Opinion: Is Israel Winning the War Against Hamas?

 Israel's military operates in the Gaza Strip during a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, on November 27, 2023 (photo credit: IDF SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

Israel's military operates in the Gaza Strip during a temporary truce between Israel and Hamas, on November 27, 2023

Israel is winning the war. Just not the way people and the government may think.

The government set unrealistic goals for the war and it would have been wiser if the government had been more modest with the war aims.

But the fact is that if the government had set more reasonable goals, and if one looks at such goals that were achievable and desirable, Israel has quite a few achievements to date.

The IDF has eliminated 80% of Hamas's organized military. With or without the potential impending invasion of Rafah, the IDF has already taken apart 19 out of 24 Hamas battalions, killed around 14,000 terrorists, wounded potentially close to a similar number, and arrested thousands more.

In purely quantitative terms, there are still maybe 30% or more Hamas foot soldiers who faded into the civilian population. But as a unified and organized combat terror organization, the IDF has demolished not just a majority but the vast majority of Hamas's military force.

 Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024 (credit: REUTERS/DYLAN MARTINEZ)Enlrage image
Israeli soldiers operate in the Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024 (credit: REUTERS/DYLAN MARTINEZ)

In all of the past rounds with Hamas, the most terrorists Israel ever killed was just over 1,000. The blow Hamas has suffered is not worse than the past rounds. It has been a blow of a whole different order of magnitude.

Majority of rockets stopped

The IDF has stopped most of Hamas's rockets. Hamas managed to fire 14 rockets on IDF soldiers in Gaza on Sunday. And there has never really been a time since the war started where there was zero rocket fire for a full month. But no rockets have been fired beyond the South since January.

Even the rockets fired on the South have been few and far between, sometimes with a full week going by with zero rockets, and in most cases with only one or two very weak rockets being shot into open fields right near the Gaza border.

The bottom line is that after all past rounds and whatever blows Israel had struck against Hamas, the terror group still had the capability to fire long-range rockets against almost any Israeli target. Hamas's rocket power was so versatile that it was adopted orthodoxy that the IDF could not stop it.

The IDF has mostly proved this was false. Hamas can no longer do anything near what it did before and likely will not be able to do so again for some years to come, if not longer.

No longer an invasion threat

Now, Hamas is no longer an invasion threat. 20% of the organization still exists as of Monday. And even if the IDF takes apart the remaining five battalions, most of which are in Rafah, somewhere between 3,000-10,000 Hamas terrorists will probably continue to be at large, hiding among the civilian population.

But they are incapable of organizing a collective fight against the IDF within Gaza, let alone trying to stage any kind of offensive maneuver. This is not a case of disrespect or arrogance, such as how the IDF improperly disregarded Hamas's 35,000 or more fighters before October 7.

Now, the IDF has personally ensured that Hamas's military force has been taken apart. This does not mean that Hamas could never invade again. The IDF must permanently maintain a much larger standing army on all borders going forward after October 7, and at some point, Hamas could present an invasion threat again. But in the coming years, Hamas will not represent such a threat.

A security zone

One of the additional reasons Hamas cannot invade and will also be less of a rocket threat certainly in the coming years is that the IDF has established a new security zone running along the entire Gaza border - not only in northern Gaza.

Kilometers of Gazan housing have been eliminated to make it easier for the IDF to track any physical movement toward the security zone, let alone any attempt to get past the security zone toward the actual Israeli-Gaza border. Eliminating these built-up areas has also made it harder for Hamas to organize any military logistics close to the border under cover of an urban setting.

5. Residents returning to the South: Many residents may not return for months or even longer, especially in villages that were physically destroyed on October 7 and will need longer to rebuild. However, the vast majority of the residents at the hern Gaza border have returned or are in the process of returning. This is a product of mostly eliminating Hamas's invasion and rocket threats.

Elimination of Hamas tunnels

In 2014, Israel did its largest elimination of Hamas tunnels. It eliminated around 31 Hamas attack tunnels against Israel. This was considered a major accomplishment, But the IDF did almost nothing against Hamas's deep internal Gaza network and did not touch any of the networks in Khan Yunis.

This time, the IDF has destroyed dozens and dozens of kilometers of attack, defense, and strategic tunnels throughout Gaza in both the North and the South. For the coming months and likely years, it will be much harder for Hamas to organize, smuggle, or accomplish anything real militarily because it has lost so much of its tunnel network assets. The network is far from being destroyed, but that could take years of work. But it has finally been hit in a deep way that no prior rounds had succeeded in coming close to doing.

Hostage crisis

The IDF got back in negotiations or in a couple of operations, over 80 of the around 250 hostages. This is mostly considered a failure by the Israeli public because it is only around one-third, but it is still far more than zero. More importantly, it was never realistic to expect to get back all of the hostages. Many were dead back on October 7, and we just did not know.

There are debates about how Israel should have conducted its invasion and whether the government should have cut an earlier second hostage deal as opposed to holding out for better terms now into May, but no serious political contenders opposed invading Gaza. The moment the IDF invaded Gaza, some dozens more hostages were going to die, either at Hamas's hand or accidentally during IDF attacks.

None of the above accomplishments should take away from the war and the government's shortcomings. 

Government shortcomings

The explanation for why the invasion was dragged out over several months as opposed to going into all the parts of Gaza all at once and making a shorter war is serious, but it may have been gravely mistaken. Maybe the war could have been much shorter.

Additionally, the war has not eliminated Hamas. Maybe Hamas will later be eliminated, but it is not close to being gone because Hamas is both a political and military movement, and almost nothing has been done to replace the political movement. 

Along with the 80 hostages rescued, probably around 100 hostages are dead, and around 70 are still held by Hamas. Pretty much every Israeli expected that an extensive invasion would have returned a much higher percentage, whether by negotiation or special operations rescues. There have only been two real such rescues to date.

The government has ignored the "Day After" issue, replacing Hamas with someone else, which has allowed Hamas to rally for three months after it was defeated in early February in Khan Yunis. This has been precious, wasted time, which Israel may not get back. The options to replace Hamas are imperfect, but they are all better than sticking with Hamas, which the government has essentially chosen by way of indecision.

Finally, The war's length was ignored by the government in terms of the toll it would take on Israel's relationship with the US, legitimacy worldwide, and threats from the International Criminal Court.

This is without getting into questions about the new front with Hezbollah.

But after these shortcomings, other than the Day After mess and maybe that some dozens more hostages could have been freed somehow (probably there would have been legitimacy problems even with a shorter war), the largest problem for understanding the war as a success or failure is that the government overpromised. 

Hamas can be eliminated over years of mixing together the war and replacing it with a new diplomatic solution supported by Israeli allies. Still, the war by itself was never going to do this, and there was no scenario where all the hostages were going to come home.

So, the government did not achieve its stated goals, and there have definitely been errors and squandered opportunities. Additional errors of not replacing Hamas in Gaza could squander more achievements in the future, but that is a game that is still in play.

However, if the question is: did Israel radically improve its security situation vis a vis Hamas compared to all prior rounds of conflict - the answer is unquestionably yes, and then some.


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