall. Privately the IDF says Hamas has reestablished control there because there’s no day-after plan, which is a diplomatic to-do item. If you blow it up and leave why wouldn’t they just go back?)

Netanyahu refuses to do that because there’s really no way to plan for the future without blowing up his governing coalition. But without some plan, the Israeli army is reduced to doing something like pushing water up a hill with its hands. The article is replete with examples of heads of the army or intelligence services trying to get someone to give them a strategy, or actually more than a strategy, just a goal. And it has Netanyahu getting mad because they’re going to the defense minister, himself a former high-level IDF general. It’s not even a question of disagreeing on strategy really — that’s for the political leadership to decide. It’s refusing to come up with any strategy at all.

The simple fact is that Netanyahu has waged an unimaginably destructive war with a massive loss of life and managed to accomplish much less than Israel could have if it’d had a clear strategy of what it was trying to do, or, specifically, who would rule Gaza after Hamas had been displaced. Some of this goes beyond Netanyahu’s failings as a leader. The war launched in a climate of unparalleled outrage over the October 7th massacres with what were probably unrealistic objectives — destroying Hamas’s military capacity in toto, killing or capturing the soldiers, eliminating the weaponry and rocket capacity as well as the critical tunnel infrastructure. But that was a long time ago, seven months ago.

I hear often people saying that Netanyahu is just continuing the war indefinitely because that’s the only way he can stay in power. In practice, it amounts to that. But I think to capture his full folly and failure as a leader you have to go a bit deeper. He’s fighting the best war he can — but only within the bounds of what his coalition will allow. Which essentially means fighting with no strategy. And what that means for the IDF is just keep chasing Hamas around and killing Hamas soldiers, or rooting them out from parts of the Strip. So the IDF roots them out and then they leave and then a month later Hamas fighters filter back in and you’re back to where you were in the first place, only now all the buildings are destroyed and lots and lots of civilians are dead. So again, massive destruction and loss of life and not that much even accomplished.

Again, it’s like trying to push water up a hill with your hands. This anger within the Israeli military at a total lack of goals or strategy has been bubbling for months. I also suspect this is the real reason for the refusal to supply weaponry for an assault on Rafah. As I noted in an earlier post, I’ve picked up through hints in the Israeli press and other ways that there are real misgivings about such an assault within the Israeli national security echelon itself. I suspect largely because it’s just a much bigger and deadlier version of the chasing folly unless there’s a clear strategy for what happens after its done. And there is no strategy.

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