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Israelis Must Flood the Streets to Keep the IDF Out of Rafa

Opinion

Israelis Must Flood the Streets to Keep the IDF Out of Rafah

May 5--We run this unprecedented call to action against the government of the deranged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin“Bibi” Netanyahu to show that there are voices inside Israel who know the stakes and why action must be taken now to stop the likely slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. The author served as Prime Minister of Israel from 2006-2009. It was published as an opinion piece in the May 3 Haaretz.

by Ehud Olmert

After more than six months of hybrid warfare—in the air, on land and underground—it’s possible to conclude that the bulk of Hamas’ military power has been dismantled. Most of its rockets and launch sites have been destroyed and there has hardly been any rocket fire from the Gaza Strip for over four months.

This isn’t the result of some tactical decision by Hamas intended to deceive and disarm Israeli security forces, to then surprise us again with an unexpected attack that could gravely damage the home front and our combat units. It is highly likely that Hamas has hardly any rockets or launch sites left, and is incapable of operating the few it has, as the [Israeli] military controls most of the areas from which rockets could be fired at Israel.

A considerable portion of Hamas fighters has been killed, an accomplishment that is highly significant. These are not just its frontline combatants, but also members of its command level. It is almost certain that the most senior commanders, above all Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, are still alive. They are hiding in places whose penetration could exact a heavy price from Israel, one that would be wrong to pay.

It will be possible to hit Sinwar and Deif in future targeted actions, even if it takes time and does not necessarily suit the prime minister’s personal timetable. For him, the killing of Hamas commanders is an opportunity to throw a victory gala designed to obscure the magnitude of the failure for which he bears responsibility—the October 7 disaster.

However, as has been said repeatedly, the course of the war and its priorities must not be made subordinate to Netanyahu’s personal needs. There is no one in Israel who isn’t yearning to hear of Deif and Sinwar being killed. They are cold-blooded arch-murderers who lack moral inhibitions, terrorists in the fullest sense of the term. As much as we want to take them out, we must act with restraint, patience and reason.

During the Second Lebanon War, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was defined as a target for a strike. We wanted to chop off the head of that poisonous snake, but we did not make the war subservient to this cause alone. Ultimately, Nasrallah stated on Lebanese television that had he known what 1 percent of the scope of Israel’s response to the abduction and murder of Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and other soldiers would be, and Israel’s ferocious response to Hezbollah’s rocket attack, he wouldn’t have done it.

As an Israeli military accomplishment, such a statement from a live Nasrallah was almost the same as killing him and displaying his body. The 17 years in which he took caution not to initiate a single attack on Israel—not even with light arms—are a profound reflection of the military accomplishment of that 2006 war and the deterrence it created on the northern border. Even though some among us still enjoy criticizing its successes after all these years, the fact that Nasrallah understands the magnitude of his defeat is enough to put that war in the right perspective.

At this point, we have achieved the same level of deterrence in Gaza that we had at the end of the Second Lebanon War. At the beginning of the ground maneuver in Gaza, the prime minister set an unrealistic goal, which there was no way to achieve and no way to measure. Benjamin Netanyahu did it, to my understanding, for vile conspiratorial reasons that can’t be concealed. He knew talk of “total victory” over Hamas was an empty slogan. There will not be such a victory. In its absence, he can always blame the military for not accomplishing it.

In reality, we have seen a genuine, impressive and unprecedented victory. Never has a conventional military been forced to fight a terror organization that hides almost entirely inside a network of underground tunnels dozens of meters deep, located in dense urban centers housing hundreds of thousands of uninvolved civilians. These civilians were, against their will, placed at the center of Israel’s military activity and, unavoidably, became exposed to airstrikes and fire from commando units chasing terrorist leaders, becoming tragic victims of the war.

In this complex entanglement, and under the international community’s critical eyes—including those of our staunchest friends and supporters—the Israel Defense Forces has performed admirably. There is no military campaign this complicated that is conducted without mistakes, without unnecessary friendly fire and shooting toward uninvolved civilians.

There have been some troubling displays of trigger-happiness, whose victims included some of our hostages as well as Gazan civilians who were caught in combat zones and paid with their lives. Few could deny that in several cases, our soldiers were unnecessarily reckless. But it is hard to blame them, considering the highly unique nature of this combat, which takes place in the total confusion of fighting inside residential neighborhoods and above Hamas death-tunnel shafts.

However, there is one goal we have not achieved yet—releasing the hostages. This goal was not at the center of Netanyahu’s attention from the start, and he has apparently thwarted several opportunities to expand understandings brokered between Israel and Hamas, and proceed to a comprehensive deal that would release all the hostages. Rafah is not a crucial objective that would decide the outcome of the fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Although it’s emotionally difficult, almost impossible, to accept, it’s important to understand that Israel will not emerge victorious from this confrontation. The boastful talk of “total victory” reflects stupidity, arrogance and, above all, an effort to create distance from an image of non-victory and evade the inevitable public judgment that will likely follow.

Netanyahu long ago stopped thinking about what is best for Israel, its future and its strategic interests. It’s been a long time since he’s considered the inevitable obligation to start limiting the damage of the harsh blow we have suffered and laying foundations for restoring the country, the military, the security forces, and, most of all, Israeli society, whose solidarity was once the secret of its strength.

Netanyahu lives in a bubble that is cut off from reality. Inside the bubble, he tells himself and the others inside that he is fighting for Israel’s existence, that an immediate risk is threatening it, and that his historic mission is to face off against the entire world and defend Israel from those who want to destroy it.

Netanyahu’s behavior leaves no other conclusion than that, in his view, many of his opponents knowingly and deliberately seek Israel’s destruction. I presume that those staying in the emotionally impervious human tunnel in which he is trapped (along with his family and a few supporters) believe most of Israel’s friends in the world, chiefly U.S. President Joe Biden and perhaps a few European leaders, could cause Israel’s destruction because of pressure from leftists and Israel-haters from within and their allies elsewhere.

In this respect, it seems that in Netanyahu’s worldview, the country’s biggest enemies are the most fearless and daring of Israel’s soldiers and members of the elected opposition in the Knesset. I include Benny Gantz and Gadi Eisenkot, whose decency and devotion to Israel is being exploited by Netanyahu, while deep down, he unquestionably despises them and sees them as both enemies and rivals.

We have reached the decisive stage: Are we heading for a hostage rescue deal or hurtling at an insane speed toward a crash in the outskirts of Rafah?

Taking Rafah has no strategic significance as far as Israel’s vital interests are concerned. Netanyahu understands this, as do some senior military officers and retired officers. Destroying four additional Hamas battalions might have been the correct move had it been disconnected from the wider context of events. But such a maneuver would take months and involve many fatalities among our soldiers, kill thousands of uninvolved Palestinians and crush what remains of Israel’s international reputation.

It would intensify demonstrations on every campus in America and around the world and lead to arrest warrants being issued against Israeli leaders and combat soldiers. Most of all, it would put the hostages in immediate danger. Such a move would constitute criminal recklessness by a group of people, led by Netanyahu, who are prepared to shatter the foundations of our existence merely to continue holding on to power.

Some of the decisions I made when I headed Israel’s government were heavily criticized. Near its end, the Second Lebanon War was a source of incessant attacks on me and my cabinet members, as well as on the military commanders who waged the campaign. It does not matter at all that in retrospect, most critics realize it had been a successful—albeit not devoid of failures and mistakes—war with several strategic accomplishments, which have become clearer from a distance of many years. However, none of those who objected to the war at the time even thought about arguing that the government was motivated by the personal interests of the person in charge.

The consensus among the overwhelming majority of Israelis is that the only motivation for expanding the military campaign and invading Rafah is not what’s right for Israel, but part of a planned decision to sacrifice the hostages’ lives in order to preserve the political life of the man who continues to push Israel into the abyss.

It’s time to stop Netanyahu and the government of [Minister of National Security Itamar] Ben-Gvir and [Minister of Finance Bezalel] Smotrich. It’s time to flood the streets with millions of resolute opponents to surround the group of outlaws leading Israel to a crash and stop them, before it’s too late.

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