The maximum responsibility lies with whoever holds the maximum power, especially when we are talking about a regional superpower that has nuclear weapons, a high-tech weapons industry, an army characterized by its excellence and effectiveness — including its demanding codes of military conduct and the civic morality that animates it — and, finally, all the military, financial and diplomatic backing of the world’s first superpower. All this, in addition to being a democratic and legal state where there is still a division of powers; politics is, therefore, the realm where responsibilities for the disaster that Israel now faces must be established, not within its armed and security forces or its internal and external intelligence services, which answer to it.
The chain of colossal errors that allowed the repugnant massacre perpetrated by Hamas in Israeli territory and the subsequent disproportionate response — and probably illegal under international humanitarian law — is not attributable to failures by the commanders of the intelligence services, nor of the defense forces of Israel, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shamefully said in a message, but precisely to his own political decisions that allowed the terrorist attack and the military response that followed. In Israel, the armed forces are under the command of the civil power, and it was the top civil power, in Netanyahu’s hands for the last 14 years, that made the errors leading to the current catastrophe. And it was not so much because of a strategic error, but rather because of a lack of strategy, which was trumped by electoral tactics and political opportunism.
More than two million people corralled into 140 square miles for 56 years are a toxic breeding ground for the worst terrorist impulses that only blindness or contempt or even hatred for the Palestinians could ignore. This is the first and fundamental mistake made by the Israeli right since the Oslo Accords of 1993, perversely perfected by Netanyahu with a strategy that was divisive to the point of favoring the growth of Hamas, then ignoring the Palestinian Authority, and later trying with the Abraham Accords to get Israel’s borders recognized without the Palestinians receiving any satisfaction to their national demands; on the contrary, they continued to be subjected to harassment and depredation of their territories in the West Bank.
The second error, although it is associated with intelligence, is also political. Netanyahu had been focusing on the West Bank and Jerusalem, to satisfy the predatory and expansionist instincts of the settlers and the ultra-Orthodox sectors that guarantee his majority in government and put him safely out of reach of the courts that want to try him for corruption. It is around the territory still under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority, rather than the Gaza Strip, that Netanyahu had concentrated all his attention and most of his armed forces. He also committed acts of technological arrogance, trusting in the surveillance capacity of the Gaza fence, and showing contempt for the determination and resolve of his enemy, Hamas. It is the classic hubris that is at the origin of all great defeats.
The last in the chain of errors is Netanyahu’s ruthless response, guided by the popularity of feelings of revenge and not by the clear and achievable political objective that must preside over any declaration of war. Making Hamas disappear from the face of the Earth is a goal that is understandable, but difficult to achieve. For Gaza to become a peaceful and governed territory, where nobody prepares attacks against Israel, is the true solution to the problem; however, that will be difficult to achieve with bombs that litter the city with civilian corpses. On the contrary, the indiscriminate and massive use of force tends to amplify the acrimony and produces the opposite effect, not to mention the destabilizing impact in the region and the irreparable damage to institutions and international relations.
Eliminating Hamas requires many efforts, some of them military, of course, but above all diplomatic and political. And the first of all, as many in Israel are already demanding, is to eject Netanyahu from government, to expel from the executive the dangerous extremist ministers with whom he has been able to remain in power, and to form a truly unitary war cabinet, capable of bringing home the hostages as soon as possible, neutralize Hamas as a danger to Israel’s security and, finally, open the path to peace again. Or, in the words of Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel’s secret services, to restore hope to the Palestinians because if they do not have hope there will be no security for anyone.
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