MODI’IN, Israel—I listen to these retired Israeli generals on the news shouting, “This is war!” and how we’ve got to “destroy Hamas for good!” and “plant the flag on the ruins over there,” and I think—Israel has gone crazy. Which, after what happened, is understandable for ordinary people, but not for experienced, influential military and political figures, the people responsible for leading Israel out of this nightmare instead of stretching it out and making it worse yet, which these days seems not just possible but almost inevitable.
We’re getting ready for a ground invasion of Gaza. Every Israeli is expected to understand that you can’t win a war strictly from the air, you have to send in ground troops. In Gaza, those troops have to go down into those underground tunnels where God knows how many Hamas killers, armed to the teeth, are waiting. Only then, when we’ve wiped them all out, will we win, and will Hamas be destroyed for good.
How many times has Israel sent in masses of ground troops against Hamas since it got out of Gaza in 2005? How many times did Israel attack Hamas on the ground in the decades before, when the Israeli army was stationed inside the Strip full-time? How many Israeli soldiers got killed in those “operations”? Did all that destroy Hamas even temporarily, let alone for good?
In the 2006 Second Lebanon War, destroying Hezbollah for good and forcing them to give back the two Israeli soldiers they abducted at the start were the Olmert government’s declared war aims. About 100 Israeli ground troops were killed and 1,200 wounded in that war—and in the end the government had to trade prisoners to get back the bodies of the two soldiers, and Hezbollah, unfortunately, is still here too.
The Israel Air Force is now bombing the holy hell out of Gaza. As of this writing, the Palestinians count 950 dead and 5,000 wounded. We’re killing at least some Hamas maniacs, wrecking at least some of their infrastructure, but mainly we’re taking revenge on Hamas’ country—which we’re entitled to do, and showing Hamas’ home front that there is a terrific price to pay when their leaders order an attack on Israel like the one on Saturday. Maybe it will have the effect of deterring Hamas from trying something like this again, at least for a long while. The battering Israel gave the Lebanese home front in 2006 after Hezbollah killed 10 Israeli soldiers very clearly had that effect on Hamas’ ally to the north.
As far as I’m concerned, let the Air Force go on bombing Gaza for a few more days. Let another thousand or so Palestinian civilians be killed. I never would have dreamed of saying anything like that in the past, but there has never been an anti-Israeli terror attack in the same galaxy as the one on Saturday. I want revenge too, and I want to restore some deterrence.
Above all, though, I don’t want any more Israelis to get killed. And lots of them will get killed in a ground war in Gaza. Also, many more will be killed if Hezbollah enters the war, which is another reason to end it quickly. One more reason is so we can exchange prisoners and get the 150 hostages back, which Hamas refuses to discuss while the war goes on. Yet another reason to end it in days is that there has to be some reasonable limit on revenge.
In the meantime, no Israeli soldiers are being killed in the air war, because Hamas can’t shoot their jets out of the sky, and Hezbollah has not unleashed its 150,000 rockets and missiles at us. What would be so bad, so harmful, about continuing the air war for a few more days only, and freezing the Israeli death toll from this satanic event—which at this writing has surpassed 1,200—for good?
Larry Derfner is an American-born journalist in Israel, author of the memoirs No Country for Jewish Liberals and Playing Till We Have to Go—A Jewish childhood in inner-city L.A., and lead singer for the rock ‘n’ soul band The NightCallers.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.