Friday, March 8, 2024

Humanitarian Aid, War, Terror and Hostages. Day 153.

Humanitarian Aid, War, Terror and Hostages.  Day 153.

Today is 153 days that over 130 hostages stolen from their homes family and friends remain in the cruel captivity of the Hamas Terrorists in Gaza since their day of slaughter on October 7, 2023.  Recent reports from the negotiations between Hamas and Israel indicate that, God forbid, more than half may no longer be alive.  The war continues, and Israel is now dropping leaflets in Rafah indicating another expanded ground and air campaign is imminent - this time in the last remaining refuge of the southwestern edge of the Gaza Strip.  Calls for ceasefire and humanitarian aid have increased, and President Joe Biden has announced the construction of a sea port to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza directly.  

There is ample reason for a supporter of the war to feel immense discomfort and doubt about its current status.  The truth is, Israel is running out of military targets and has not achieved its goals.  In that circumstance, the unthinkable possibility of the war being a failure becomes thinkable.

The moral case for the war:

First, to always be clear:  the war against Hamas begins as a just war of complete moral clarity.  No terror group can be allowed to do what they did, and to remain at rest and in control of a city state like the Gaza strip from which to continue their nefarious and bloody actions.  And, when terrorists are fully embedded within a sympathetic and supportive civilian population, collateral deaths of non combatant men, women and children are inevitable.

Second, with equal clarity:  The military attempt to rescue hostages from the hands of terror organizations is also entirely legitimate, and may also come with collateral death of civilians.

Assessing the War as it really is:

The failure to achieve the strategic goals of the war will ultimately result in condemnation of the war itself by objective outside analysts.

The failure to rescue hostages: 

The fact is that the stated goals of the war may have gone a long way to justify the death and destruction had those goals been successful.  Unfortunately, that is not the case.  Hamas remains in place, including its entire leadership structure.  To date 2 hostages have been rescued by the military, As of February 8, Israel had reported the deaths of 219 soldiers in the war in Gaza so far. Many thousands of non-combatants have been killed. The price of rescue alone demonstrates the failure of the operation.

The failure to destroy Hamas among the civilians:  

Even if the Hamas' number of 30,000 Gazans dead is remotely accurate, and we assume 25% of those to be combatants, there is no military target in sight to justify a claim of victory over the Hamas organization.

Israel would rather not find civilian non-combatants in the theater of war against Hamas.  That was made clear by the multiple rounds of “leaflets,” maps and QR codes dropped prior to major expansions of the ground campaign.  But those attempts have proven entirely ineffective.  There are no completely safe zones to go to because Hamas continues to move and operate from anywhere at any time.  

True, Israel has nearly eliminated the launching of missiles from Gaza, and the regularity of RPG's and other larger infantry weaponry has also significantly degraded. But Hamas soldiers who drop their weapons and melt into the civilian background remain to fight another day. The actual military victory is highly questionable for the long term.

The result has been to attempt to discover and degrade the maximum amount of usable infrastructure (buildings, tunnels) possible to force Hamas to be uncovered and reveal/abandon their locations, weapons stashes, support materials and - the hope was - hostages. 

Hamas leads the hunters to new targets every day, and Israel obligingly destroys in their wake.  Without a significant and convincing military victory, such as the surrender of the Hamas leadership team in Gaza, the only measurable outcome is the destruction of the living space for millions of Gazans, and the accompanying loss of tens of thousands of lives.  In recent days, the Israeli army has brought cement trucks to fill tunnels and more explosives to destroy underground infrastructure.  The war is clearly nearing its end point and the emphasis is less on military targets and more on what will be left behind for them to use again in the future.

The war to destroy Hamas has instead become a war to destroy Gazan infrastructure.  

Starvation and Disease.  It has proven impossible for Israel to both prosecute the war against Hamas and guarantee the humanitarian support of the population in Gaza at the same time. While there are those who support the war who are not bothered by that fact, I am. Even as Israel aims at Rafah - the only ground route for aid trucks - the United States is opening a sea port to bring more aid in.  None of it will be enough.  The specter of actual starvation, and the spread of disease from lack of clean water, is the ubiquitous handmaiden of war.  Would it hurt Hamas? Of course. But it will equally hurt the innocent and the hostages themselves.

The only reachable goal is the release of hostages through negotiations.

The urgency of an increased focus on the hostages is real.  Yes, destroy the tunnels and degrade military infrastructure. Yes, continue to kill as many combatants as possible while staying at the negotiating table.

But there is only one proven way to get hostages out, and that is through those negotiations - with the threat of severe war to keep Hamas at the table.  The current situation is terrible, as all war inevitably is.  But the goal to eliminate Hamas in the short term must take a second seat to the return of the hostages.  Humanitarian aid must be surged to prevent starvation in the Gaza strip by any reasonable moral code of war, so that those international partners who might very well need to take over the basic needs of Gaza after the war can already demonstrate that they are part of the solution.  Jordan, Egypt and the United States are the most present in that capacity, and must be affirmed in their efforts.

The Future:

President Biden, in his State of the Union speech last night, asserted that a two state solution is the only reasonable hope for peace for Israelis and Palestinians. That is true. But is it possible? Will the world, Israel and the Palestinians all come together to seek some place of Palestinian sovereignty while affirming the legitimacy of Israel?    So far the world says yes.  The Palestinian Authority since Oslo says yes. Hamas says no. Netanyahu says no. The current combatants disagree with President Biden, so how exactly does he think he will achieve that goal?

This war is not over.  But it may have already failed. Will Hamas surrender and face justice?  No.  Will the horror of the suffering prevent another attack in the future?  Probably not.  Will the conflict be a painful and necessary step to a just peace? It is hard to imagine. That is the problem with failed wars: they don't produce anything.

For the hostages, the only hope is to make bring them home now the focus of every Israeli priority, and to plan for the conflict to continue even after the current fighting is done.

I believe that there is still only one hope for the future that makes any reasonable sense, if one believes in sovereignty, self-determination and peace - two states.  But there is still no clear path to its creation.