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Home > 2024 > Pride Shattered, Israel Faces Grim Truths | M.R. Narayan Swamy

Mainstream, VOL 62 No 12, March 23, 2024

Pride Shattered, Israel Faces Grim Truths | M.R. Narayan Swamy

Saturday 23 March 2024, by M R Narayan Swamy


Five months after a Hamas blitzkrieg shook its foundations like never before, Israel realizes for the first time after its controversial birth in 1948 that its world will never be the same again.

Despite slaughtering more than 30,000 Palestinians, mostly civilians, in the unending and horrific war on Gaza, Israel’s supposed military might is nowhere close to locating its hostages still being held by Hamas.

And notwithstanding a mammoth intelligence machinery it has built over the decades, Israel has no idea how many of the hostages are even still alive.
Like a throwback to the earlier times when most countries shunned it, Israel finds itself hopelessly isolated diplomatically – a dramatic transformation from a time not too far back when even Saudi Arabia was ready to shake hands with it.

Today, the US administration, which remains Israel’s main military prop, is deeply unhappy with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to scale down the punishing military offensive in Gaza, much of which now lies in ruins.

Washington and some other Western powers have also come in conflict with Netanyahu over plans to hand over the administration of Gaza and the West Bank to a reformed Palestinian Authority once the current war ends. The Israeli prime minister is dead set against this.

The US, while remaining steadfastly opposed to the Hamas, had made it clear that Israel will be breaching a red line if it launches a military assault on Rafah, a southern part of Gaza where Tel Aviv insists Hamas retains its military strength and where an estimated one million civilians have taken refuge after being driven away from other places.

More important, the mood on the streets and campuses in much of the Western world, in particular the US, has turned massively anti-Israel over the genocide in Gaza. The situation is so bad in the US that the Biden administration has been forced to take a line that is increasingly infuriating Netanyahu. In a first, Washington has started taking steps to penalise violent Israeli settlers – a part of Netanyahu’s constituency — in the West Bank.

Saudi Arabia, undoubtedly the leader of the Sunni Muslim world, with which Israel is desperate to seek normal relations, has declared that it can no more accept a situation whereby Palestinians are denied a state of their own. At the same time, Saudi Arabia has distanced itself from what the Hamas did on October 7.

For decades, Israel bristled with arrogance that it was the sole democracy in a sprawling region dotted with monarchies and dictators, and that its famed intelligence services could not only take out its foes anywhere in the world but even covertly aid friendly Arab rulers.

All that pride was rudely shattered when thousands of Hamas fighters, amid a barrage of rocket attacks from Gaza, invaded southern Israel, massacred 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took abducted hundreds of Israelis and foreigners, including women, children and the elderly, in a brazen and unprecedented challenge to the Jewish state.

Israel’s supposed I-know-all intelligence services not only failed to anticipate the Hamas military build-up (which had been in the works for years) but its military’s response to the Hamas attack was pathetic. No wonder, October 7 has left the Israeli political-military leadership ashen faced.

The invincibility of the Israeli state, an image so carefully nurtured for decades, was shattered for ever.

Although Israel’s occupation of Palestine is legally and morally a blunder, what Hamas did to non-combatant Israelis was as wrong as what Tel Aviv is now doing to Palestinian civilians, who can in no way be blamed for the actions of an equally autocratic group.

In his hatred for the late Yasser Arafat’s Fatah and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, Netanyahu turned soft towards the rival Hamas, which took charge of Gaza in 2017. He came to believe that the Hamas would never again wage war against Israel in return for badly needed economic sops for its hard-pressed Palestinian population.

But Hamas, with close ties with Iran and its intelligence agencies, had other ideas. It slowly and secretly erected a mammoth network of solid tunnels all across Gaza to aid its fighting machine that would one day deal a bloody punch at Israel. That happened on October 7, 2023, notwithstanding the blemishes that accompanied the audacious strike.

When Israel launched its war on Gaza, it was widely believed – the Israelis certainly did so for sure – that it would be a short conflict when the Hamas would be destroyed and all Israeli hostages would return home to a triumphant welcome.

More than five months later, the war is still going on. Israeli leaders seem to have no real clue as to when it will end. Already, Israeli experts have concluded that even if the current Hamas leaders are killed, the idea of Hamas will not go away.

The Hamas incursion and Tel Aviv’s response has left Israel badly divided. The trust in the minds of average Israelis vis-à-vis their government is at its lowest ever. Israeli military leaders are warning that the country is at war on multiple fronts: Gaza, Lebanon and Yemen. Israeli leaders are saying that the situation is so grim that the young among the Jewish ultra-orthodox can no more be exempted from mandatory military service.

For his own political survival, Netanyahu wants the Israeli hostages back but on his terms; that is unacceptable to Hamas, which reportedly wants the release of up to 1,000 Palestinian prisoners from Israel in exchange for the elderly, women and children among the hostages. At home, more and more Israelis want Netanyahu to go for “betraying” the country on October 7.

The Israeli state is in an absolute bind. A nuclear power has been humbled by a Palestinian group. Israel is today paying the price for not coming to terms with a moderate Yasser Arafat and for steadfastly refusing to accept and live in peace with a Palestinian state.

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