Fri, Mar

Hamas Made a Strategic Mistake


GELFAND’S WORLD - It turns out that Hamas made the same mistake that so many other radical organizations have made, at least if you believe Kobi Michael's evaluation. His interpretation is explained in the CNN interview conducted by Peter Bergen, which you can find here.  And what is that view? It's that Hamas expected all the other Palestinians to join them in a mass uprising against Israel, from the West Bank to Lebanon.

It's not a lot different from the belief system that developed among anti-Viet Nam War radicals in the 1960s. They too expected that the government would come down so hard on anti-war protesters that there would be a mass uprising. It's probably not a lot different from what some of the pro-Trump group believed when they stormed the Capitol. Many have said so directly -- the ones who talked about being in a second Civil War. They expected to be joined by tens of thousands of fellow protesters all over the country, and found themselves alone.

There is a dangerous kind of wishful thinking that develops in such groups. Admittedly, groups like Hamas can look back on the successes of the Nazi Party, but they don't seem to see the totality of the historical picture. They also have as role models the Afghan Taliban and the current Iranian leadership, but they must be misunderstanding the existence (and resolve) of Europe and the United States.

The Quandary

There is a critical decision to be made among the western allies, which is to say, by Israel and the United States. Shall the safe return of the hostages be the paramount goal, or shall the total defeat of Hamas be the goal? These may very well be contradictory goals. The former might be achieved by a pause in the destruction of Gaza, perhaps with the taking of several thousand prisoners by Israel. You remember how these things go. The Israelis will give back all the prisoners they hold in exchange for the return of the hostages. Or perhaps the return of the hostages might be achieved by some long term agreement on the supply of water and electricity to Gaza. We might even speculate that the pause in the invasion of Gaza exists to allow such negotiations to start.

I don't think that this is what is going to happen. There are a number of historical lessons and models that argue against it. For the more cynical among us, I might remind Americans about the electoral fate of Jimmy Carter when he did not act with proper determination against the seizure of Americans as hostages. At what point are the Republicans going to start counting off the days of the hostage taking, considering that we are already into the second week?

Of course the Iranians have been careful to deny complicity in the attacks, but I don't think that a lot of Americans -- particularly Republican politicians -- are going to buy it. Come to think of it, I don't think Democrats are going to buy it either. And here we are on Day 10, going into Day 11.

The Oops moment for Hamas

If Kobi Michael is correct and Hamas intended their October 7 attacks to result in a widespread uprising from all the countries surrounding Israel, then they must be coming to the conclusion that they goofed. They killed enough Israelis and Americans and Thais and numerous other nationalities to really, really piss people off, but their war never got started. The Israeli army is not being forced to defend Jerusalem or Tel Aviv against thousands of insurrectionists.

Quite the contrary. It is the Hamas stronghold of Gaza that is now in the position of defending itself or surrendering its territory.

Getting back to history

Western nations have been getting the idea that giving in to terrorism is a bad idea. The modern version of this argument goes back to the Munich Agreement of 1938, where Britain and France gave away part of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany. Neville Chamberlain, representing the Brits, announced "Peace in our time," although he probably did not believe it himself. Chamberlain has had the word "Appeasement" wrapped around his neck ever since. The lesson that anti-appeasement folks have argued ever since is that you have to stop the bad guys as soon as possible, before they get that grip around your throat.

The American policy in the ensuing world war did not revolve around getting hostages returned. We understood that American and British aviators were being held as prisoners of war in Germany, and we knew that substantial numbers of prisoners were being held by imperial Japan, often under truly difficult conditions. The policy was to demand unconditional surrender, and unconditional surrender was eventually achieved.

There are dangers which are truly existential -- a much overused word, but referring to something that threatens the existence of our country or our lives. Hamas intended to begin the process which would destroy Israel. The lesson is clear that such attacks will not stop simply by Israel asking politely, or by another round of negotiations.

The Saturday attacks make clear that there is no longer any reason to engage in such talks, at least until Hamas has been fatally weakened.

Getting back to the unpleasant military and political stresses that now fall upon the American government: The first time that Hamas ceremonially kills an American hostage, it is necessary for Joe Biden to order a military strike against some suitable target, using the power of one or the other of our carrier task forces in the area. Or perhaps he would prefer to order an amphibious landing along the shoreline of Iran, carving out an area of control, enlarging it day by day, and waiting for the Iranians to open negotiations. I know this sounds a bit Dick Cheney-ish, but we actually would have a reason to engage in such conduct.

What of Israel and its own hostages? As I pointed out above, the initial Hamas attack did not go well in the sense of instigating a new Palestinian revolution. Hamas is stuck with hostages even as its territory and its fortresses are about to come under Israeli attack. We can hope -- admittedly without any certainty -- that Hamas will keep the hostages alive simply because having live hostages might be of some use later.

There is one utopian solution to the present conflict, which (to borrow a page from the British after WWI) would be to create a new Gazan homeland or homelands. A large number of Gaza residents might be willing to depart, provided that they have somewhere appealing to go. There is plenty of oil money to build the city of New Gaza or several such cities in different middle eastern locations. It's an imperfect solution, but the status quo is worse.

Addendum: A View from the Balcony

 The LA Opera has just completed its run of Mozart's Don Giovanni. I've titled this piece A View from the Balcony to indicate that what you see and hear up in the rafters is not necessarily what you get from third row center.

To put things in perspective, it's hard to find fault with a Mozart masterpiece, and James Conlon's conducting, and the excellent orchestral playing worked well, even as far from the stage as I was. But from that distance, there was an unevenness in the singers' volume which was noticeable in the male roles. Not so in the role of Donna Anna, sung by Guanqun Yu, who sang powerfully and beautifully. Isabel Leonard as Donna Elvira also carried strongly and well. Meigui Zhang, as the peasant girl Zerlina, sang beautifully, if not with the power of the other two female stars.

I don't usually say a lot about sets and costumes, because they usually don't do that much harm, but in this case, mention is merited. The set was a sort of giant cube that took up about two-thirds of the width of the stage, and built to rotate slowly for scene changes. Imagine a Rubic's Cube sloshed with beige paint, but containing internal staircases. It's one merit was that it kept the singers right up front, facing the audience.


(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)