The only way to win is to pin Hamas in place and destroy it.
Terrorists and insurgents have one defensive strategy. When faced with superior force and numbers, they pull back, melt into the civilian population, and wait for a nation-state to exhaust itself and tire of hunting them.
Taking out a terrorist group requires moving fast, being agile, gaining the element of surprise, and choking off exits for the terrorists.
After a fairly slow start, Israel showed it had a good handle on speed and agility in ground attacks. It bypassed Hamas kill zones and took key Hamas infrastructure. But the problem is that Hamas is not a conventional military and seizing territory and infrastructure counts for only so much unless it’s used to choke off the movement of terrorists.
And then finish them.
Qatar, a state sponsor of Hamas, has been pushing for a ‘ceasefire’ deal in which some (not all) hostages will be traded for an extended ceasefire of a number of days. Hamas supporters around the world have been frenziedly chanting “ceasefire”.
The goal is the same.
Why does Hamas want a ceasefire? It needs time and space to escape the trap that Israel spent time and blood constructing.
Giving it to them would be a strategic disaster.
The lesson of Al-Shifa Hospital is that trying to conduct a humanitarian assault doesn’t work. Certainly, if Israel hopes to militarily free hostages, it can’t slowly edge its way toward its goal while offering every possible humanitarian concession. Israel has to strike quickly and unexpectedly. A difficult thing to do in urban ground warfare already.
Hamas bet that it could wait out Israel’s response. It did so in the past. Why not again?
The Biden administration would like a hostage deal and it’s not shy about dealing with terrorists. Qatar is exploiting that. And Israel’s government has internal divisions. Benny Gantz has emphasized that the war will go on until “our sons and daughters come home.” That’s a hostage release scenario. Not Netanyahu’s goal of destroying Hamas.
And we’ve already seen from Al-Shifa hospital that Hamas will kill hostages if it can’t use them as leverage.
The only way to justify this operation is to pin Hamas in place and destroy it. The failure to do that will drag this out until international pressure forces an end to it. Hamas forces will slip away, regroup, and relaunch their operations.
And that would amount to at best a stalemate if not a very expensive Hamas victory.