Why Hamas must be defeated

Israel is surrounded by enemies who are determined to destroy it.

Andrew Fox

Topics World

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Israel’s operation to free four hostages in Nuseirat, central Gaza may be dominating media coverage of the Israel-Hamas war at the moment. But the Israel Defence Forces’ operations in Rafah will be headlining the news again very soon.

This particular Gazan city is now Hamas’s final stronghold. The IDF has made significant inroads there, surrounding Rafah’s centre and seizing more than 75 per cent of the Philadelphi Corridor border with Egypt, which Hamas uses to smuggle weapons into the Gaza Strip.

Yet, the hostage crisis aside, Gaza is actually a tactical sideshow for Israel. The genocidal terrorists of Hamas certainly need to be militarily diminished and removed from power. But Israel faces far more serious strategic threats from elsewhere.

There is Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia based in Lebanon. Since October last year, the IDF has struck roughly 4,000 Hezbollah targets within Lebanon, and Hezbollah has fired over 4,500 rockets into Israel in return. Northern Israel has been ablaze with wildfires from downed rockets. As it stands, 60,000 Israelis have been internally displaced thanks to the threat of these rocket attacks.

Yemen’s Houthis, another Iranian proxy, also pose a significant threat. Their ongoing attacks on shipping in the Gulf in support of Hamas threaten to choke off the Suez Canal.

Then there’s Iran itself. As a sign of its intent, it launched a large-scale drone and missile attack on Israel in April. It is also on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons.

Beyond Iran and its ‘axis of resistance’, Israel also faces challenges from Qatar and Turkey. Both continue to support Palestine on the international stage with funds, strategic direction and sympathetic news media.

All in all, Israel has much bigger problems than Rafah. It is surrounded by enemies who wish for its destruction. That is why Israel sees its current fight in existential terms.

Israel’s options are limited. It cannot fight multiple offensive actions on three fronts simultaneously. So at the moment, it is waging a ground campaign in Gaza, while using its airpower to try to degrade Hezbollah’s military capability in the north.

This will continue until the IDF is in a position to attempt ground operations to drive Hezbollah back over the Litani river. This course of action is fraught with risk. Armed to the teeth and battle hardened from fighting in the Syrian civil war, Hezbollah is a far more deadly enemy than Hamas.

Gaza, then, remains but a small part of a wider Israeli strategy. But Israel cannot attempt to deal with Hezbollah until the war in Gaza is concluded. Which is why the IDF’s operation in Rafah, as Hamas’s final hiding place, is so strategically important.

The more hardline faction in Benjamin Netanyahu’s fractious and belligerent coalition government insists that the mission in Gaza must be completed in Rafah and Hamas must be destroyed for the atrocities it perpetrated on 7 October. But the issue of the hostages is generating considerable opposition to the operation within Israel. The more intense the assault on Rafah, the more likely hostages are to be killed. Each dead body recovered negatively impacts Netanyahu’s re-election chances.

Israel is split: 56 per cent of Israeli Jews prioritise the return of hostages over operations in Rafah, while 37 per cent believe military action is the priority. Protesters demanding a hostage release are blocking roads in major cities like Tel Aviv. The Hostages and Missing Families Forum is also lobbying foreign diplomats to apply pressure for the hostages’ return. Rafah remains Israel’s biggest bargaining chip with Hamas, allowing it to offer a temporary ceasefire in exchange for the release of hostages, should any remain alive.

The situation of Hamas itself is dire. The IDF’s discovery last month of 50 tunnels into Egypt from Gaza cut off one of Hamas’s key resupply routes. The increasing desperation of Hamas is illustrated by its propaganda campaign to put international pressure on Israel to negotiate. As a result, the internet is now deluged with pro-Hamas lies targeted at Western audiences, usually centred around ludicrously inflated death-toll claims. Hamas’s only strategic aim at this point is to survive and degrade Israel’s legitimacy on the international stage.

Operations in Rafah could be paused in the event of a ceasefire. But hopes look slim, certainly for the deal recently brokered by the US.

Israel needs to finish degrading Hamas’s fighting capability if it is to avoid a repeat of 7 October. This includes destroying its four remaining cohesive battalions and as much civilian-embedded military infrastructure as possible. Anything less would make this military operation a failure. Only then can Israel engage with a future political solution in Gaza, and deal with the broader threats in the region. After all, in the grand strategic scheme of things, these threats are far more serious and threatening to Israel’s borders than Hamas.

Andrew Fox is a writer and researcher specialising in defence.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics World


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