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Israel has no good options left

A ground invasion of Gaza could last months or even years. Credit: Getty

October 28, 2023 - 8:00am

Three weeks after Hamas’s murderous rampage across southern Israel, with barrages of Hamas rockets still striking Israel daily, Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has found itself in a strategic bind. If Israeli forces enter Gaza to deliver the overwhelming military response to Hamas’s terrorist atrocities, they will find themselves facing a motivated enemy far more capable and better trained than Israeli planners assumed, deeply embedded within the enclave’s two-million-strong civilian population. A miles-long network of fortified tunnels extends beneath the Gaza Strip, ensuring the urban battle will be difficult and bloody. Israeli officials have braced the public for a campaign that may take months or even years to complete.

Yet Netanyahu must also balance his political need to destroy Hamas with the fear that a full-scale invasion of Gaza would cause Hezbollah to escalate its current tit-for-tat campaign of missile, drone and artillery strikes on Israel’s northern border. The Hamas rocket barrages are already thinning out Israel’s stockpile of Iron Dome missile defence munitions, and Hezbollah’s vast supply of around 150,000 rockets and missiles threaten to overwhelm Israeli defences, risking mass casualties among the civilian population and a further erosion of the country’s deterrent prestige. US and Saudi missile defences have already intercepted long-range missiles fired by Yemen’s Houthi militia towards Israel, and American forces across the region are hunkering down beneath a wave of rocket and drone attacks by Iranian-backed militia groups.

According to US officials, the Biden administration has pressured Israel’s government to pause its Gaza invasion until American missile defence systems can be rushed to the region to protect US troops from an escalated Iranian response. Yet the enforced pause can also be read as a means to limit Israel’s retaliatory operation until Netanyahu’s government, domestically unpopular and floundering over its war plan, can devise a workable strategy for Gaza. As the regional security analyst Michael Young observes

What seems to be happening […] is that the US is slow-walking Israel away from a full Gaza invasion, because they don’t feel it will work, its objectives are unclear, civilian deaths will turn opinion against the US and Israel, and it may spur a regional war.
- Michael Young

Yet a limited Israeli response, such as the clearing of a secure zone within Gaza’s borders or brief incursions into Gazan territory, which would leave the Hamas leadership intact, would be difficult to portray domestically or internationally as anything other than a strategic defeat. More, it would encourage Israel’s enemies towards further provocations. 

In the meantime, as the region teeters on the edge of a wider war and Netanyahu’s divided government struggles to devise a workable plan, Israel’s punitive air campaign in Gaza is rapidly eroding international sympathy. Around 7,000 Palestinians, including 3,000 children, are claimed to have been killed so far by Israeli airstrikes. The footage coming out of Gaza is as awful as anything from Syria at its worst, and despite Biden’s awkward shrugging off of the civilian casualties, both domestic and international pressure will eventually force Israel to dial down its aerial campaign.

All the choices now facing Israel’s planners are terrible. The window of opportunity opened up by international revulsion at Hamas’s atrocities against Israeli civilians is rapidly closing, and civilian casualties in Gaza have forced Israel’s government onto the back foot in justifying its campaign. Rhetorically in lockstep with Israel, in practice the Biden administration appears to be deeply sceptical of Israel’s capabilities and seeking an off-ramp away from full-scale war. American public opinion is far more divided on the Israel-Palestine question than ever before, and Washington’s unlimited support can no longer be taken for granted

If Israel invades Gaza, it will both incur and inflict horrendous casualties, with no realistic plan for what comes after victory. The Jewish state fears a wider conflict it may no longer be able to adequately sustain, yet inaction will itself encourage further attacks. Fifty years after the Six Day War that established overwhelming deterrence and limitless US support as the twin pillars of Israel’s security, both have been revealed as shakier than anyone expected. Before the full-scale Gaza War has even begun, with Netanyahu checkmated by rapidly shifting international dynamics, it already looks like Israel has suffered a strategic defeat.


Aris Roussinos is an UnHerd columnist and a former war reporter.

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Abe Stamm
Abe Stamm
8 months ago

I think the author vastly underestimates the capabilities and fortitude that the IDF, and a coalesced Israeli people, possess at this moment in history. It’s a time of war, and the infighting between political parties within the Knesset have been shelved, and will be shelved until Hamas is crushed. And, Israel could care less what the majority antisemitic United Nations Security Council has to say…and they’re barely listening to the signal calling from the White House, which is echoing the same anti-Israeli (pro-Palestinian) sentiment that has been in place within the Democrat party since Obama sat in the Oval Office.
Hamas is not going to be facing an army of teething babies, pregnant women, elderly men, and unarmed grandmothers. They’re going to face a coldhearted nightmare…troops trained to counter urban guerrilla tactics, who have access to the most sophisticated military surveillance equipment on the planet, much of it developed in Israel’s own Silicon Valley.
Israel’s only serious enemy at this point is Iran…and, the Iranians know that they’re a nuclear strike away from oblivion if they try to extinguish the Jewish homeland. Iran also knows that they are friendless…not even Russia or China will have their back if they choose to directly engage Israel. Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are 0 for 3 in trying to best Israel on the battle field…and today these countries are unequipped to engage in a full scale war. Egypt has no desire to go to war with Israel…they don’t even want Gaza back. Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank will learn what the definition of “disproportionality” means if they decide to join up with Hamas.
I personally visited Israel just after the 1967 war, when wreckages of blown up tanks were still in evidence and female IDF soldiers with Uzi submachine guns patrolled the streets with chilling effect. Flash forward 50+ years and the world is still underestimating what a country whose battle cry is “Never Again!” is capable of at a time of war.

Last edited 8 months ago by Abe Stamm
Mark Melvin
Mark Melvin
8 months ago
Reply to  Abe Stamm

I don’t think anybody underestimates the bravery and military skill of the Israelis. Rather things have moved onto the moral aspects of the situation sadly with people resorting to making public statements (thinking the UN t****r) rather than trying to resolve things in camera where there may be better chance to do so. Ugly situation all round.

Mark Melvin
Mark Melvin
8 months ago
Reply to  Abe Stamm

Just in case the moderators cancel the previous post…
I don’t think anybody underestimates the bravery and military skill of the Israelis. Rather things have moved onto the moral aspects of the situation sadly with people resorting to making public statements (thinking the UN maroon) rather than trying to resolve things in camera where there may be better chance to do so. Ugly situation all round.

John Williams
John Williams
8 months ago
Reply to  Abe Stamm

Yes Abe it was different back then. As a child in 1954 watching BBC news round for children I regularly saw footage of children on the Kibbutzes running for shelter when the Syrians on the Golan unleashed shell fire (without warning).
The left in those days supported Israel and like many others recoiled in horror at the PLO tactic of murdering unarmed civilians such as the bound Israeli athletes in Munich, thereby anticipating by decades Al Qaida’s dictum,
“ Why attack the tiger when you can kill the tethered goat”
Then in 1974 OPEC turned off the oil spigot, and the oil starved world panicked and began to turn on Israel.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

“The window of opportunity opened up by international revulsion at Hamas’s atrocities against Israeli civilians is rapidly closing”

Whilst this may well be accurate, it’s still a terrible indictment of the nature of international opinion as today’s vastly enhanced media has a feeding frenzy. I was young at the time of the 1967 and 1973 conflicts but can remember the news being presented, and how very different it was from today.
I guess if people can disregard the reality of 6 million Jewish deaths in the decade or so prior to 1945, they can disregard the atrocity of just 3 weeks ago in no time at all.

Alex Carnegie
Alex Carnegie
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I fear the author is correct. I agree that the news was better a few decades ago but it is what it is. Thinking strategically rather than morally, if Israel tries to conquer Gaza then – if the siege of Mosul is any guide – it will take months during which not only Muslim but western media and public opinion will swing against Israel. I suspect it would serve Israel’s interests better to maintain the siege until / unless the hostages are released and the military wing of Hamas is expelled. (Judging by the Israeli intercepts, the civilian wing of Hamas had no idea that the raid was about to be launched). Whether the Israelis are in the mood for a strategic, pragmatic and coldly rational approach is another matter.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago
Reply to  Alex Carnegie

If Israel has any sense they will keep the media well away

Don Lightband
Don Lightband
8 months ago

I for one would like to ask just what the *source* is for such outrageously high given casualty figures, or in other words who exactly is it within the Gaza strip counting all these supposed dead?

Last edited 8 months ago by Don Lightband
Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago

Literally one week ago this author assured us that “…the Israelis will be able to crush Hamas, slowly and bloodily, but inevitably: if they find themselves overstretched, they have the muscle of the global superpower to call on. There is nothing, beyond vague expressions of encouragement for both sides to respect human rights, that Britain can or should offer.” If he was right the first time, he was advising Britain to take the Irish path: skulk on the sidelines and let others do its fighting for it. That would be pitiful for a country which still enjoys the baubles of global leadership – including a permanent seat on the UN Security Council – but perhaps cynically justifiable. If he’s right this time, then Israel needs active British support now. And if Britain is genuinely indifferent or actually hostile in response to an existential threat to the security of the half the Jews in the world, then it is morally dead as a nation anyway.

Last edited 8 months ago by Stephen Walsh
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

This isn’t Britains conflict. We’re not a Jewish nation, we have no ties to the region, Israel came into being as a result of the murder of numerous Britons in the area, and the Israelis armed the Argentinians during the Falklands.
Why should Britain risk a single soldier or pound in this quagmire?

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

You’re right of course. After the Holocaust Jews should have politely waited their turn for a safe place to live, I’m sure based on historic experience that would have worked out for them. And a second Shoah in 70 years would be no big deal for the rest of us. What have the Jews have done for us anyway, apart maybe from providing the entire basis of Judeo-Christian civilisation, and a quarter of all the Nobel Prize winners. We wouldn’t miss them if they were gone, and the world would be a swell place to live and raise children in if we sat idly by and allowed genocidal attacks on the Jewish people happen again. It’s not like Britain and America got any boost in national self confidence or moral standing from defeating Nazi Germany. Thank you for elucidating that for me, and at least I know if millions more Jews were killed people like your good self will still be around to hark back to the Stern Gang, and selling arms to Argentina, and how they had it coming to them anyway.

Last edited 8 months ago by Stephen Walsh
D Walsh
D Walsh
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Judeo-Christian civilization LOL

The Judeo part devotes all their time and energy to undermining the Christian part

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

I think you will find that WWII was a grievous blow to the UK from which it ever recovered.
I remember the Historian Seven Ambrose being asked the question which country came off best and worst out of WWII.
Best was the USA. Worst was the UK

Phil Gough
Phil Gough
8 months ago

The Germans didn’t do so badly – all their war debt cancelled, protected from the Soviet threat by the allies, British leadership in creating civil institutions like broadcasting and trades unions

John Williams
John Williams
8 months ago
Reply to  Stephen Walsh

Stephen, those babies had it coming to them! They probably smiled at the funny men in masks.
you see they were too young to realise that you don’t smile at an Islamic warrior especially when he is in possession of petrol, bindings, matches and a hatred of life.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

You area absolutely right.
In fact Israel has always been hostile to the UK. I do not know why Mr Walsh thinks we are letting others do the fighting for us.
We earned the seat on the Security Council but we are in no position to have any pretentions towards global leadership. We are a client state of the US.
Finally, I again have to make the point why is all the ink being spilt on Israel while the media is effectively silent about the ethnic cleansing of 200,000 Armenians

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

You are sunk in the quagmire of more and more East European, Middle Eastern and African young men seeking refuge. Maybe you should start questioning who you should be supporting.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago

What has the UKs immigration policies got to do with this conflict?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Anyway, aren’t you a New Zealander?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago

Nope, British. I live in NZ however

Edit: Not sure how this factual statement about myself attracts a downvote. Whoever did that is pathetically partisan, or just hates Brits or New Zealand

Last edited 8 months ago by Billy Bob
Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Well for the avoidance of doubt, it wasn’t me, I’ve even given you an upvote to level up the score. Interesting though that a Brit living in NZ is accepted as just that. But a British Jew living in Israel is a settler colonialist whose murder can be celebrated by dancing in the streets back in Britain.

Last edited 8 months ago by Stephen Walsh
Randy Axelrod
Randy Axelrod
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

No one cares about the irrelevant British and their equally irrelevant moral standing.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
8 months ago

I’m not so sure about the softening support for Israel among the Americans. Are you sure you’re not talking about what you read on Twitter? It’s been said too many times already: “Twitter is mostly activists, journalists and creepy a**holes.” Not a good sample.
And if Trump is elected again he’ll probably do at least two or three flips, depending on the weather in Washington. The actual support is likely to remain constant.
Israel is a valuable ally, just like the UK. You’re the out-riders we depend on for our own security; not likely to be forsaken because of some loud-mouthed college kids.

D Walsh
D Walsh
8 months ago

The average American will support what the MSM wants him to support, if he starts thinking independently. Who cares, he has nobody to vote for, all candidates are Israel firsters, and return visitors to Epsteins Island

Last edited 8 months ago by D Walsh
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
8 months ago

The demographics of America is vastly different to what it was 50 years ago. The evangelical wing is becoming a smaller minority as times go by, with immigration from Asia and South America changing attitudes as most wouldn’t give a hoot about Israel.
The American government was supportive of Israel simply because doing so kept them on side with an important electoral bloc. If in the future there’s more votes to be had by being more forceful for the Palestinians then that’s what will happen

D Walsh
D Walsh
8 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Indeed, the great boomer die off has started, every time a boomer merges with the infinite, a POC turns 18 and has the right to vote. The interesting thing about this is, I’m not sure if the Israelis know it yet, take Netanyahoo for example, he attended MIT way back in the 70s, he no doubt still thinks of the US as a white country, it still is kind of, but not for too much longer. that will change its politics. support for Israel is very much STWPL. not everyone in the World has the same tastes and interests as white people, and why the hell should they

You can stick a fork in Israel, its done

Nik Jewell
Nik Jewell
8 months ago

Superb analysis (just like your previous articles).
I have seen other analyses that suggest that the US wants a war with Iran (and that we might expect a false flag to precipitate it), but the US, with its debt crisis, loss of control of its southern border, Ukraine and the South China Sea is not in a good position to prosecute such a war.
Worries are rising domestically, though. Apparently, there is a massive uptick in US Google searches for ‘draft’.

Abe Stamm
Abe Stamm
8 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

I remember going to the local post office to register for the draft the year the Vietnam War ended. I felt like I’d dodged a bullet…literally.
I don’t think the United States will be able to sit back and direct a proxy war in the Middle East like they’re doing in Ukraine. If the U.S. wants to fight Iran, which has 960,000 troops (including reserves), they’re going to have to put American soldiers at risk on the ground, in the air, on the ocean, and beneath the ocean (i.e submarines). I don’t believe the American people will quietly agree to this, especially if a military draft is to be resurrected.

Stephen Walsh
Stephen Walsh
8 months ago
Reply to  Abe Stamm

There is zero prospect of a military draft. Talk of a draft is pure fear-mongering / conspiracy theory. But the fact a draft would be unimplementable illustrates the weakening of US power and confidence.

Arthur G
Arthur G
8 months ago
Reply to  Abe Stamm

How are those 960,000 Iranians going to get anywhere we care about? If they attack Kuwait or Saudi Arabia, the entire Arab world will unite against them. Otherwise, they’re just marooned in Iran.

Arthur G
Arthur G
8 months ago
Reply to  Nik Jewell

The US didn’t “lose control” of our southern border. The Biden administration deliberately threw it wide open. It could be closed in 24 hours if they wanted to.

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago

I do not buy this argument. Hamas has declared its murderous intent to the world (barring Western Muslim marchers & our Deranged Progressives). But who cares about their moral equivocation and lies. The sickening pogrom of Oct 7 has given Israel and its IDF a clear & inequivocak moral licence to kill all of theHamas leadership and to totally destroy its tunnel system/rocket supply/fightersvand admin structures. Iran will not intervene. Both it and Lebanon are sick economically weak and troubled societies. Hamas are now like the Nazis and Germany in the 1940s. They must be permanently erased as a form of liberation for the Gazan people. When the war is won, then the world must unite to encourage Israel & a Hamas free Gaza and new secular leaders in the West Bank to build a new 2 state peace. But Hamas like the Nazis will have no part in it. First – destruction/extirpation liberation.

Mark Melvin
Mark Melvin
8 months ago

I sadly think you’re dead right Aris. Had Israel moved more quickly, they could have done something without the moral indignation of the world that will likely be forthcoming in ever greater amounts. Damned both ways. I cannot see a good ending here. Hope I am wrong though.

Randy Axelrod
Randy Axelrod
8 months ago

So this author is now an expert on Hamas’s fighting abilities? Hamas is only tough against helpless people not actual soldiers.

j watson
j watson
8 months ago

When is there ever a good option in this sort of scenario? The good option was missed years ago and Bibi had a key role in that when he deliberately stoked division within the PLA by covert support for Hamas to undermine the two state solution.
But whatever the past leaving Hamas in charge of Gaza and demonstrating the power of hostages and brutal murder almost certainly being calculated as worse than freezing and being paralysed to act. Israel sees this as existential. That changes the dial and regardless of calm considered, almost academic in tone sometimes, elsewhere powers what is going to happen.
I’m not convinced US is steering Israel entirely away from ground invasion. US better than anyone recognises the emotional gravitational force to act and if it has to take a side it’ll be squarely behind Israel. I think more possible it’s telling them to hold on and get everything fully prepped, including deterrence to Hezbollah, first. Degrading the tunnel system by letting the fuel run down that’ll be powering the system part of that, as is serious threats to push as many Palestinians south as poss. That’s brutal realpolitick but the leaflets being dropped daily are v clear.
I think only thing that stops this is a serious Sunni Arab state proposition to give safe passage to Hamas fighters and take on peacekeeping in Gaza under a potential UN mandate. But no signs the Arab will to do that, and that should be remembered too when the eventual historical reckoning happens.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
8 months ago

There is an alliance between Hamas, Syria, Russia, Iran, North Korea and China who are anti The West. Khomeini mde it clear he was anti West and wanted Israel destroyed.
Cardinal Wolsey had an astute policy in Europe; always support the underdog because only when a nation dominates Europe can they threaten England. We have supported nations against Spain, Louis VIV, Napoleon and Germany in WW1 and 2.
Who do we want to dominate the World, the above alliance or The West ? Remember judge the rulership of country by how they treat their own. China has killed 70M of it’s own people and the USSR 66M, so thye are quite prepared to kill foreigners.