Prof. ST Hsieh
Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum
October 30, 2023
The bloody Israel-Hamas war enters the third week with no signs of slowing down and no exit strategy. As of now, the scale of humanitarian disaster is already horrific, but no matter what, it is only going to get worse!
But there are two very different elements: public opinion vs leadership. We understand that the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas had caused pain, anguish, Israelis are angry and demand retributions. However, it is the political leaders and military commanders in Israel who have to make the decisions on what should take place next. They have to be cool headed and smart, otherwise more disasters will happen that will impact the global politics, not necessary to the long-term benefit of Israel. For example, Israel government proclaimed that their goal is to “eliminate the Hamas.” However, is it realistic? At what cost? Ultimately, even if Hamas were to be wiped out, will Israel be safe, or more dangerous?
In fact, while the world gravies with the Israelis right after the October 7th attack, the emotion is shifting toward sympathetic toward the Plastelines who are helplessly trapped in Gaza strip. As long as Israelis keep attacking, more and more global public opinion will turn against Israel.
Biden is in a very awkward position: he asks the US to fund Israel’s war: he will get the funds now but he will lose the global public opinion. The US then spends the resources and win the hearts of the Israelis, but the US-Israel alliance will get lonely and lonely as the fighting goes on.
Hamas should bear the responsibility for the attack on October 7th and pay a price. But the “price” has to be proportional to the “crime.” Otherwise, Palestinian grievance will only increase with time and their desire of revenge will only ferment more violences against Israelis and the US and her allies in this case.
It will also impact on President Biden’s political fortune: if the proxy war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war were to last by next fall, then Biden’s reelection bid is over. The world will have to be ready for Trump II.
The Israel-Hamas War Has Entered a ‘New Phase.’ Here’s What to Expect.
As Israel shifts from an air-only approach to one involving its ground forces in Gaza, it will face new challenges and dilemmas.
Israel has entered “a new phase in the war” against Hamas in Gaza, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said on Saturday. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has sent tanks and other ground forces into Gaza and kept them there while continuing its intense artillery attacks and aerial bombardment, but for now it has held off on an all-out ground invasion.
As Israel shifts from an air-only approach to one involving its ground forces, it is coming face-to-face with many challenges and even more dilemmas, some of which involve risks to Israeli troops while others concern broader strategic and humanitarian objectives.
The first challenge is the very nature of the fighting. Gaza is built-up and densely populated, with a population per square mile comparable with London. In its warren of narrow streets and tightly packed buildings, many of the Israeli military’s advantages in speed, communications, surveillance, and long-range firepower are neutralized.
Instead, the IDF will need to break up its forces, which will then be vulnerable to small bands of Hamas gunmen. The rubble created by Israeli bombing also offers opportunities for small groups of fighters to find cover against Israeli troops, set up sniper positions, and plant booby traps.
The U.S. military found urban operations in Fallujah, Iraq, difficult and highly destructive. Gaza is likely to be even harder. Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007 and has fought Israel there several times since. The group probably anticipated a tough Israeli response to its Oct. 7 attack, but even if it didn’t, Hamas has long prepared for an Israeli incursion.
Hamas has collocated military supplies and assets in civilian facilities such as schools, according to the United Nations as well as Israeli forces. The group has also built a vast tunnel network, thought to be larger than the London Underground. It can use these tunnels to hide supplies and leaders, as well as to ensure communication during conflict.
Israel seeks to destroy Hamas, which in practice means killing its leaders. They are proving difficult to find, however. They can hide in tunnels and blend in with the civilian population. Some will choose to fight, but the organization is well-institutionalized, and it will undoubtedly seek to preserve much of its leadership cadre, including key figures such as Hamas military commander Mohammed Deif.
Israel, in the past, has successfully targeted Hamas and other leaders, but this was a slow process, and even an occupation of northern Gaza would mean that Israel would not control large parts of the strip, allowing Hamas leaders to hide there. What’s more, many of Hamas’s senior political leaders don’t live in Gaza at all, but rather spend their days in much safer locales in countries such as Qatar, Turkey, and Lebanon.
Making this even harder are the more than 200 hostages Hamas has taken, which include many foreign nationals, including 54 Thai workers and around 10 Americans. At the very least, this will complicate the fighting: A building where Hamas leaders are hiding may also have hostages in it, as might a tunnel where Hamas supplies are kept. Sending troops in to attack these locations, let alone simply blowing them up, could kill the hostages.
In addition, Hamas has threatened to kill the hostages in response to Israeli attacks. It has not yet fulfilled this vow, as far as we know, but it could do so in the future. Indeed, the more successful that Israel’s ground operation is at striking Hamas, the more likely the organization would resort to desperate measures.
Israel also must consider the civilian cost in Gaza. Its operations there have already killed almost 7,000 Palestinians, according to the strip’s Hamas-run health ministry, and ground operations may be far bloodier. This concern will complicate combat as Israel tries to balance the civilian toll with the risk to its troops, as well as the likelihood that Hamas is mixing fighters and military assets among the civilian population.
Outside of its immediate operations, Israel has denied fuel, electricity, and other civilian necessities to Gaza on the grounds that Hamas will use these for military purposes. Already, this has created a massive humanitarian crisis, and this will only worsen as the days go on. If Israel bows to U.S. and international pressure to provide basic services and ensure that food and medicine flow into the strip for civilians, it will be in the unusual position of providing aid and waging war in the same area. Yet if it fails to do so, the already-high human cost will skyrocket, with children, older adults, and other noncombatants paying the price.
Although Israel’s own strategic interests and its leaders’ desire to assuage a shocked and angry public will be the primary shapers of military operations, Israeli leaders also must care about international, and especially U.S., opinion. Many Arab leaders privately loathe Hamas and would be delighted if Israel destroyed it.
Their publics, however, are pleased that Israel has been hit hard and outraged at the destruction that Israel is raining down on Gaza. Israeli operations have led to protests throughout the Arab world, including in countries such as Bahrain and Egypt, which have normalized relations with Israel. This normalization is a top diplomatic goal for Israel, and it will not jeopardize this lightly. Even Saudi Arabia, which until the war broke out was in intense negotiations with the United States to cement a normalization deal with Israel, has issued increasingly strident statements condemning Israel’s actions in Gaza.
Even more important is U.S. opinion. President Joe Biden and his administration have embraced Israel publicly but privately seem to be urging restraint. In addition to seeking to limit the human cost on the Palestinian side, officials in Washington are concerned about the risk to American hostages and the danger that the conflict will spread throughout the region and threaten U.S. forces and allies. As these worries mount, U.S. pressure on Israel to curb its operations may grow.
U.S. fears are well-founded, as it is possible this war may spread from Israel and Gaza to much of the Middle East. A broader war involving Hezbollah and other Iranian-backed groups would pose a grave threat to Israel, increase the risk of international terrorism, and implicate many U.S. interests.
Israel will face even more fundamental challenges when it seeks to end military operations. One difficulty in uprooting Hamas is the question of who—or what—would take its place. But if Israel simply strikes hard and leaves, Hamas will reassert itself, with no one to contest its control.
Anger in Israel is white-hot, demanding Hamas’s destruction, but Israeli leaders know that operations will be risky and could easily prove counterproductive. The risk of further Israeli casualties and other concerns are probably leading some in the Israeli government, perhaps including the prime minister himself, to tread cautiously.
The final result may involve some ground operations, but is likely to be a more cautious approach in general than the all-out invasion and long-term occupation that seemed likely in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 attacks. Such an approach would not destroy Hamas and will still lead to Israel casualties and far more suffering on the Palestinian side, but it would allow Israeli leaders to minimize many of the most difficult dilemmas that they face in Gaza.