fbpx

九色

Rosner’s Domain | Can Israel Still Win?

In May, for the first time, more Israelis have low confidence that the country could win, than those who still retain their high confidence.
[additional-authors]
May 9, 2024
Israeli soldiers prepare a tank near the border with the southern Gaza Strip on May 2, 2024 (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

In October 2023, half a year ago, a vast majority of Jewish Israelis had high confidence that Israel would win the war. As the war dragged on, a slow decline was to be expected. From more than 70% confidence, to more than 60%, to more than 50%. In May, for the first time, more Israelis have low confidence that the country could win, than those who still retain their high confidence. Their level of pessimism rises; their approval of Israel鈥檚 government drops.

Something must change. But choosing the exact 鈥渢hing鈥 that must change, and make it change, is complicated to do. On Sunday, Hamas provoked Israel by launching a shell attack from Rafah, in the south part of the Gaza strip, killing soldiers, and taking immediate ownership of the attack. As if telling Israel: As you hesitate to get in, we are going to give you a reason to get in. On Monday, Israel rained pamphlets on some neighborhoods near Rafah, demanding evacuation of the civilian population. No 鈥 this is not yet 鈥渋t.鈥 It was not yet the big move into the last ditch of Hamas resistance. It was a message: get your act together, take the deal, or else.

Israel鈥檚 Jewish public (but not the Arabs) supports a Rafah operation. But there鈥檚 a third of it willing to give up on the military attack in exchange for getting the hostages back. In the last three weeks of negotiations, debate between those who prioritize an attack and those who prioritize a hostage deal became ugly. The Rafah camp is charged by its opponents with not caring about human life, being willing to abandon the hostages because of political considerations. The hostages camp is blamed by its opponents for no longer being determined to win, that once more it is prioritizing a temporary respite over a strategic necessity.

Both camps have supposed proof against their opposite camps: the PM is under pressure from his coalition partners to forgo the deal and send the IDF into Rafah. And by pressure, I mean threat. Either you do this, or your coalition is gone. Had Benjamin Netanyahu been a PM that the people trust, they鈥檇 assume that he will make the decision based on Israeli interest, not on short-term coalition-preservation interests. Alas, Netanyahu is a PM a vast majority of the public does not trust. More than 70% want him gone, either now or when the war is over. Hence, suspicion spreads. What if the PM is deliberately sabotaging the hostage deal 鈥 not because he thinks it鈥檚 bad but rather to keep his coalition together?

The Rafah camp also has proof with which to hammer the hostage camp. It consists of two main arguments. One 鈥 that the leaders of the hostage camp strive to topple the coalition. Minister Benny Gantz already announced that a September election is what Israel should aim to have, so maybe (the Rafah camp suspect) he is willing to sacrifice the prospect of victory to have his political triumph. Two 鈥 the Rafah camp blames the hostage camp that what it offers Israel is the same old status quo strategy of past wars. You begin with a bang and end with a whimper. The 鈥済enerals鈥 鈥 such as Gantz, his party member Gadi Eisenkot, Defense Minister Galant, Chief of the IDF Halevi 鈥 are all victims of groupthink. They forgot how to win wars. You need proof of that? Oct. 7 was proof of that!

So, an ugly smear campaign is ongoing, painting a serious debate 鈥 about what to do next 鈥 in unserious colors. In fact, there is good reason to argue for a Rafah operation. The war is not over. Hamas is not yet on its knees. Its operatives just demonstrated that they can still launch deadly attacks on targets inside Israel. In such situation, the residents of the 鈥Otef鈥 鈥 the Israeli villages and towns around Gaza 鈥 cannot safely go back to their homes.

It鈥檚 not at all clear that going into Gaza will provide Israel with the victorious end it strives to have. In fact, more than a few military men warn of possible operational complications if or when Israel goes into Rafah.

There are also good reasons to argue for a hostage deal 鈥 assuming Hamas accepts a deal, which, at the time of writing, is far from being certain. First, because Israel does not have international support for a Rafah operation. Second, because to save the hostages we need a deal now, and attacking Rafah could be done later. Third, because it鈥檚 not at all clear that going into Gaza will provide Israel with the victorious end it strives to have. In fact, more than a few military men (yes, more 鈥済enerals鈥) warn of possible operational complications if or when Israel goes into Rafah.

And yet, something must be done. As the public loses its confidence that the war can be won, the government must either double down 鈥 as it declares it is about to do 鈥 or find an exit so Israel can turn to the vast task of rebuilding and rehabilitating Israel鈥檚 south and north. Both options are costly, both options have pros and cons. Let us hope that Israel chooses the right one. Let us hope the choice is made for the right reasons.

Something I wrote in Hebrew

Here鈥檚 what I proposed to Israelis who watch with (justified) amazement the events at college campuses across the U.S.:

Since the students do not understand us, they should tell us how to solve our problems. Since we do not understand them, we should tell them how to solve their problems. In other words: American students do not have the ability to express an informed opinion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its causes and results. Israeli officials have no ability to express an informed opinion on the state of American academia, its causes and results. We rightly ask that they not educate us. It is advisable to remember that we also do not have the training to educate them.

A week鈥檚 numbers

Losing confidence, in numbers (from JPPI鈥檚 monthly Israel survey).

A reader鈥檚 response:

Erwin Goldberg: 鈥淒o you expect American Jews to make Aliyah because of what happens in America?鈥 Answer: I鈥檓 always in favor of Jews who come to live in Israel, but right now one must admit that Israel doesn鈥檛 see like the tempting destination that we all want it to be.


Shmuel Rosner is senior political editor. For more analysis of Israeli and international politics, visit Rosner鈥檚 Domain at jewishjournal.com/rosnersdomain.

Did you enjoy this article?
You'll love our roundtable.
  • 九色

Editor's Picks

Latest Articles

More news and opinions than at a
Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

  • 九色

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.

  • 九色