In the Shadow of Ilan Ramon, an Israeli Astronaut Prepares for Launch

After having distinguished himself as an IDF fighter pilot, Eytan Stibbe trained to be an astronaut, and is now preparing to take off tomorrow on the first-ever private mission to the international space station. Yonatan Meroz speaks with him about the experience:

Stibbe and three other astronauts will take off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, which will be launched via the company’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle. On the menu are dozens of scientific experiments that will be carried out on behalf of a large number of organizations. (Stibbe is scheduled to carry out 35). The launch date is currently set for April 6, and Axiom Space, the American company behind the mission, together with the Israel Space Agency, the Israeli Ministry of Science and Technology, and the Ramon Foundation, will be crossing their fingers that there won’t be any further delays.

The long shadow of the Columbia shuttle disaster, in which Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon along with six other crew members lost their lives, has hung over the mission throughout. Even the nineteen years that have passed since cannot dispel it.

“Ahead of the launch, I trained in the places that I visited with Ilan,” said Stibbe, who was a friend of Ramon’s and served alongside him for many years. “He took me around and showed me the shuttle and the simulators. It’s a very sentimental issue for me. I will take with me into space some of the pages of Ilan’s diary that survived the disaster, and a painting by his daughter Noa. I hope that the next two weeks change the sentiment in Israel that connects manned space flight and tragedy.”

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Ilan Ramon, Israeli technology, Space exploration

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security