Making Sense of the Most Recent Wave of Terror in Israel

In examining the recent upsurge on deadly attacks on Israelis civilians, Jonathan Spyer notes that it is normal for such incidents tend to increase during Ramadan, though usually they take the form of street harassment or low-grade violence. He further notes that “this atmosphere of tension is neither incited nor controlled by any organized political or religious element,” but rather spreads in a loose fashion via social media. Finally, he argues that “this wave of attacks has no coherent political aim and is wedded to no identifiable political process.” In that way, he says, it reflects the “salient fact not only of Palestinian but also of broader Sunni politics in the Levant, Iraq, and the surrounding areas.”

Over the past two decades, every political project emerging from among this population has gone down to failure. The second intifada of 2000-04, the short-lived Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt of 2012-13, the 2012-18 Sunni Arab insurgency in Syria, and the Islamic State “caliphate” of 2014-19 are the most significant mass political efforts by Middle Eastern Sunni Arab populations in recent years. All were defeated.

The result of these failures has not, however, been the emergence of a more pragmatic politics. Rather, a sort of inchoate, largely formless, rejection of current arrangements is identifiable. This rejection produces periodic episodes of violence but seems unlikely to affect larger structures of power.

In the case of Israel and the Palestinian territories, a familiar pattern has emerged. The Jewish and Arab populations are at near demographic parity. Efforts at partition going back nearly a century have foundered on the consistent unwillingness on the Arab side to accept the division of the land as the final settlement of claims. As a result of this rejection, combined with the inability on the Arab side of reaching its goals by force, the conflict remains in a kind of chronic state: unresolved but subject to more or less successful management.

Might the power of shared religious symbols eventually prove sufficient to unite [the now deeply splintered Palestinians]? If so, the result will be the return of this conflict to its acute form.

In contrast to this record of failure stand the Gulf monarchies (with the exception of Qatar) and Morocco, which appear to have embraced a program of religious moderation and normalization with Israel.

Read more at Wall Street Journal

More about: Arab World, Palestinian terror, Sunnis

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