Once in a great while, things so speak for themselves that there is not much point in going on overmuch. Israel is not winning against Hamas. So it plans to take on a much tougher opponent, Hezbollah, which will be the result of executing on its plan to enter and occupy Lebanon up to the Litani River. This is not the way clear-thinking people operate.
But as Alastair Crooke explains (more on this soon), the Israelis recognize that they are no longer feared militarily in their ‘hood. Maintaining that fear is fundamental to Israeli citizen’s sense of security. Proof comes via Israel having had to pull its citizens out of the border to Gaza and Lebanon and not having been able to turn things around so they can return. Although I cannot prove a negative, Crooke and some Twitterati maintain that this effective loss of territory very much puts Israel on the back foot, since Israel historically has used buffer zones as an interim step in increasing the area under its control, and understands the risks when that process goes the other way.
Despite the assumption by many military experts at the start of the Israel campaign in Gaza, that the IDF would prevail given its much greater resources and ease of resupply, here we are, over 100 days in, and Israel is not all that much closer to victory, save in exterminating the Palestinian population in Gaza, as opposed to eliminating or at least crippling Hamas. Israel has not killed any of the leadership of Hamas’ military wing. Israel has not rescued any hostages. It is not clear how many Hamas fighters Israel has killed, but its claim of 10,000 versus the 27,000 dead reported in Gaza seems unreasonably high, particularly given admissions that schemes like flooding the tunnel system have not worked very well.
Hamas has been retaking Northern Gaza after Israel claimed to have secured it. And on top of that, as an article in today’s Links pointed out, Israel is having to husband its artillery use in Gaza in light of global shortages. So they plan to take on Hezbollah with less than a full magazine?
There are signs of dissent within Israel over where to go in the war. More and more family members of hostages have been getting sympathetic coverage in the press and support from some officials for their demand that Israel negotiate with Hamas now to get the hostages back. A new story in Christian Science Monitor recounts a key rupture:
The cracks in what had been near universal public unity supporting Israel’s war aims in the conflict’s first few months have even reached the five-person wartime Cabinet tasked with prosecuting the campaign against Hamas.
In a bombshell television interview on Israel’s Channel 12 this month, Gadi Eisenkot, a centrist politician and former military chief who joined Mr. Netanyahu’s wartime coalition in October, said the welfare of the hostages had to take precedence.
The government, he added, needed to stop “selling fantasies” to the public that their release would be achieved through force alone.
And the dissent continues:
🇮🇱 More protests against the Netanyahu government took place tonight in Tel Aviv and the largest cities in Israel. The protesters also demanded a unilateral ceasefire in exchange for the release of Hamas hostages and the holding of new elections. In Tel Aviv, protests were… pic.twitter.com/Qyl5I6IFa2
— 🅰pocalypsis 🅰pocalypseos 🇷🇺 🇨🇳 🅉 (@apocalypseos) January 28, 2024
But at this point, with Hamas doing not badly given the givens, it has escalated its demands. Israel meeting its demands for their return would be seen by its citizens as a capitulation:
Hamas offered to return all its hostages in exchange for:
– An end to occupation, & apartheid
– A release of the thousands of Palestinian hostages held by Israel
Israel, which says its "waging war to return all hostages", has rejected the deal.
Genocide is the point.
— Rami Ismail / رامي (@tha_rami) January 23, 2024
Netanyahu, who also has his own survival to consider, is fiercely maintaining that defeating Hamas remains the priority, and the release of the hostages will follow from that.
Mind you, there are recent reports of negotiations between Israel and Hamas over the release of the hostages. With Tony Blinken involved, I didn’t see much reason to be optimistic (how many deals has Blinken said were imminent, like Egypt accepting Palestinian refugees in bulk, that came to naught?). Alastair Crooke, who has long-standing, high-level contacts all over the Muslim world, didn’t see fit to dignify them in his recent presentations. A new report in the Times of Israel suggests they are not going anywhere. The subhead:
Terror group appears to pour cold water on mediators’ latest offer after Qatari PM says ‘good progress’ made; Israel said open to lengthy truce but refuses to end war
On top of that, Israel is telegraphing its intent to go into Lebanon, despite the Anglopshere media not taking much notice. Israel first engaged in the lame pretext of “negotiating” with Lebanon to pull back to the Litani, as in cede a habited area to Lebanon for the benefit of Israeli settlers near the border. Israel is housing these families at what is reported to be non-sustainable cost. The border residents have said they won’t return until they can’t see Lebanese from their homes. Quite the ask, and Israel has said it will deliver. It has promised these border denizens they will return. The initial promise was by the end of January, which is clearly na ga happen. But Israel is signaling it plans to move soon. From the Times of Israel over the weekend:
The IDF said Saturday it was further increasing its preparedness on the northern border, publishing footage from recent “intensive” training exercises carried out by the 226th Reserve Paratroopers Brigade, as Hezbollah-led forces in Lebanon continue to launch attacks on Israeli communities and military posts along the border…
The drill by the health system this week dealt with a variety of potential scenarios involving the operation of hospitals, health maintenance organizations’ community clinics, medical evacuations, and the provision of support to chronically ill people in need of immediate assistance.
From the Reuters today:
Israeli troops will “very soon go into action” near the country’s northern border with Lebanon, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said tonight, as tensions surge amid the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza.
Gallant told troops near the border with the Gaza Strip that others were being deployed to Israel’s north.
“They will very soon go into action… so the forces in the north are reinforced,” Gallant said.
“The forces close to you… are leaving the field and moving towards the north, and preparing for what comes next,” he said.
BREAKING: The Israeli Armed Forces are deploying tanks and self-propelled artillery on the border with Lebanon. The Israeli military is preparing to launch a sweep to destroy the radical Islamic terrorist organization Hezbollah on the Lebabnon border. pic.twitter.com/T8JMxChRLI
— vanhoa (@vanhoa2272) January 28, 2024
Yes, Hezbollah has been shelling the border area, but in tit for tat attacks. Crooke contends that both sides so far have been somewhat careful, hoping to goad the other side into a disproportionate reaction they can use to justify a larger attack.
But reminiscent of the Great Ukraine Counteroffensive, Israel is committed to Doing Something, and is making that awfully clear in advance too.
Without belaboring the issue, there is no reason to think Israel will win against Hezbollah. It was eventually beaten in 2006. Hezbollah is a much better fighting force than then while Israel is no better and perhaps worse. Among other things, Israel is betting on the US entering the conflict and saving its bacon, when Scott Ritter has warned that recent war game have shown Israel to lose against Hezbollah even when the US saddles up. And those didn’t factor in the Houthis interfering with ship getting to Israel’s ports. On top of that, the US has brought aerial refueling planes after the supposed drone attack on an outpost in Jordan that killed three service members. Many observers claim that means the US feels it needs to keep its jets in the air so as not to have them destroyed on the ground. That would have to complicate air support for Israel in Lebanon.
In other words, this plan seems, to be polite, a reckless gamble. Yet the Israelis seem fanatically committed to moving ahead with it. Crooke tries to explain what looks like determination to self-destruct:
Israel is boxed-in, as is becoming very evident to many Israelis. One Israeli correspondent (formerly a Cabinet Secretary) illustrates its nature:
The meaning of the 7th October default is not only the loss of lives … but mainly the potential transformation of how Israel is perceived … as no longer to be feared by Middle Eastern actors.
The Israeli leadership must internalize that we can no longer be content with a ‘sense of victory’ among the Israeli public … It is doubtful whether victory in Gaza is enough to restore the fear of Israel to the levels we had vis-a-vis our enemies. A victory that boils down to just the release of the captives and confidence-building measures to establish a Palestinian state would not be enough in shoring up Israel’s image in that regard.
If the quagmire of Gaza … brings the [Israeli] leadership to the realization that there is no ability to present a clear victory on this front, one that will lead to a strategic change in the region, they must consider switching fronts and reasserting Israeli deterrence through the removal of the strategic threat in Lebanon … victory against one of the richest and most powerful terrorist organizations in the world – Hezbollah – can restore deterrence in the region in general … Israel must remove the threat from the north and dismantle the power structure Hezbollah has built in Lebanon, regardless of the situation in the south.
But without victory in the south, a significant achievement in the north becomes that much more important.
The above quotation goes directly to the heart of the issue. That is: ‘How can Zionism be saved?’. All the rest of the ‘blah-blah’ coming from world leaders is largely bluff. Not only is Gaza NOT giving Israelis a sense of victory; on the contrary, it is widely proliferating a violent anger at a surprise, ‘shameful’ defeat…
The latest Peace Index survey reflects the pervasive gloom: 94% percent of Jews think Israel has used the right amount of firepower in Gaza (or “not enough” (43%)). Three-quarters of all Israelis think the number of Palestinians harmed since October is justified to achieve its aims; a full two-thirds of Jewish respondents say numbers of casualties are definitely justified (only 21% say “somewhat” justified).
Crooke explains that Zionism promised Jew security within Israel, and that promise has been turned on its head. Not only are Jews in Israel now insecure, but blowback from the Gaza campaign is also threatening the diaspora. Biden is merely pursuing containment posturing; the two state solution is a non-starter and as we described earlier, the normalization scheme with Saudi Arabia is an empty exercise in optics.
He argues in his latest article that Israel feeling it has its back pushed against the wall has unleashed deeper impulses in the form of hewing to cultural archetypes. His article goes through some analogies. I think Crooke is on the right track but has not quite nailed this analytically. But explaining what looks like a mass psychosis is not easy.
Crooke has another go at trying to explain Israel’s overwrought state in his current Judge Napolitano talk, where he describes the conflict as an Armageddon-like struggle which is partly fueled by the way the Islamic world has been in decline for the last 1000 years, with the meddling of Europeans in the last 500 years a major contributor. And the Israel side even more so is seeing it in Biblical and eschatological terms. Hence the emotionality and lack of sound calculations.
Crooke has warned (as have a few others) that Israel is putting its survival as a state at risk if it launches a full scale attack against Lebanon. But even that possibility seems to be no deterrent.