In its war with Hamas, what should Israel do now?

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In its war with Hamas, what should Israel do now?

April 3, 2024 -

Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah)

Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah)

Palestinians inspect a vehicle with the logo of the World Central Kitchen wrecked by an Israeli airstrike in Deir al Balah, Gaza Strip, Tuesday, April 2, 2024. (AP Photo/Ismael Abu Dayyah)

US President Joe Biden said this week that he is “outraged and heartbroken” by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza that killed seven aid workers. Israel’s investigation into the incident that killed people working for the World Central Kitchen “must be swift, it must bring accountability, and its findings must be made public,” he added.

The aid workers were traveling in two armored vehicles clearly marked with the World Central Kitchen logo and a third vehicle when they came under fire late Monday night. The convoy was hit even though it coordinated its movements with the Israeli military, the group said. The workers were leaving a warehouse in central Gaza where the team had unloaded more than one hundred tons of humanitarian aid that had arrived by boat earlier that day.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged Israeli’s responsibility for the attack. “Unfortunately, in the last day there was a tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” he stated. “It happens in war, we are fully examining this, we are in contact with the governments and we will do everything so that this thing does not happen again.”

The Israeli military chief of staff also said in a video, “It was a mistake that followed a misidentification, at night during the war in a very complex condition. It shouldn’t have happened.”

“Spreading terror and delivering death”

Israel clearly should be held responsible for this tragedy. But Hamas should also be held responsible for instigating this war through its horrific October 7 invasion that killed more than 1,130 people. In this number were 695 civilians, including 36 children.

United Nations experts found evidence that Hamas committed sexual assaults that day, including rape and gang rape, and also identified “clear and convincing” evidence that Hamas raped and tortured hostages it took back to Gaza. However, the terrorist group continues to deny these atrocities and claims that it sought to “avoid harm to civilians.” It further blames Israeli helicopters for killing “many” of the 364 civilians massacred at the Nova music festival.

In its view, since “conscription applies to all Israelis above the age of eighteen” and “all can carry and use arms,” Hamas considers all Israelis to be legitimate targets.

In response, Wall Street Journal columnist Matthew Hennessey notes:

The only thing Hamas takes responsibility for is doing what it loves: spreading terror and delivering death. When a bomb goes off in a marketplace, it claims responsibility. When a crazed maniac knifes random people on a bus, it claims responsibility. But when the subject is its failure to give Gazans a better life, Hamas throws up its arms. It didn’t take responsibility for the lies it told about the misfired terrorist rocket that hit Gaza City’s Al-Shifa hospital in October, or for that matter for using the hospital as a command center. It doesn’t take responsibility for the human calamity it has unleashed on its people with the unspeakable atrocities of Oct. 7.

No. Hamas, in its rhetoric and propaganda, pushes all responsibility for the suffering of Gazans onto Israel—and not just Israel, onto Jews and Americans. Hamas is always innocent, always at the mercy of perfidious forces.

This performative helplessness allows Hamas to play the perpetual victim when, in fact, it is a murderous gang of dead-end losers.

“What would you have Israel do to defend itself?”

However, a critic of Israel will point to the tens of thousands of civilians in Gaza who have died as a result of the IDF’s incursion following the October 7 invasion. The local Ministry of Health reports that more than thirty thousand have been killed through the end of February, an estimate confirmed by outside experts.

This in addition to the devastation to hospitals, other buildings, and critical infrastructure in Gaza, along with the humanitarian crisis unfolding as civilians are displaced and many struggle for food, water, and shelter.

Many see this as genocide on Israel’s part. Even some who support the nation’s right to defend itself and the resulting necessity of its incursion into Gaza now believe that the IDF has gone too far and that a temporary or even permanent cease-fire should be enacted.

David Brooks responded in his recent New York Times article, “What Would You Have Israel Do to Defend Itself?” He writes that he talked with security and urban warfare experts and scoured foreign policy and security journals in search of answers to his question.

The “thorniest reality” of the conflict, according to Brooks, is that Hamas constructed between 350 and 500 miles of tunnels where it lives, holds hostages, stores weapons, builds missiles, and moves from place to place. By some Israeli estimates, Hamas spent about a billion dollars building these tunnels, money that could have gone to building schools and starting companies.

Many of its most important military and strategic facilities are built under hospitals, schools, and other civic centers. Its server farm, for instance, was built under the offices of the UN relief agency in Gaza City.

When Israel destroys these tunnels, the buildings above them are often destroyed as a result.

A strategy built on “human ammunition”

Brooks reports: “In this war, Hamas is often underground, the Israelis are often aboveground, and Hamas seeks to position civilians directly between them.” An MIT professor describes this strategy as “human camouflage” or even “human ammunition.” Hamas’s goal is to maximize the number of Palestinians who die and in this way build pressure for Israel to end the war before Hamas is wiped out. Its survival depends on making the war as bloody as possible for civilians until Israel relents.

John Spencer, who serves as chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute at West Point, served two tours in Iraq and has made two visits to Gaza during the current conflict. He told Brooks that Israel has done far more to protect civilians than the US did in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For example, Spencer reports that Israel has warned civilians when and where it is about to begin operations and published an online map showing the areas to leave. It has sent out millions of pamphlets, texts, and recorded calls warning civilians of operations to commence. It has dropped speakers blasting out instructions about where to go and conducted four-hour daily passes allowing civilians to leave combat areas.

According to Spencer, these measures have telegraphed where the IDF is going to move next and “have prolonged the war, to be honest.”

“There is no magical alternative military strategy”

Brooks reports that the IDF’s strategy has been “remarkably effective against Hamas forces.” It claims to have killed over 13,000 of the roughly 30,000 troops, disrupted three-quarters of Hamas’s battalions so that they are no longer effective fighting units, and killed two of five brigade commanders and nineteen of twenty-four battalion commanders.

As of January, US officials estimated that Israel had damaged or rendered inoperable 20 to 40 percent of the tunnels.

However, as Brooks notes, “Global public opinion is moving decisively against Israel.” In addition, “Israeli tactics may be reducing Gaza to an ungovernable hellscape that will require further Israeli occupation and produce more terrorist groups for years.”

After surveying the options available to Israel, from conducting a much more limited campaign to targeted assassinations of Hamas leadership, a counterinsurgency strategy, and stopping the conflict altogether, Brooks concludes that “there is no magical alternative military strategy.” He writes:

If this war ends with a large chunk of Hamas in place, it would be a long-term disaster for the region. Victorious, Hamas would dominate whatever government is formed to govern Gaza. Hamas would rebuild its military to continue its efforts to exterminate the Jewish state, delivering on its promise to launch more and more attacks like that of Oct. 7. Israel would have to impose an even more severe blockade than the one it imposed before, this time to keep out the steel, concrete, and other materials that Hamas uses to build tunnels and munitions, but that Gazans would need to rebuild their homes.

If Hamas survives this war intact, it would be harder for the global community to invest in rebuilding Gaza. It would [also] be impossible to begin a peace process.

I would add that if Hamas is allowed to survive and thus to continue its terrorism against Israel, the future of the Jewish state itself would be in question. Israel’s enemies know they cannot defeat the IDF through conventional military means. But they also know that the vast majority of Israel’s Jewish citizens could easily thrive elsewhere in the world if they were to leave Israel. If these enemies can mount a war of attrition that convinces the Jewish people that Israel is no longer safe for them and their families, they could provoke an exodus from the Jewish homeland that accomplishes their overall goal of ending Israel’s existence.

What they could not do with soldiers, they could do with terrorists. This is why an Israeli commander said after October 7, “If we do not defeat Hamas, we cannot survive here.”

How should Christians view the war?

Here’s the point I want to make today: each side is acting in accordance with its fundamental values.

After leading more than thirty tours to Israel, I can attest that both observant and secular Jews who live there embrace a biblical worldview that values the sanctity of all human life. Accordingly, as Brooks and others have noted, the IDF has gone to extraordinary lengths to protect civilians in Gaza.

In fact, Col. Richard Kemp, a retired British Army officer who served in Afghanistan, goes so far as to call Israel “the world’s most moral army.”

Hamas, by contrast, embraces a worldview that sees Jews as “apes” and “pigs,” sees all Israelis as complicit in a perceived attack on Palestinians and Islam, views terrorist attacks against them as a justified defense of Islam, and even views Palestinian civilians who die as a consequence of Hamas’s actions as “martyrs” to their cause. For their part, 71 percent of Palestinians support Hamas’s decision to invade Israel and 70 percent are satisfied with the role Hamas has played during the war.

As Christians view this war, it is vital that we adopt Israel’s worldview rather than that of their enemies.

Scripture is clear:

  • God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth” (Acts 17:26).
  • Accordingly, “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11).
  • With God, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
  • “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him” (Romans 10:12).
  • In heaven there will be “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

Now we are called to love others as God loves us. With God’s people,

“There is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave free; but Christ is all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).

This fact calls us to pray fervently:

  • Ask God to protect both Israelis and Palestinians and to provide for their needs.
  • Pray for their leaders to seek justice and righteousness for all.
  • Intercede for America’s leaders to do the same.
  • Pray and work for all Jews and Muslims to turn to Christ as their Messiah who alone can change the human heart and bring true peace to humanity.

Scripture calls us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6), seeking that shalom that is peace with God, others, and ourselves. Israel and the Middle East especially need such intercession from God’s people now.

For more, see my digital book, The War in Israel: What You Need to Know about This Crisis of Global Significance, and especially Chapter 8: Hamas and the existential threat Israel faces today.

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