From the start of the war, when it became clear that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad had executed their plan to capture more than 200 Israeli hostages from the Gaza Envelope, Israel’s leadership faced the ultimate Sophie’s choice: eliminate the Nazi terror group that committed the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust or free the hostages.
I’m writing this while the media are celebrating the most recent pronouncement from the arch-terrorist Ismail Haniyeh in Doha, Qatar, that he delivered his terms for the gradual release of some of the hostages over five days that would also be a five-day truce. As many experts have suggested, a five-day ceasefire could mean the end of the war, and certainly a steep rise in IDF casualties. A fast-moving army is far less vulnerable to guerilla sneak attacks than a static army. Also: how do you get the campaign restarted after a five-day interruption? It would be a clear win for Hamas.
From a strictly military point of view, the Israeli leadership would have done best to launch the war in Gaza as if all the hostages were dead. An army cannot run a successful campaign when it is restricted by the possibility that every tunnel it blows up may contain Israeli hostages. An army must move forward and kill the enemies without hesitation, which is what the IDF has been doing with a joy of killing we haven’t witnessed since before the woke generals and civil rights groups and the high court began to mold it as a branch of WIZO (the Women’s International Zionist Organization).
Abducting 220 babies, children, women, and elderly Israelis was a stroke of genius on Hamas’s part, showing that its leaders know Israeli society far better than Israel knows them. And they had a great teacher.
In October 2011, following a well-organized and well-financed campaign by roughly the same element that would continue to batter him in years to come, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu succumbed to public pressure and committed the worst failure of his career until October 7, 2023: he freed 1,027 terrorist prisoners with Jewish blood on their hands in exchange for one kidnapped Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit.
Never mind that among those released murderers was Yahya Sinwar, the mastermind of the October 7 massacre. And never mind that so many of those murderers immediately joined the Hamas war machine to kill more Jews. That was a given, and Netanyahu proved too weak to prevent it. Why even Maran the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef supported it. The only ones who tried to stop the mad deal were, as usual, those right-wing extremists who in 2023 advocated arming standby squads in border communities – you know, the crazies who don’t write op-eds for Haaretz.
But Netanyahu’s much bigger failure as a leader in 2011 was teaching Hamas that no matter how strong Israel’s military may be, it can always be brought to submission with the threat of killing innocent hostages.
SHARON & NETANYAHU CULTIVATED HAMAS
The Hamas headquarters should by rights display two portraits of the men who helped make the group what it is today: 1. Ariel Sharon, who as defense minister in the 1980s promoted the Muslim Brotherhood in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza as an alternative to Fatah, until the leaders of this “charity group” committed their first suicide bombing. For heaven’s sake, it took Israel until September 1989 to declare Hamas illegal; and 2. Benjamin Netanyahu, who helped turn the fledgling group of ruthless fanatics into the finest terrorist army in the world.
In addition to teaching Hamas that Israel would pay any price in exchange for even one captive, Netanyahu and the IDF leadership developed a strategy of containment toward Hamas. They insisted on never, but never reaching a decisive victory on Hamas, even though Netanyahu declared on the eve of every election that he was about to remove Hamas from the face of the earth. Well, in some way he did achieve that: his policy of permitting the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip and his reluctant IDF operations, permitted Hamas to build its “metro” system, a giant complex of tunnels, halls, and residences underground, where cars could ride comfortably from one headquarters to another hidden from Israeli surveillance.
Israeli containment was best expressed through proportionality. The army couldn’t just kill violent Arabs for going near the border fence. And it couldn’t kill squads that flew incendiary balloons above the fence, causing mass fires that destroyed thousands of agricultural and forest acres. And the fear of too many casualties turned each attempt by the IDF to curb Hamas violence – when its leaders decided to drench Israeli towns with thousands of missiles and mortar rockets – into a grotesque exercise in futility.
That, too, was a lesson Netanyahu’s governments taught Hamas over the years: Israel is never going to retaliate seriously because the Jews are too afraid to die. To a culture that glorifies death, this may have marked the epitome of contempt.
And now, Netanyahu and his war cabinet are about to reap what they sawed: they taught Hamas how to use Israelis against their own government when it comes to hostages, and now thousands of Israelis have been galvanized in a determined effort to cause the IDF to fail in Gaza.
On Monday night, Netanyahu met with the families of the hostages and swore to them that he would hold the release of their loved ones on the same level as he does victory over Hamas. He was immediately criticized for this, as mainstream media scorned him for not making the release of hostages his very top priority.
And so, Netanyahu is facing yet another failure as a leader, unable to tell his angry citizens what they don’t want to hear, but must: our top priority must be eliminating Hamas because if we don’t, many more thousands of innocent Israelis will die. He should have said it in 2011 but failed. He gets one last chance to say it now, and, frankly, I don’t expect him to get it right.