Strong Horse Politics: A ceasefire would make Israel look “weak”-F47,B4
November 20, 2023—PRINTED ON 11/20/23
Urs Gehriger AND Die Weltwoche
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) is advancing, step by step, in the Gaza Strip. Pressure on the Jewish state is increasing worldwide. Even its closest ally, the United States, is calling for “humanitarian pauses.” That would be a mistake, warns military historian Victor Davis Hanson. If Israel lays down its arms or agrees to a ceasefire, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran will see weakness. We reach the classicist via phone at his office in California to discuss the violent road ahead.
Weltwoche: As a military historian, do you see any parallels in history to the war the IDF is now facing in Gaza?
Hanson: Yes. In classical sieges, where urban defenders were dug in and even subterraneanly hidden — whether it was the Roman destruction of Carthage, the final siege in 146 AD, or in modern times, the American effort in Fallujah or Mosul — the successful approach is never frontal. In other words, the attack is multifaceted at various places in the circumference.
Weltwoche: From what you’ve observed, what is the strategy the IDF is pursuing?
Hanson: They’re hitting one spot, holding it, occupying it. At the same time, across the city or in a 360-degree circle, they’re also hitting. Then, they hold, they blow up a tunnel, they take out Hamas, and they move on, rather like ink spots. At first, it seems bizarre. But finally, the ink spots are blocked, and they start to grow and connect.
Weltwoche: What about the notorious labyrinth of tunnels. How can it be conquered?
Hanson: I think now they’ve connected in the circumference around the (Gaza) center, and that would mean it’s likely that the tunnels that are spokes out of the hub are cut off at some point. Not that they’re destroyed, but they’re cut off, so the people in the center cannot go to the periphery. I think they’ll close gradually at different spokes, at different times at night during surprise, and gradually trim down those spokes till they get to the very hub. At that point, I think people that are in Hamas, in the subterranean labyrinth, will not be able to get out. That’s contrasted to the idea that they were just going to go in from Israel, tunnel march, get inside the tunnels themselves. I don’t see that happening. So, I think what they’re doing is more time-consuming, but it will cost fewer casualties, and it will ultimately be more effective because they’re using the tunnels to the disadvantage of the people that are in them. They think they’re safe, but the Israelis are trying to redefine them as a place of entrapment where they can’t get out.
Weltwoche: Most Palestinians in the north have responded to Israel’s call and fled to the south of the Gaza Strip. Where will these civilians go if Israel advances into the south to destroy the Hamas networks there?
Hanson: I think some will go back to the places that they cleared out from Hamas. I expect some of them will go out into the countryside that’s not urban, and some of them may or may not go to the West Bank. But the problem isn’t the IDF. The problem is that none of the Arab countries that are voicing strong support for Hamas are willing to invest in Gaza or allow refugees to go from Gaza to their countries, even temporarily. It’s much like the ’91 Gulf War when there were 300,000 to 500,000 Palestinians in Kuwait. After Kuwait was liberated, the first thing the Kuwaiti government did was deport every single Palestinian back to the West Bank because, I don’t know if it’s fair or it’s not fair, but most Arab regimes don’t feel secure with large numbers of Palestinians in their borders. The irony is that most of the Gazans who were so anti-Western and so pro-Hamas, and many of them I think are, will not find safety from fellow Muslim Arab countries and will likely try to get to Europe or the United States, which is ironic because if one were to listen to the rhetoric, they would feel that Western countries are decadent, or pro-Israel, or Christian, or wh**ever their complaint is. They’re not very well intended toward the West. Yet, in extremis they seem to always want to end up in the West and use the freedom and security and the prosperity of the West to attack the West. As we’re seeing this weekend in London, there may be a million Palestinian supporters in the streets of London who will be attacking their host country and also the West in general but have no desire to immigrate back to the Middle East from which they came.
Weltwoche: Uprooting the terror network of Hamas in Gaza is one thing. But can their ideas be defeated by physical force?
Hanson: Japanese militarism, Soviet c*******m, and national socialism in Germany were all ideas. In 1939, they were felt to be ascendant and powerful. In 1945, no one wanted to associate with it. In 1989, nobody wanted to embrace Soviet c*******m. The lesson is that if you discredit an ideology materially, and you’ve to humiliate it and you equate it with failure and misery, then people do not gravitate or want to reboot it.
Weltwoche: T***slate this to Gaza?
Hanson: If Israel goes in and they destroy much of the command structure and most of the tunnels, and people see that Hamas was using them as shields to protect their own people in hospitals, mosques, and schools, then they’re going to equate their misery with Hamas as much as they are with Israel.
Weltwoche: Beyond the actual battlefield, there is a propaganda war waging, and it looks as though Israel is on the losing end. There’s continuous footage on social media – most of it unverified – of bombed kids, rubble, people in despair. Can Israel afford to ignore that propaganda war and just pull through on the battlefield?
Hanson: Yes, they have no choice. They have to finish their agenda to destroy Hamas, discredit it, and humiliate it. What Israel has to do, it has to remind people of the asymmetry, that it uses its rockets to protect civilians. Hamas uses civilians to protect its rockets. Israel drops leaflets and tries to even phone or text people in the area where the pending attack is. Hamas sends 7,000 rockets without any warning, with the intention of hitting civilians. Israel has to make the moral point that the reason why people are criticizing it is not that it’s trying to target civilians, but it’s effective in taking out Hamas people. Hamas is seen as the underdog not because it’s not trying to k**l civilians, but because it’s ineffective. Israel’s got to make the argument to the world that no war was ever won with a proportionate response. The United States was not proportionate with Japan or Germany. Anytime you’re proportionate, what you end up with is Stalingrad or Verdun. You have to be disproportionate to get the war over and save lives.
Weltwoche: Many critics of Israel say that Palestinians cannot be equated to Hamas, but they are now paying a devastating price.
Hanson: I think they also have to emphasize that while the Gazans are not Hamas entirely, when Hamas went into Israel and butchered people, there were hundreds of civilians that followed them in, willingly, voluntarily, to join in the l**ting, raping, and k*****g. When bodies were brought back on display, civilians cheered them on. Yes, Hamas was corrupt. Hamas was ineffective as a governing body and was unpopular, but one of the reasons why it was unpopular was it had not k**led enough Jews. Once it did that on October 7th, it suddenly gained an enormous grassroots popularity, albeit before the Israeli response. Now we’re in the Orwellian situation where we’re saying, “Well, all the Gazans were cheering on the murder of Jews, and now suddenly they’re not cheering anymore.” Why is that? That’s because the response is going to be more effective than the initial attack on Israel.
Weltwoche: Since the October 7th massacre, there has been the fear that the war could quickly turn into a firestorm across the region. So far, this has not happened. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, when addressing the public for the first time, last week, said, “All options are on the table.” But he has not called his troops into action. Does this mean that the US deterrence with the battleships in the eastern Mediterranean has worked?
Hanson: It depends on the response to Hamas. If Israel pulls out or pauses or has a ceasefire, then it’s going to appear to Hezbollah, Hamas, and Iran as weak. They may intervene on the principle that there are no consequences to their intervention. If Israel perseveres and destroys Hamas, then Hezbollah is going to look at Gaza City — as well as remember Beirut in 2006, which was similar to the status of Gaza City, now — and the cost-to-benefit analysis, as Nasrallah has said before is they don’t want to fight the IDF.
In addition, we have the greatest concentration of American power that we’ve had in fifty years in the eastern Mediterranean. Joe Biden is not leading events. He’s being led by events. Should Hezbollah attack those assets with its rocket force, or should Iran, they know there will be no restraint on the response. We’re really in the first period in our lives where there is no restraining influence on a Western response against Hezbollah or Iran.
Weltwoche: Russia and China are not eager to get involved.
Hanson: Russia is tied down in Ukraine. It talks a great game. It will not intervene on behalf of Iran or Hezbollah. China will not intervene on behalf of Hezbollah or Iran. It just wants oil and to hurt the United States. Europe will not pressure the United States not to respond because secretly the Europeans are tired of Hamas. They’re worried about immigration from the Middle East, and they’re scared of Iran. I don’t think any of the moderate Arab states — Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf monarchies — will tell the United States or Israel, “Please do not attack Iran or Hezbollah if they attack you.” What that means is that Hezbollah and Iran understand that if they attack the IDF or the United States, the response is going to be overwhelming.
Weltwoche: We have seen a rapprochement by the Biden government towards Iran. It tried to reactivate the nuclear talks, and it agreed to $6 billion to be paid for a hostage exchange, recently. And now there was this barbaric attack by Hamas, a group that Iran has been building up for many, many years. The Israeli-Saudi deal has been set back. It looks as though Biden’s Middle East strategy is in tatters.
Hanson: The Biden policies have been an abject failure. When he came into office in 2021, he inherited a stable Middle East. There was no ISIS. Mr. Soleimani had been taken out by the Trump administration. The Trump administration had cut off all aid to Hamas and the Palestinian authorities. They had got out of the Iran deal. They had deterred Iran. They had warned Hezbollah that if they k**l Americans, they were going to be hit overwhelmingly.
Biden came in and resurrected the Obama idea that he would take Robert Malley, who was a pro-Iranian American, appease with a new Iran deal, lift the sanctions, give them $50 billion in oil revenue that was t***slated into military help to Hezbollah and Hamas, give money to Hamas, give money to the Palestinian authorities, declare the Houthis were no longer a terrorist organization. That — coupled with the geo-strategic landscape of being humiliated in Afghanistan and fleeing, allowing the Chinese to send a balloon over the United States that was probably a spy balloon with impunity, telling Putin that if he invaded Ukraine, it would depend on whether it was a major or minor invasion before we would respond, the woke military — all of that cemented in the mind of Iran and Hezbollah and Hamas that the United States, under this new administration, either would not or could not respond to aggression.
Now, we’re trying to watch the restoration of the deterrence on the part of Israel, but it’s compounded by the fact that this administration does not understand or does not want to understand the principle of deterrence. It’s very dangerous in the next year or two.
Weltwoche: You mentioned that Biden inherited a stable Middle East. Trump had brokered the Abraham Accords. The accords paved the way for trade deals and military cooperation with Bahrain, Morocco, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates. They were widely seen as a step toward a “new Middle East ” in which closer ties could foster peace and prosperity. Has Hamas successfully sabotaged this path to peace in the region?
Hanson: It depends. Hamas gambled that they could destroy the Abraham Accords by turning the Arab world against Israel. They found out that most of the world was repulsed or sickened by the barbarity they unleashed, even some of the Arab governments. Now, we’re in another Orwellian situation where the Gulf monarchies are telling the West, Europe, and the United States, “We would like to resume the Abraham Accords, and we would like Israel to destroy Hamas, and we would like the United States, if it’s attacked, to ensure that it would respond against Hezbollah and Iran — at least protect us from Iran. But we are not in a position to say that publicly, nor are we in a position, diplomatically, to go out on a limb and have this Biden administration that is not trustworthy or dependable saw the limb off and put us in exposed position vis-à-vis radical Arab terrorist organizations and Iranian-backed Hezbollah, and indeed around ourselves.” So, we’re in a holding pattern. It depends on a new administration that can guarantee our friends in the Middle East that we stand with them against Hezbollah and Iran, and it depends on Israel’s ability to destroy Hamas. I think most of the moderate Arab countries, the more they publicly damn Israel, the more privately they are hoping that Israel destroys Hamas.