Israel Headed for Strategic Defeat in Gaza
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” This quote is often attributed to Albert Einstein, although there is no direct evidence he either wrote or spoke it, let alone came up with it himself. But the wisdom of the saying is unescapable.
The attack carried out by Hamas on October 7 against Israeli military positions and settlements which, collectively, formed what is known as the “Gaza barrier system”, triggered a massive Israeli military response. There are two aspects of this cause-and-effect relationship that stand out.
First, and perhaps most importantly, it was the goal and objective of Hamas to have Israel respond impulsively. Hamas did not have to think out of the box, so to speak, to imagine such a reaction—since 2006, it has been established and well-known Israeli policy to conduct military campaign based upon the premise of collective punishment of a civilian population. Moreover, given the Israeli predilection for revenge that dates to the massacre of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich summer Olympics, a massive military incursion into Gaza to hold to account those responsible for the October 7 attacks was likewise as predictable as snow falling in Siberia in the wintertime.
Second, and less predictable than the first, was the poor performance of the Israeli security establishment, including the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and Israeli intelligence. Not only did the Israeli security forces fail to act on what appears to have been ample evidence pointing to a Hamas attack along the lines of that executed on October 7, but once the Hamas attack began, the failure of the IDF to defend against the attack, and the plodding, indiscriminate nature of the Israeli counterattack, which appears to have inflicted significant casualties on Israeli civilians that the Israeli authorities have attributed to the Hamas attackers, seriously eroded the notion of the invincibility and infallibility of the Israeli military and security establishment.
But this was only the beginning of what would amount to a strategic Israeli defeat at the hands of Hamas. The Israelis proceeded to mobilize some 300,000 reservists, most of whom were sent to the Gaza front. While these forces were assembled, the Israeli Air Force began a bombing campaign against the civilian infrastructure of Gaza, including hospitals, mosques, schools, and refugee camps, which shocked the world in terms of its lethality. By ignoring the fundamental precepts of international humanitarian law, Israel allowed itself to be characterized as a practitioner of genocide, and its actions against Gaza as war crimes.
This is the core of the Hamas victory—the political defeat of Israel on the global stage, where international sympathies rapidly aligned with the people of Gaza and Palestine, and away from Israel. War, the Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz famously noted, is politics by other means. Hamas has proven the maxim to its fullest extent, accomplishing politically that which could only be initiated by Israel’s criminal use of force against the Palestinian people.
But even as international pressure began to accumulate for Israel to halt its offensive, Hamas was able to achieve what many outside observers had believed to be unthinkable—it fought the IDF to a standstill in Gaza itself, inflicting significant human and material losses on the IDF. After declaring that Israel would never agree to a ceasefire or an exchange of prisoners with Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suddenly caved into international pressure to sign up for what became a six-day “pause” where humanitarian goods were delivered to the Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and Palestinian prisoners held by Israel were exchanged for hostages seized by Hamas on October 7. One of the major reasons for this decision lay not in the extreme pressure being put on Israel by the United States and its European allies for such an outcome, but the fact that the IDF was suffering serious losses on the battlefield in Gaza and along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon, where Hezbollah was engaged in military operations in support of Hamas. The casualties among Israeli main battle tanks were unsustainable, and the morale of the IDF soldiers was collapsing—indeed, Israel had to courts-martial two IDF officers who withdrew their battalion from the Gaza battlefield under pressure from Hamas.
For Benjamin Netanyahu, his administration of hard-right Zionists, and the Israeli security establishment, the ceasefire was a curse. Israel was compelled to enter such an agreement with Hamas by a combination of geopolitical and battlefield realities. But for an embattled politician such as Netanyahu, who was already facing a political crisis brought on by his undermining of the independent character of the Israeli judiciary in a blatant effort to make himself immune from prosecution on serious charges of corruption, the ceasefire created a window of political normalcy inside Israel which gave the Israeli population time to begin asking questions about October 7, and who was to blame for what has emerged as Israel’s greatest defeat in its history.
All fingers pointed to Netanyahu, which meant that to survive politically, Netanyahu needed to get his country back on a war footing. The Israeli decision to terminate the negotiated pause with Hamas was inevitable and predictable—Netanyahu’s political future depended on the chaos and violence that such an action would provoke.
But nothing has changed. Israel continues to slaughter innocent Palestinian civilians, generating even greater levels of international condemnation. The IDF continues to be pummeled by Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah on Israel’s northern border. The geopolitical and military situation for Israel will only worsen.
This was all predictable.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.”
Israel is, in fact, insane. While this insanity can be linked to the desperate political situation Netanyahu and his ruling coalition of hard-core Zionists have found themselves in, the reality is that the situation Israel finds itself in today was predictable.
Just ask Albert Einstein. While the insanity quote may not be his, Einstein can be quoted both about Zionism and the Israeli state.
In 1947, Einstein wrote a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru in which he addressed the need for a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. “The advent of Hitler,” Einstein wrote, “underscored with a savage logic all the disastrous implications contained in the abnormal situation in which Jews found themselves. Millions of Jews perished…because there was no spot on the globe where they could find sanctuary…The Jewish survivors demand the right to dwell amid brothers, on the ancient soil of their fathers.”
Einstein worried about the potential of a clash between the citizens of this new Jewish state, and the Arabs who lived on the land that would be incorporated into what would become Israel. “Can Jewish need, no matter how acute, be met without the infringement of the vital rights of others?” Einstein sked. “My answer is in the affirmative. One of the most extraordinary features of the Jewish rebuilding of Palestine is that the influx of Jewish pioneers has resulted not in the displacement and impoverishment of the local Arab population, but in its phenomenal increase and greater prosperity.”
Einstein penned these words in 1947, ignorant of the history that would come in less than a year, when Israel carried out the Nakba, of mass murder and expulsion of the Arab population of Palestine.
But Einstein should have known better, going with his gut instinct about the reality of an exclusively Jewish state. Speaking in New York City in 1938, Einstein noted that “I should much rather see reasonable agreement with the Arabs on the basis of living together in peace than the creation of a Jewish state…My awareness of the essential nature of Judaism resists the idea of a Jewish state with borders, an army, and a measure of temporal power…I am afraid of the inner damage Judaism will sustain.”
Looking at the harm caused by Israel under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, and successive generations of Israelis and Israeli leaders dating back to the creation of Israel in 1948, the inner damage to Judaism has been immense. And the damage will only continue to accrue so long as Israel persists in its insane campaign against Hamas and the Palestinians of Gaza.