No one in Israel’s government has a decent vision for “the day after”

May 23rd, 2024 by Tom Lynch

During the first few days after the Hamas 10/7 massacre with its raping, pillaging, plundering, and hostage taking, the world (for the most part) rallied to Israel’s cause, just as it did to ours in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

No one knew what to do. No one knew what the Israelis would do. But everyone knew Israel had to do something in response to the worst day for the Jews of the world since the Holocaust when Auschwitz had patented industrialized murder.

The far right Netanyahu government, deciding its mission was to destroy Hamas down to the last soldier, attempted to do just that. Now, Gaza has been reduced to a rubble reminiscent of the apocalyptic bombing of Dresden and more than 35,000 innocent civilians have been killed; parts of the Gazan Strip are in deep famine, with about 1.1 million people starving, according to the IPC classification; much of the world has turned on Israel; Karim Khan, the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has asked ICC judges for arrest warrants for Prime Minister Netanyahu, Defense Minister Gallant and high ranking Hamas leaders for crimes against humanity (which the Biden administration decried as “false equivalence”); and Hamas still lives and continues to hold Israeli hostages — a condition that has cracked wide the once unified Israeli public opinion¹. And I won’t even mention the college campus protests that rocked the U.S. over the last few months.

The entire world wants to know when and how this will end — and what will happen on what the world now calls “the day after?”

Clearly, since the massacre of 7 October, the vast majority of Gazans, who had nothing to do with the barbaric slaughter, have been walking through fields of blood. Israelis, initially united in their quest to destroy Hamas, are now not so sure. Seven months following the slaughter, Israel’s IDF says it has eradicated 75% of Hamas’s military capability, but that four battalions remain in Rafah. In traditional warfare, this would constitute victory. But not here. According to David Ignatius, writing this week in the Washington Post, “Hamas appears to have decided not to stand and fight but instead to melt into the population as a guerrilla force. This will be a continuing headache for Israel…”

And then, there are those hostages.

During the attack of 7 October, Hamas took 252 hostages who hailed from more than 40 countries including Israel, America, Thailand, the Philippines, and Uruguay. The following month, the two sides struck a temporary ceasefire agreement that saw 105 civilian hostages released from Hamas captivity, including 81 Israelis, 23 Thai nationals, and one Filipino. Now, six months later, 125 are still unaccounted for, mostly Israelis,  and 37 are presumed dead, but Israeli and American officials estimate privately that the number of dead hostages could be much higher.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his coalition treat the hostages as unavoidable collateral damage, much like the tens of thousands of Gazan dead.

It is obvious that this is a situation in dire need of a solution, but is there one?

Writing in the Washington Post on 15 May, Loveday Morris, Shira Rubin and Hazem Balousha described a major flaw in Israel’s battle plans:

It was last December when the Israeli military declared victory in the Jabalya refugee camp, saying it had broken Hamas’s grip on its traditional stronghold in the northern Gaza Strip.

“Jabalya is not the Jabalya it used to be,” Brig. Gen. Itzik Cohen, commander of Division 162, said at the time, adding that “hundreds of terrorists” had been killed and 500 suspects arrested.

Five months later, Israeli forces are back in Jabalya. Ground troops are pushing into the densely packed camp, backed by artillery and airstrikes — one in a string of recent “re-clearing” operations launched by the Israel Defense Forces against Hamas, whose fighters have rapidly regrouped in areas vacated by the IDF.

As one U.S. official told the Post’s Max Boot, “The Israelis are showing how not to do counterinsurgency.”

Someone who does know how to do counterinsurgency is General David Petraeus (now retired), who implemented “the surge” in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

The surge was highly successful. It worked, because Petaeus and his team changed strategy, which had centered on fighting insurgents and then retiring to a base camp. This was not working. Max Boot reached out to Petraeus about Israel’s strategy, which has pretty much paralleled that of the U.S.’s unsuccessful efforts prior to the surge. Petaeus replied via email, which Boot quoted in his column of 13 May. According to Petraeus, Gaza is:

“vastly more challenging than Fallujah, Ramadi, Baqubah and Mosul combined, but the correct approach is a comprehensive civil-military counterinsurgency campaign that features the traditional tasks of Clear (areas of Hamas terrorists), Hold (keep the civilians secure from Hamas reinfiltration), and Build (provide ample humanitarian assistance, restore the basic services to the people, and then rebuild the many damaged and destroyed areas so that the population can return).”

Petraeus believes Israel’s IDF is fine at “clearing,” but absent when it comes to “holding” and “building.”

Israel seems to have no plans at all for rebuilding bombed out Gaza, which is now unlivable. Without such plans, its seven month war may have killed a few thousand Hamas militants and destroyed many miles of Hamas’s tunnels, but it has left a bruised and battered Gazan population out of which will grow new and improved terrorists even more dangerous than the ones they’ll replace. Israel’s current government is totally unequipped to prevent this from happening.

Last week, according to reporter Bar Peleg of Haaretz, right wing Israeli settlers in the West Bank wounded a Palestinian truck driver by hitting him in the head with a stone, believing that his truck, along with another, was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. Footage from the scene indicates that the activists stopped the two trucks on Wednesday near the Givat Asaf settlement, unloaded their cargo, deflated their tires, and set them on fire. They left the stoned driver lying in the middle of the road. Police arrived and arrested nobody. IDF soldiers, who have no policing authority in the West Bank and must defer to settler police, tried to give aid to the drivers, but were later attacked by the settlers. The settlers are backed by far right ministers in the government, who are settlers themselves.

These are the people Benjamin Netanyahu has hitched his wagon to.

Right now, the only thing we know for sure about the plan for the day after is that there isn’t one.


From The Guardian, 13 May: In an Israeli opinion poll published on Channel 11, a public broadcaster, a week before the invasion of Rafah, 47% of those asked supported an end to the war in Gaza in return for the release of the Israeli hostages, while only 32% were against. Even after the Israeli war cabinet unanimously rejected Hamas’s offer – the mainstream media described Hamas’s acceptance of the deal as fraudulent – 41% of those surveyed wanted Israel to accept it, while 44% were against it.