This week the reclusive Hamas military commander-in-chief Muhammad Deif released a rare audio message, addressed to the Israeli public. “We love death for Allah the way that you love life,” he said.
Deif is a man of his word. He and his Hamas brethren truly do love death. And since, as he correctly asserts, Israelis love life, it appears we have a solution that will satisfy both parties.
Israel’s role in the deal is to kill Muhammad Deif, his entire command structure and as many of his gunmen as possible. That, however, requires the cooperation of the Israeli government which, for reasons that will certainly be debated in the next election, has focused its efforts on blowing up the empty tunnels of Gaza.
Over the years Hamas has built these tunnels—one thousand, five thousand, nobody knows how many---to defend itself from airstrikes and as an avenue of attack against Israel. After Hamas began firing missiles into Israel in late June, the IDF was given the job of finding and destroying these holes in the ground.
The army has bragged about the success of this mission, but the boasts were as hollow as the tunnels themselves, a fact demonstrated today when a Hamas commando team emerged from one of them and hijacked an Israeli officer, Second Lt. Hadar Goldin.
The capture of Lt. Goldin put the futility and cowardice of Israel’s announced military strategy in sharp focus. The problem isn’t Hamas’s tunnels, it is Hamas.
On paper, Israel has an invincible military. In this war, it has looked more like a paper army, deploying ground forces on tippy toe, failing to find or engage the enemy and unwilling to risk casualties by fighting aggressively. Lately it has even been unable to protect its own soldiers from lethal Hamas attacks.
It is telling that the most vivid Israeli figures to emerge from this war are two dead American-Israeli infantrymen whose funerals attracted huge crowds, a brigade commander who was wounded in action and now, a captured infantry officer. In this defensive and hesitant campaign, victims are lionized are heroes.
Yet, despite the government’s caution, Israel has suffered more than sixty dead soldiers—the equivalent of 2400 Americans—and has won nothing but the contempt of the as-yet unmolested Hamas high command in Gaza and its many fans in Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey, Qatar and British media.
Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu made his reputation as an anti-terrorist. He got rich writing books and giving speeches about the west’s obligation to stand up to armed Islamic fanaticism. Throughout his career, he has cast himself as an Israeli Winston Churchill, a warrior leader dedicated to an unflinching fight against his country’s foes.
But Bibi, who has agreed to half a dozen “humanitarian” cease fires in the last twenty-four days—all of them dismissed by or violated by Hamas—has looked a lot more like the hapless Neville Chamberlain than the intrepid Winnie.
Muhammad Deif is no Churchill, either. He is also not Hitler, despite the fact that he and his group share the fuhrer’s anti-Jewish mania. He commands no great army, leads no powerful nation. He is simply the chief thug of a terrorist gang, the boss of a few thousand armed fanatics. But Deif is a shrewd judge of character. He gambled on the Israeli love of life and the unwillingness Netanyahu’s government to risk high casualties in fierce urban combat.
The relatively few Israelis ground troops who have fought in Gaza have, for the most part, acquitted themselves well. They have followed orders and seized tunnels. When the enemy has happened by, they have been killed efficiently. Palestinian civilians have been killed too, but not on purpose. Their deaths creates a sort of Islamic Kryptonite that can be used to disarm the obsessively PR conscious government.
Tonight, after the collapse of the latest cease fire and the abduction of Lt. Goldin, the prime minister is convening his war cabinet. Everyone at the table will be aware that a swelling majority of citizens now see that life—at least the kind of life they have lived until now—will not be possible as long as Hamas is armed and at large. An increasing number of cabinet ministers know this too, and are saying so. They are politicians, after all, and Israel is a democracy.
All is not lost. If Netanyahu and his fellow cabinet members can summon the moral and political courage to win this war, the army will fight. And if it is allowed to go all the way, it will soon reach Muhammad Deif and his accomplices. They are already under the earth, a convenient locale for ambitious martyrs.
If, on the other hand, Hamas survives, it will be the career and reputation of Benyamin Netanyahu that are buried in the sands of Gaza.