The public message that Biden delivered to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the part the world heard, was crystal clear. Don’t act in haste. Remember the mistakes America made by reacting in rage after 9/11, specifically the occupation of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq.
Equally powerful was the message that wasn’t briefed to the press. It has been widely recognized that unprecedented blunders of Israeli military intelligence had occurred, exposing villages in southern Israel to Hamas’s savagery. If it turns out that those mistakes were Netanyahu’s to own, neither the wider world nor Israel itself will forgive a decision to launch a reckless tunnel war in Gaza at the expense of two million trapped Palestinians.
Central figures in the tragedy are Netanyahu and the Hamas leader his people call “the Guest.” If you haven’t read Who is ‘The Guest’: the Palestinian mastermind behind deadly Israel incursion?, by Mehul Srivastava, of the Financial Times, do it now. The Hamas military commander who devised the murderous raid of October 7 into Israeli territory is named Mohammed Deif.
Born Mohammed Diab Ibraham al-Masri in 1965 in a Palestinian refugee camp established in the Gaza Strip after the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, Deif came of age during the first Intifada, or Palestinian uprising against Israel. He joined the newly-formed Hamas to become an expert bomb-maker.
Deif is said to have been nearly killed in an Israeli airstrike twenty years ago. It cost him an arm and a leg and left him in a wheelchair. His nom de guerre, “guest,’ derives from his custom moving from house to house each night to evade Israeli agents.
How was Deif able pull it off? Two weeks ago, Seymour Hersh ventured one possibility. a veteran investigative reporter employed in the past by The New York Times (to report on Watergate) and The New Yorker (the war in Iraq), betweentimes, Hersh wrote The Samson Option, an account of how the US turned a blind eye to Israel’s development of nuclear weapons, while condemning Iranian attempts to do the same. (Iran is, you’ll remember, governed by religious fanatics.) Hersh is now operating on his own at Substack.
Soon after October 7, Hersh asserted that that two of the three Israeli Defense Force battalions ordinarily providing security around the northern portions of he Gaza Strip had been ordered to “shift their focus” to protecting a controversial festival among Israeli settlers in the West Bank for the last day of Succoth. His source: “a veteran of Israel’s national security apparatus with inside knowledge of recent happenings:
‘“That left only eight hundred soldiers,” the insider told me, “to be responsible for guarding the 51-kilometer border between the Gaza Strip and southern Israel. That meant the Israeli citizens in the south were left without an Israeli military presence for ten to twelve hours. They were left to fend for themselves.”’
You can read Hersh’s dispatch for yourself here. Israel’s unity government has vociferously discouraged all such inquiries until “after the war.” The Israeli press has been clear enough about the government “four-fold blunder” of October 7, but the public mood there is not yet ready for detailed self-examination. Hersh’s account hasn’t been confirmed by the mainstream Western press, though specialists are no doubt working on the story.
Two further considerations emerged yesterday. The Wall Street Journal highlighted the horrors the Israeli army would face in an invasion of Hamas’s tunnel system; The New York Times examined the alarming threats of a wider war that a second-front battle with Hezbollah in southern Lebanon would pose.
It is all pretty dire. So for a tough-minded assessment of the overall situation, see “The Case for Hope is Israel and Gaza. Really,” by Storer Rowley, who spent the Nineties as Mideast correspondent of The Chicago Tribune, and who remains America’s foremost reporter on the beat. Writing in the Washington Monthly last week, Rowley skirted no hard truths. “Hamas is a fanatical, religious terrorist group that is no more interested in a peaceful, two-state solution than Al Qaeda, ISIS, or other Jihadist cults,” he wrote. Netanyahu’s government career was finished, too, he continued:
“Netanyahu is only surviving for now because he’s in a unity government. His far-right cabinet allies are despised as dangerous, racist incompetents. (When one visiting minister was shouted out of an Israeli hospital—a scene captured on video—it showed how Bibi and his allies have fallen.) Netanyahu’s divisive effort to upend Israel’s independent judiciary and save his own neck from corruption charges is dead, too.”
The shocking Hamas raid took place against the backdrop of looming Saudi diplomatic recognition of Israel. The Israeli Defense Forces were distracted by Netanyahu’s attempt to keep himself out of jail. The shock to Israel’s equanimity was profound.
But previous Arab-Israeli wars created openings for peace. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 led to the 1978 Camp David and a peace with Egypt that has lasted nearly fifty years. The first Palestinian intifada, or uprising, in 1987 produced the Oslo Agreement in 1993. They didn’t last, but once the horror of October 7 and the subsequent recriminations recede, it will time to begin again, with a new awareness of how desperate the situation has become. Rowley concludes:
“[T]he prospect of a post-Hamas era in Gaza and the Arab world and the fallout in Israel offer some glimmers of hope—not this year, maybe not next, but sometime in the near future. The Saudis and other Sunni governments are no less fearful of Iran than a month ago and maybe more. Palestinian statehood remains illusory, but U.S. policy still rightly supports it, or is at least preparing the ground so that the parties can return to consider it one day.… Can there be a Gazan Sadat or a new Israeli Rabin? It’s hard to imagine now, but it may prove possible when the alternative is unthinkable.”
You don’t have read Steven Pinker to recognize that the world is outraged by the slaughter of innocents; indeed, that it is losing its willingness to go to war, all the more so with the climate warming. Violence and threats of violence continue – in Palestine Ukraine, Iran, Mexico, Sub-Saharan and East Africa, China and Taiwan. Yet time – and popular opinion around the world –are on the side of peace.