(Special to Informed Comment; Feature) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s vow to destroy Hamas, whatever the cost to civilians in Gaza, is based on a brutally cynical reality that such a goal will not be achievable without completely decimating Gaza or forcing the Gazans into exile in Egypt (either of which many of his political partners endorse, calling all Gazans “beasts” or “sub-human.”)
Recently, Netanyahu referred to a biblical old testament passage that called for the killing of every Amalekite, as he sought to justify the thousands of civilian deaths in Gaza. As reported on November 3rd in Mother Jones,
- There are more than 23,000 verses in the Old Testament. The ones Netanyahu turned to, as Israeli forces launched their ground invasion in Gaza, are among its most violent—and have a long history of being used by Jews on the far right to justify killing Palestinians.
As others quickly pointed out, God commands King Saul in the first Book of Samuel to kill every person in Amalek, a rival nation to ancient Israel. “This is what the Lord Almighty says,” the prophet Samuel tells Saul. “‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”
The message was clear that he was equating all Gazans with the fate of the Amalekites.
In its previous incursions into the Gaza strip, Israel had only “nicked” Hamas while leaving the 30,000 man militia (according to Israel) intact. The IDF and Israeli air force were only able to destroy a limited number of tunnels in past invasions.
Approximately 4,000 children have been killed by Israeli bombing (with many more likely buried under the rubble). Given occasional (but unverified) Israeli IDF announcements of Hamas commanders “eliminated,” it is possible to estimate that 400-500 children die for each commander allegedly killed.
Netanyahu calls women and children collateral damage. But given that Netanyahu is responsible for the deaths of around 10,000 civilians overall (and growing), his deadly assault is a disingenuous ploy without a realistic strategy for dismantling Hamas. It is a slaughter in search of a strategy.
Israel dropped leaflets warning Gazans in the north to move to the south as a “safe zone.” Then Israel started bombing parts of the south, now declaring that the area isn’t necessarily safe but just “safer” than the north.
Worthy of note, most of Hamas’s highest leaders are in other countries, including Qatar which is vital to Israel as a negotiator between Israel, Hamas and the US. How can Israel even theoretically eliminate Hamas when its top officials are currently out of reach? Of course, there is also the Iranian support of Hamas (and Hezbollah). Is Netanyahu going to go to war with Iran which has missiles that can reach all of Israel?
After all, it took at least six years to track down and assassinate just a few PLO terrorists who were responsible for planning the kidnapping and eventual deaths of 11 Israeli wrestling team members at the 1972 Munich Olympics. (Mossad agents killed an innocent Moroccan waiter in Norway during “Operation Wrath of God,” who they incorrectly thought enabled the massacre)
In reality, the killing of Gaza civilians is the point of the invasion. Netanyahu, eager to stay in office to avoid corruption charges, must know that he is creating a new generation of Hamas recruits while being unable to completely root out the guerrillas. He knows that his performative genocide in the name of eradicating Hamas will forestall accounting for the security and military lapses that allowed Hamas to pull off the October 7 massacre. It is “Bibi’s” shock and awe moment.
Hamas must be held accountable for the October 7 savagery, but the decimation of Gaza will not end the bloodletting. Furthermore, during this period, the IDF and settlers have killed in excess of 100 Palestinians on the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu, as Naomi Klein has noted, has tried to attain security without peace for Israel. At that, he has failed miserably.
Netanyahu wants to show that nothing will stop him from taking flailing revenge on civilians, and he wants to mislead his domestic audience into thinking that he is making Israel safer, when his actions are going to make Israel more insecure, not less, and isolate it from the international community and perhaps end its formal relations with several Arab nations. Not to mention the Palestinians around the world that the civilian death toll in Gaza are radicalizing. Even in the United States, many in a new generation of Jews are questioning the invasion and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians as an effective strategy against Hamas.
Perhaps there is no more devious and cruelly cynical Netanyahu stance than his adamant refusal to stop the pulverizing of Gaza unless the approximately 240 hostages are released. In his drive for self-preservation, he is toying with the despair of family and friends of the hostages.
The ongoing bombing and ground force effort to destroy the extensive Hamas tunnel system will, and has probably already, resulted in the deaths of many of the hostages who are believed to be held in the tunnels. Netanyahu will not admit this reality to the Israeli public or hostage relatives, who are beginning to protest against Netanyahu’s refusal to negotiate for release of the hostages.
However, such negotiations would be unlikely to bear fruit given that Hamas’s demands would not be met by the Netanyahu government. After all, the 2011 release of only one IDF soldier, Gilad Shalit, by Hamas was only secured after Israel released 1,027 Palestinian prisoners.
That is why Netanyahu is urging the release of hostages before a ceasefire, because he knows the cost of securing their release would be too high, even though he understands that many, if not most, of the hostages will be “collateral” damage in a long-term Israeli offensive.
Netanyahu has in recent years developed a co-dependency with Hamas. Both are opposed to a two-state solution, and Netanyahu was lulled into thinking that Hamas would not launch any serious assaults into Israel.
As an article in Vox noted,
- “Anyone who wants to thwart the establishment of a Palestinian state has to support bolstering Hamas and transferring money to Hamas,” Netanyahu reportedly said at a 2019 meeting of his Likud party. “This is part of our strategy — to isolate the Palestinians in Gaza from the Palestinians in the West Bank.”
An October 8 op-ed in The Israeli Times is headlined, “For years, Netanyahu propped up Hamas. Now it’s blown up in our faces.” The sub-headline reads, “The premier’s policy of treating the terror group as a partner, at the expense of Abbas and Palestinian statehood, has resulted in wounds that it will take Israel years to heal from.”
The most recent Israeli poll indicates that more than 75 percent of Israelis want Netanyahu to resign. It can’t be soon enough.
Hamas is winning the public relations war as Netanyahu leads Israel into becoming a pariah state. Hamas, however horrifying and grisly their actions may be, is playing three-dimensional chess with world opinion. Netanyahu is playing whack-a-mole, resulting in a horrific death toll that Hamas anticipated would weaken support of Israel and halt its rumored incipient recognition by Saudi Arabia.
For Israelis concerned about security, having Netanyahu as Prime Minister is like having an arsonist guard the fire station.