Coronavirus: The unexpected opportunity for victory over Hamas

Contrary to the usual state of affairs between the parties, Israel now holds the cards.

BRING OUR citizens back from Gaza (photo credit: REUTERS)
BRING OUR citizens back from Gaza
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas has long exploited its sense of Israel’s “great weakness”: our love of and value for human life.
They have used human shields, and embedded weaponry in schools, hospitals and homes, all the while knowing that Israel is loath to hurt civilians, even enemy civilians.
Another tried and true tactic has been the use the prisoner deals. The most famous was the 2011 exchange of Gilad Schalit for 1,027 Palestinians in Israeli jails, hundreds of whom were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various terrorist attacks that cost the lives of over 500 Israelis. Of course, many of those released went on to commit additional acts of murderous terrorism.
Hamas is currently holding Israeli citizens Avera Avraham Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed hostage. They also hold the bodies of slain IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who were killed during fighting in the summer of 2014.
Although negotiations for the return of these Israelis have been ongoing for many years, suddenly the issue has taken on a new immediacy: Hamas leaders have declared that they want assistance in battling the effects of the coronavirus as part of any prisoner exchange.
“We have four prisoners and we are ready for indirect talks,” Ismail Haniyeh said in a television interview with the Gaza-based al-Araby TV network. “I’m optimistic about the possibility of reaching an agreement with the occupation in order to complete a prisoner exchange deal and achieve our goals.”
A senior Israeli source told Israeli TV that “an exceptional and rare opportunity has been created to reach a prisoner deal with Hamas.”
These statements require us to read between the lines. While Hamas is understandably concerned about the coronavirus pandemic, its interest is not at all focused on the welfare of its people, but rather on itself.
This “the people be damned” attitude is completely consistent with the tactics mentioned above, in which Gaza residents become the collateral damage for Hamas’s war and public-relations goals.
A sudden concern for the general welfare, while obviously necessary and welcome, is completely out of character for the Hamas leadership.
What is not surprising, though, is that the leadership cares about their own. And therein lies Israel’s great opportunity right now.
ISRAEL’S LEADERS need to understand that Hamas is coming to them from a position of weakness, not strength; of true fear for the welfare and future of its leadership. This is not the stuff of humanitarian gestures, as Hamas has no interest in protecting its people, only its leadership.
Contrary to the usual state of affairs between the parties, Israel now holds the cards. Israel has the negotiating advantage and must employ it for its maximum benefit.
Israel should think about victory now, to think strategically how to exploit this unlikely time and opportunity to defeat Hamas’s war aims once and for all.
It should demand that Hamas end its belligerent war against the Jewish state as the price for protecting the Hamas leadership.
Yes, a balanced prisoner exchange could and should be part of Israeli demands, but certainly nothing approaching the self-destructive Schalit deal.
Israelis involved in these backroom negotiations should be the ones to dictate terms, and not be the oh-so-grateful accommodating power eager for any scraps which Hamas might offer.
Victory is about imposing one’s will on the enemy. Allowing Hamas to dictate the terms of another prisoner release would be another victory for the terrorist organization and another defeat for Israel, which, like previous ones, would cost Israelis dearly.
The great irony is that the coronavirus appears to have done what the IDF’s superior military power has not been able to achieve: bring Hamas in haste to the negotiating table.
We must end the craven stance of doing “whatever is necessary” to bring our people home. Yes, this is humane and deeply rooted in Jewish values. However, Hamas has used this against us time and again, causing death and destruction in the name of our trying to preserve human life.
When Israel truly internalizes the reality, well known to Hamas, that the goal of war for any protagonist is to defeat and not be defeated, and that prisoner exchanges are part of war itself, we will be able to negotiate a truly humane prisoner exchange.
Israel must not lose this opportunity and must press its advantage. Now is time for Israel to seize the moment and inflict defeat on Hamas at the negotiating table.
The writer is the CEO of Im Tirtzu, Israel's largest grassroots Zionist movement.