Will Israel thread the needle?

Will Israel thread the needle?

Max L. Kleinman

Max Kleinman of Fairfield is the CEO emeritus of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest and president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.

After Iran launched more than 300 ballistic and cruise missiles and drones from its territory toward Israel, the Israeli war cabinet had to decide how if at all to respond. Because 99% of the rockets were intercepted by Israel, the U.S., and other allies with little damage to the Nevatim Air Force base and only one injury, President Biden advised Israel to “take the win” and not respond. He was concerned about further escalation with Iran.

While the president should be commended for his ironclad commitment for defense, the Israeli body politic demanded a response to maintain a modicum of deterrence. Otherwise, Iran would attack again with impunity. Then there was National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who demanded that Israel should “go crazy” in its response.

Sanity prevailed, and Israel’s response was deliberate and strategic. It penetrated Iran’s vaunted Russian supplied S-300 missile defense and bombed the air base in Isfahan, near Iran’s nuclear sites in Natanz. By doing so, Israel proclaimed to Iran that we can hit you anytime and anywhere if you choose to escalate. Israel’s missiles protected it against Iran, while Iran was exposed to Israel’s.

Israel’s nuanced approach, as of this writing, prevented any escalation, provided deterrence, addressed the internal need for a response, and maintained equilibrium with the U.S. and Gulf allies, which may provide traction for a longer-term military coalition against Iran and its proxies. In this respect, Israel threaded the needle of a complex military and geopolitical puzzle.

But since the devastating attacks of October 7, Israel has faced a series of Rube Goldberg-like obstacles in confronting Hamas.

Militarily, with an enemy hiding like a coward behind civilians, using hospitals, schools, mosques, and UNWRA headquarters as command and control centers, Hamas, with its hundreds of hostages, hid under a labyrinth of hundreds of miles of tunnels. In addition to the challenge of rooting out Hamas while limiting civilian casualties, Israel faced a Hobson’s choice of either freeing the hostages at the cost of military victory or not.

Then there’s the conflict with Israel’s chief ally, the U.S., about attacking Rafah. The U.S. rightfully is concerned about the inevitable civilian casualties, which are broadcast daily in the media. In a presidential year, Biden is concerned about losing the Arab vote in critical swing states such as Michigan and Minnesota. Israel has stated that it will remove civilians into the north, out of harm’s way, but has yet to convince the Americans that they will be safe. For Israel, it is a military and political imperative to vanquish Hamas in Rafah, where it harbors its remaining four battalions. If Hamas survives, it will attack again and again, igniting the genocidal cycle of murder against Jews and consigning the Gazans to perpetual destruction.

Geopolitically, Israel had the world’s sympathy for about a week. With a hostile media relying on Hamas’s exaggerated casualty figures, it followed Hamas’s propaganda tool kit, calling out Israel for genocide.

Enumerated by the media relentlessly, reported civilian casualty figures didn’t differentiate between terrorists killed and civilians. Israeli efforts to mitigate civilian losses through leafleting and creating safe passageways, which provides Hamas with information on where the attacks won’t occur, is, at best, underreported. West Point’s expert on urban warfare, John Spenser, compared  the IDF’s efforts to protect civilian favorably to our efforts to root out Isis in Mosul. He also characterized the urban warfare landscape, with its vast subterranean element, as unprecedented in modern warfare.

Meanwhile as Israel relentlessly pursues Hamas in the state of Gaza, ruled by Hamas for over 15 years, pressure is being applied for Israel to pursue a pathway to a Palestinian state. As a sign of friendship, the U.S. was the only country to veto a resolution bestowing statehood for Palestine. It is perplexing how the West pushes against Israel’s destruction of Hamas while pursuing statehood for Palestine. Has the West forgotten how Hamas defeated the Palestinian Authority in an election and violently expelled it to the West Bank? Most Israelis oppose a Palestinian state where the PA pays annuities to families of terrorists who have been killed, in violation of the Taylor Force Act. Most Palestinians prefer a one-state solution.

Concurrently, the U.S. State Department is making efforts to develop a grand bargain with Israel, entailing a defense pact with Saudi Arabia, giving it access to nuclear energy, and asking that it recognize Israel if the Jewish state pursues a pathway to statehood with a reformed Palestinian Authority. A prerequisite for any consideration of this, however, must be the military defeat of Hamas.

On the domestic front, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s favorability has plummeted, and it was  not helped by the Biden administration, which endorsed Senator Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s speech after Schumer (D-NY) called for new elections. Did FDR call for new elections after Churchill’s British army suffered humiliating defeats in Singapore and Tobruk? An ally doesn’t do that, let alone in wartime. Only the Israelis can.

The prime minister is now facing the prospect of obeying the Supreme Court’s mandate not to exempt the ultra-Orthodox from military service. This is an emotional subject for Israelis whose families lost loved ones and whose lives have been turned upside down by more than six months of warfare with more than 150,000 displaced Israelis. Because the charedi parties are an important bloc in his coalition, Netanyahu confronts the conundrum of obeying the Supreme Court while keeping his coalition together.

Considering all the moving parts Israel is facing on all these fronts, we hope and pray that it will thread the needle in defeating Hamas, maintain the equilibrium with its allies, chiefly the U.S., and have the wisdom to seize the opportunities that will strengthen its strategic posture now and for the future.

As we experience the season of our liberation, let’s pray for Israel as a refuge for all Jews and a light onto the nations.

Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014. He is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation and consultant for the Jewish Community Legacy Project.

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