There Are No Good Options For Israel and America

There are a lot of interesting responses in the United States to the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Clearly, the most rational is to be outraged at the rape, kidnapping, and murder of Israeli civilians perpetrated by so-called soldiers of Islam. They are not soldiers or freedom fighters at all; they are savages unbound by any sense of military discipline or duty to the Palestinian people. If they were soldiers, they would consider Israel’s potential responses and the resulting damage to infrastructure and civilian casualties before launching such a cruel attack. We are very right to be outraged. Hamas has instigated what looks to be a tremendously harsh retribution on the people living in Gaza.

Let me say that we do have a dog in this fight. Hamas killed and kidnapped American citizens, and the US must do everything in its power (except ransom) to rescue them and punish the perpetrators. I support Special Forces rescue attempts and raids into Gaza as appropriate, but I caution against getting overly committed in Israel’s war.

We need to consider the longer-term implications of an Israeli response, which looks to be a full-scale invasion of Gaza before we allow our outrage to lead us into another long and costly war. Arabs and Jews have been fighting for a hundred years, and we only lasted about 20 years in Afghanistan. Just to be clear, our military leadership and political leaders (as if there is any difference) lost the will to continue in Afghanistan because many American voters did. If 9/11 was our reason for going into that country in the first place, then we are not likely sufficiently outraged by 10/7 in Israel.

Right now, we have two US Navy carrier groups dedicated to supporting Israel and ostensibly warning other bad actors like Hezbollah and Iran to stay out of Israel’s way. We have pledged materiel and ammunition to sustain Israel’s defense, which still implies a tremendous cost to the US taxpayer.

Image: Israel strikes Gaza. YouTube screen grab.

US support for Ukraine and any other potential hot spots and the currently stressed US economy compound this cost. If Iran takes action as it has done in the past and disrupts oil supplies, it could lead to $250 barrels of oil, and unheard-of gas prices (and the US is in no position to quickly ramp up domestic production). Things could get a lot worse.

If Hamas does not sufficiently outrage us now, I fear we will all be very angry soon.

Israel is poised to invade Gaza, a roughly 25-by-7-mile strip of Mediterranean coastline—a densely populated urban center of some 2 million people. To reach their targets which, by all accounts, are well prepared, dug in, and obviously motivated, Israeli troops will have to move a huge portion of their infantry into this quagmire. This combat environment significantly hampers much of Israel’s technological advantage—especially if Israel intends to minimize the impact on the civilian population—which limits large-scale artillery and air force attacks. House-to-house and room-to-room close-quarters combat requires on-the-spot human decision-making and the taking of great personal risk. It will be costly in terms of Israeli casualties.

It will also require significant occupation troops as they move from one “secured” area to a new area to prevent Hamas from simply moving back into previous locations. As Israel seeks to control these areas, it must then provide food, medical assistance, and shelter to the displaced civilians living there.

The Palestinians are not going elsewhere because none of their Arab neighbors will have them. Perhaps the UN can help, but as history has clearly demonstrated, UN troops will be useless in keeping any areas free of Hamas militants. Israel will have to do it.

But what does all of this really accomplish? It results in a truly occupied Gaza, continued resentment of Israel by the Arab world, and tremendous cost to Israel’s and any allied economies.

How can Israel eventually win the hearts and minds of the Palestinians and eliminate the enmity of the Arab world? Perhaps this is where the US and others come in.

I’d love to imagine investing in the infrastructure in Gaza, establishing industries and jobs, and then rolling out the other necessities that their Arab neighbors have not bothered to develop. We don’t have to democratize Gaza or establish a government for them. We’ve tried nation-building before with dismal results. Nations must build themselves, but they still require the economic and trade support of other countries. How can we foster that?

The only way Gaza and the Palestinians will be a free and peaceful people is if they can join the rest of us who take our blessings for granted. Imagine what Iran’s $6 billion could do if used properly.

But can a truly prosperous economy develop in Gaza? Could it eventually integrate into the regional economy? How do we eliminate the institutional racial/religious divides? That challenge alone takes a few generations and can easily be set back (as we have seen in the US in the last decade or so). In other words, to even hope for a peaceful future requires thinking and supporting an expensive effort in terms of many decades, if not a century or more.

Sadly, I doubt any country or people has the wherewithal to endure the time it will take to see all this happen, and the remaining alternatives are really quite bleak. Israel can kill as many Hamas fighters as possible, take out their infrastructure, and eventually move out of Gaza until Hamas or some other organization develops the means to attack them on this scale again. Or Israel could try pounding the Palestinians into submission as we did with the Axis Powers in WW2, but a positive outcome from that is far from certain. Hamas has triggered what is likely to be a true humanitarian disaster.

I believe we should support Israel, but we need to make sure we consider all that this implies before committing to a particular strategy. Keeping Israel’s neighbors out of the fight and providing defensive support are good starts, but beyond that, what can we do that is meaningful and manageable and moves the region toward a better future?

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