For a week now, the world has watched a high-stakes, emotionally draining, and dangerous game being played out in Gaza. What began as a mediated four-day “truce” and swap of 50 Israeli civilians held hostage by Hamas in exchange for 150 convicted Palestinian-Arab terrorists has now been dragged out much further. Hamas, unusually self-aware for a jihadist outfit, has savvily dangled the possibility of the release of ever-more hostages in exchange for further “truce” extensions. Israel, which so greatly values human life that it once infamously bartered over 1,000 terrorists in exchange for captured soldier Gilad Shalit, is all but forced to go along.
But as tantalizing as it is to see more hostages reunited with their families, there are extraordinary costs if Israel prolongs these swaps and continues to indulge the fantasy of a “ceasefire.”
There is the concrete threat of the convicted terrorists freed from Israeli prison. Among those freed during the Shalit swap was Yahya Sinwar, the current leader of Hamas in Gaza (he is subordinate to Hamas’ Doha-based top brass) and mastermind of the Oct. 7 pogrom. On Thursday, in his first publicized statement since the assault, Sinwar minced no words: “The leaders of (Israel) should know, Oct. 7 was just a rehearsal.” That’s quite a threat. How many future Yahya Sinwars have already been freed this go-around? The Times of Israel noted that 55% of the first 117 terrorists released during the current swaps had been held for violent crimes, including attempted murder; 21% belonged to a jihadist outfit.
Tragically, it is not difficult to see what this looks like in practice. On Thursday morning, two terrorist brothers murdered three Israelis and wounded six others at a Jerusalem bus stop. Hamas claimed credit; turns out the brothers had previously been imprisoned for planning terror attacks on behalf of Gaza-based jihadists. Let’s pray this isn’t predictive of what will come from the current swaps. But more to the point: Some “truce” this is, with Hamas openly taking credit for murdering more Jews in cold blood.
Then there are the horrific incentives and massive warfighting costs that an extended “truce” entails. Israel’s open negotiation with a terrorist organization, even if conducted via American and Qatari intermediaries, necessarily incentivizes more future hostage-taking and exacerbates the peril for IDF soldiers in Gaza. Even more important, the obvious — indeed, intended — effect of this weeklong “pause” in fighting, from Hamas’ perspective no less than from the Biden administration and Qatar’s perspective, is to habituate the so-called international community to relative calm.
Thus, for each and every day the “truce” is extended, Israel will face increased pressure and hostility when it resumes military operations. Hamas has every incentive to string out the “truce”; the Biden administration, which would like to navigate an off-ramp to the conflict in the face of discontent from the Democratic Party’s Jew-hating progressive base, shares the same incentives. President Joe Biden may publicly claim to support Israel, but his deceitful actions belie his hollow words.
Israel cannot realistically turn down hostage swaps — at least at face value — no matter the tangible benefits to Hamas. But with Hamas now transparently violating the “truce” and calling all the shots, the Jewish state must regain the upper hand in this conflict immediately. Anything less than unmitigated Israeli victory in Gaza would be catastrophic.
But Israel is losing the war right now: It is waging war on Hamas’ terms and capitulating to Biden administration and Qatari pressure. Israel, a nation once vaunted for its military and intelligence prowess, appears extraordinarily weak. The optics of abiding by the “truce” while Hamas manifestly does not do so plays right into Hamas’ hands. Hamas is taunting Israel, further sullying its reputation and undermining its deterrent posture. Hassan Nasrallah and Ali Khamenei are surely laughing.
Especially after Thursday’s slaughter in Jerusalem, Israel has no choice but to put on its blinders, tune out the “international community,” and immediately reestablish deterrence by revving back up the IDF tanks and warplanes to eradicate Hamas in Gaza. In the aftermath of the Hamas Holocaust of Oct. 7, anything short of complete eradication is inexcusable; no citizen in a first-world country can live with such a genocidal specter constantly looming.
Eradication of Hamas is also necessary to deter Hezbollah, a considerably more dangerous foe than Hamas, to say nothing of the regional “head of the snake,” the Iranian regime itself. Israel’s destruction of Hamas would also have salutary global repercussions: The global jihad that has been emboldened since Oct. 7 would be subdued, and Jews all over the world facing skyrocketing antisemitism would finally feel a little bit safer at home.
This is an extraordinarily difficult position for an Israeli leader to be in. But Benjamin Netanyahu is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister ever, and he comes from a famed Zionist family. The future viability of Zionism now hangs on his next moves.