Can Israel bring Hamas to heel, avoid endless rounds of fighting? - analysis

Multiple ex-senior IDF officials and Knesset members support Israel's aggressive new strategy for combatting Hamas and terrorism from Gaza.

Palestinian Hamas militants carry a rocket as they parade during an anti-Israel rally in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Palestinian Hamas militants carry a rocket as they parade during an anti-Israel rally in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip

Multiple ex-senior IDF officials, Settlements Minister Orit Struck, and a variety of Knesset members from different parties gave support at the Knesset on Wednesday to a new strategy for a more aggressive approach to ending the terror emanating from Gaza.   

Besides Struck, Likud MK Danny Danon, former IDF Maj. Gen. and IDF Comptroller Yitzhak Brick, Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman, Yisrael Beytenu and opposition MK Brig. Gen. (res.) Sharon Nir, Leo Dee, who lost his wife and daughters to terrorism, and others made presentations at the hearing.  

But much of the focus of the hearing was on a paper put out by former IDF intelligence analysis chief Brig. Gen. Yossi Kuperwasser and former MK and Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Zvika Hauser on behalf of the Middle East Forum.

In the paper, Kuperwasser called on Israel “to rid itself of Hamas's threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively the cost of threatening Israel.”

He lays out a series of initiatives, including:

“Militarily…using ‘intelligence intensified warfare’ against the ruling and operational infrastructure in Gaza, as it does in Syria, with no immunity for Hamas leaders.

Economically – conditioning the money and economic assistance on Hamas's ending all efforts to arm itself and attack Israel.

Culturally – completely ending indoctrination of hate and incitement to violence against Jews and Israel.”

Palestinian Hamas supporters attend an anti-Israel rally as rockets are displayed on a truck by Hamas militants in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip May 28, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Palestinian Hamas supporters attend an anti-Israel rally as rockets are displayed on a truck by Hamas militants in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip May 28, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)

Next, Kuperwasser dissects what he calls Israel’s mistaken policy which must be fixed. "Israel has ceded the initiative to the rulers of Gaza, seeking the longest possible intervals of relative calm between major eruptions of violence," said Kuperwasser.

"This permits Hamas continually to improve its capabilities and arm itself with more sophisticated systems. Israel needs a new, decisive strategy forcing Hamas to accept rules that rid Israel of this threat."

Israel aims to weaken Hamas

According to Kuperwasser, “Israel regards Gaza as a de facto state where Hamas is accountable for the use of force, though from time to time, as in Operations Black Belt in 2019 and Breaking Dawn in 2022, it preferred to address the PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] threat directly, realizing Hamas is unwilling.”

“Israel wants Hamas to be sufficiently weak that it is deterred from initiating armed conflict, yet strong enough to force its will over any potential competitor, such as PIJ, ISIS, or other Salafist groups,” wrote Kuperwasser, describing the problem.

In addition, he stated “Israel also seeks to keep Egypt on its side as a force that…will help ensure tranquility and stability. Israel desires to help the Gazan economy both because it wants prosperous neighbors and to make Hamas more reluctant to commence hostilities. In the end, Israel believes the division between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria is beneficial to its interests.”

Most problematically, argued Kuperwasser, “Israel refrains from using its economic leverage over Gaza for an extended period of time, rules out the possibility of a large ground operation, avoids eliminating key Hamas figures, does not retaliate in Gaza for Hamas terror operations originating elsewhere (even if Hamas manages them from Gaza), does nothing about Hamas incitement, and does not try to alter the negative role that UNRWA plays by eternalizing the conflict and promoting hate.”

He explained that, “This policy reflects Israel's view that Hamas's challenge from Gaza is a chronic problem that cannot be solved, and yet a minor threat compared with those from Iran, Hezbollah, the Israeli Arabs, and the Palestinians living under the Palestinian Authority.”

It is noteworthy that he flagged that this approach “rules out putting IDF soldiers in harm's way should a ground operation become necessary…and a fear that reuniting Gaza and the PA will invite international pressure on Israel to succumb to Palestinian demands…Israel is also worried that an attempt to proactively change the situation may raise tensions with the US….and with its regional allies Egypt, Jordan, and the Abraham Accords partners.”

To disarm and defang Hamas, he wrote that Israel must, “be able to thwart most terror attempts before they are launched and eliminate Hamas operatives at any level at will,” by improving its intelligence and its sharing of intelligence with its operations units.

Kuperwasser theorized that Israel may be able to undertake a major Gaza invasion with fewer Israeli casualties than expected due to “improved protection provided to ground forces. Israel has made some breakthroughs in this respect since 2014 by deploying more heavily armored personnel carriers in its ground forces (i.e., the Achzarit, Namer) and improving its anti-missile protection.”

For more effective fighting and to avoid striking Palestinian civilians, “the use of precisely guided munitions…has also been improved considerably, as was demonstrated in Operation Guardian of the Walls in 2021, Breaking Dawn in 2022, and Shield and Arrow in 2023.”

Pressed that IDF intelligence estimates consistently predict that a full-fledged IDF invasion of Gaza would lead to 500-1000 killed IDF soldiers and a larger number of killed Israeli civilians than in recent conflicts, Kuperwasser said he was not saying there would not be losses, but that they might be less than predicted.

He added that his main point was that the public must have a more robust debate about whether unending rounds of fighting with Gaza is actually better than the large one-time losses of one larger invasion, or of a fuller economic blitz on Gaza in the midst of any next round of fighting.  

Hauser wrote in his introduction to Kuperwasser’s paper, "Some doubt the possibility of disarming Hamas, thinking this either not feasible or that it would exact an intolerable cost to Israel.”

He said, “This recalls the debate among the Israeli leadership on the eve of Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002, when there was widespread skepticism regarding Israel's ability to regain control over large swathes of the West Bank in order to destroy the Palestinian Authority's terrorist infrastructure. Yet Operation Defensive Shield achieved this goal at a much lower human cost than initially feared.”

“The Gaza quagmire will not be resolved through further inconclusive rounds of hostility. To create a new reality, Israel must adopt a new policy that conditions Gaza's reconstruction on the dismantling of Hamas's rocket and missile arsenal, which threaten Israel's civilian population, violate the essence of international law, and must be ended,” wrote Hauser.

Hauser said, “Demilitarization should become the overriding goal of Israel's military strategy vis-à-vis Gaza. The most powerful army in the Middle East must immediately remove the threat from a far weaker terrorist organization and achieve a decisive victory after fifteen years of inconclusive fighting.”