What is Israel’s endgame? And what is ours?

Much of Israel’s military conduct is strategically nonsensical when attempting to see it through the lens of its stated objectives

Fhar Miess is a resident of Brattleboro, chair of the Conservation Commission, a District 9 Representative Town Meeting member, and bookkeeper at Everyone's Books. He lived in Egypt from 2007 to 2009 and traveled by bicycle around Syria.

What is the endgame in Gaza? What does "winning" look like for Israel? As articulated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, its goals are "straightforward: to bring home hostages and defeat Hamas."

Let's consider how well Israel is accomplishing these war aims.

First, of the 257 hostages (many of whom were combatants and should more properly be considered prisoners of war) captured by Hamas on Oct. 7: four were released unilaterally by Hamas, 105 were released as part of a negotiated prisoner swap, and three (one a soldier) were rescued by the Israeli Defense Forces.

The number killed by Israeli bombardment or friendly fire or otherwise ranges somewhere between 42 (according to Israel) and 65 (according to Hamas). Military actions, then, seem particularly ill-suited to the goal of winning the freedom of Israeli hostages.

Israel's second stated objective is to "defeat Hamas," but what, exactly, is the Hamas that is meant to be defeated?

Hamas is many things: a political party, an armed faction of the Palestinian resistance, the main civil authority governing Gaza, and finally, an ideology.

The head of Hamas's politburo, Ismail Haniyeh, remains alive and well. Israel did appear to assassinate Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy chairman of Hamas's politburo in a drone attack in Beirut, but the organization's political infrastructure seems very much intact.

That same attack on Lebanese soil killed two Hamas commanders, but, despite this clear proficiency with precision-guided munitions, Israel does not seem to have made a similar attempt within Gaza itself (except when it targets journalists and health workers).

On the contrary, it has largely relied upon "dumb" unguided munitions (nearly half of the total), which are by their nature liable to inflict massive civilian casualties in a place as densely populated as Gaza.

And yet, The New York Times reports that "[a]fter more than 100 days of war, Israel's limited progress in dismantling Hamas has raised doubts within the military's high command about the near-term feasibility of achieving the country's principal wartime objectives."

That same article also states that "police officers and welfare officers from the Hamas-run government have re-emerged from hiding in [...] two northern cities, and tried to maintain day-to-day order and restore some welfare services." Thus, even areas claimed by Israel to be under its control continue to see Hamas civil administrators restoring order.

And as for Hamas as an ideology? A recent poll of Palestinians found that "57% of respondents in Gaza and 82% in the West Bank believe Hamas was correct in launching the October attack." Hamas's popularity in Gaza has waned in recent years, but Israel's relentless bombing of civilians seems to have reversed that downward trend.

From this, it should be clear that much of Israel's military conduct is strategically nonsensical when attempting to see it through the lens of its stated objectives.

Reducing Gaza to rubble isn't just unnecessary to free hostages and defeat Hamas - it actively makes it more difficult to do so.

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There is now a growing global consensus - backed up by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling- that a genocide is quite likely occurring.

Contrary to the protestations of many who defend Israel, "genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" aren't just buzzwords meant to make Israel look bad; they are the only conceivable rationale for Israel to be conducting this operation as they are.

Israel may be coming to terms with its strategic failure in achieving any of its wartime objectives in Gaza, stated or otherwise, so we can expect it to pivot to a diplomatic assault - one which is quieter, but no less deadly or injurious to Palestinians. We should not allow ourselves to be deceived that a genocide and ethnic cleansing has been averted when a ceasefire agreement is inevitably signed.

This, I would argue, is Israel's endgame: the ethnic cleansing that it fails to achieve through military operations Israel will continue to pursue through settlement expansion, through the dismantling of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), through the buying of U.S. politicians by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), AIPAC's "Democratic" arm.

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What, then, is our endgame, for those of us who want to see safety and security both for the Jews who have suffered under millennia of antisemitic oppression as well as for Palestinians, who have suffered under over a century of British and Zionist oppression?

A January poll shows most of our elected decision-makers are out of step with the electorate on Gaza, but this issue highlights just how inadequate our political leadership is to the task of tackling any of the challenges we face: climate change, rampant wealth inequality, mental health crises, housing affordability, etc.

We will need to build collective power and use it strategically to stop the wars and build the solutions we need.

And we will need to always remember the endgame we are working towards: freedom, justice, and collective liberation for all.

This Voices Viewpoint was submitted to The Commons.

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