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Israel and Its Multifront Mayhem

Isolated and encircled from all sides by neighbors and fiends that mean them harm, no nation of its size and population deficits has ever had to cope with so many forces arrayed against it.
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January 22, 2024
Mlyons/Getty Images; MirageC/Getty Images

In its short history as a modern state, Israel has been a Cinderella story where the glass slipper doesn’t quite fit without arch supports. A mere 9 million people, sovereign for a scant 75 years, an apparent underdog, yet overabundant in achievements: blooming deserts, desalinated water, pill cameras and pacemakers, GPS and the Iron Dome, derring-do rescues in Uganda and Ethiopia, and a goodwill Amazonian ambassador named Wonder Woman.

And, yet, with all those and other contributions to humanity, there are still 132 hostages in Gaza, 20 of whom are believed to be dead, and that’s after more than 1,200 were murdered on October 7. And have I mentioned that Jewish babies were beheaded?

Yes, you heard that right: “beheaded.” Israel, the epitome of 21st-century enlightenment, doomed by the Islamist ill-fate of being surrounded by medieval imitators. Israel’s flirtation with a fairytale existence succumbs to the bitter knowledge that there are those with college degrees (who even teach in the Ivy League!) who refer to the October 7 massacre as “exhilarating,” and believe the perpetrators of such unspeakable acts to be not monsters, but freedom fighters.

Isolated and encircled from all sides by neighbors and fiends that mean them harm, no nation of its size and population deficits has ever had to cope with so many forces arrayed against it.

There is the ongoing war in Gaza, with daily rocket fire aimed at Israel, unabated even after 100 days of fighting. Intelligence agencies estimate that Israel has eliminated only 20% to 30% of the roughly 30,000 Hamas terrorists who were operating in Gaza before October 7. Israel believes it has so far killed 9,000 terrorists, with an additional 1,000 who were in southern Israel on the day of the attack. As many as 16,000 terrorists have been wounded, many of whom are not expected to return to the moral hazard and urban minefield that is Hamas’ chosen theater of war.

There are approximately another 14,000 causalities of war—which include women and children. Israel has lost 190 soldiers since ground forces entered Gaza, with 1,200 reported wounded. And Gaza itself, which was never but an eyesore, at best, given Hamas’ overinvestment in tunnels and rocket launchers, and Israel’s bombing campaign, now most resembles Mars.

Those are the grim unpleasantries. One distressing conclusion is that Hamas still has weapons to spare and civilians to sacrifice—even after all that ruin and lost treasure. This war is far from over if Israel requires that Hamas be obliterated as a future threat. That’s the outcome Israelis demand and what its government has promised.

Yet, this is a tall order given that battlefields continue to mount. Two weeks ago, Israeli lawyers and jurists were at the Hague, before the International Court of Justice, defending against South Africa’s indictment that Israel is guilty of genocide in Gaza.

If Israel wishes to remain the defender of the Jewish people, it must continue these dizzying campaigns on multiple fronts. Some require law degrees, others diplomatic initiatives, and all a steady hand. In many tragic ways, not much has changed since its founding in 1948.

Cross-border fighting with Hezbollah has intensified in Lebanon, too. In Syria, Israel has launched airstrikes against cargo trucks, infrastructure, and Iranian military advisors. Meanwhile, the Houthis in Yemen, in solidarity with Hamas and at Iran’s whim, have disrupted commercial shipping in the Red Sea. This has brought the United States into the fight given that Iran is the proxy puppeteer behind all of these military incursions—the architect of so much promiscuous meddling without ever having to get its own hands dirty.

President Biden’s warning to Iran, “Don’t!,” as in, “Stay out of it,” was prescient.

These are the multiple fronts Israel faces. Turn in any direction, and there is a snarling menace to outflank.

And now a new one. The relatively silent trenches of the West Bank are starting to make some noise. The region is governed by the Palestinian Authority, but polling shows that West Bank Palestinians would favor Hamas in any election—both before and after October 7.

Violence in support of Hamas is fomenting beyond Gaza, in that other territory that would comprise a Palestinian state. The United Nations estimates that 357 Palestinians, including as many as 90 children, have been killed in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the highest level of militancy since the second intifada. Hundreds of intelligence alerts are responded to each day. With Hamas having won the hearts and minds of the West Bank, Israel can no longer rely on the Palestinian Authority to provide security in the region.

All of this has revived the dreaded “stabbing intifada.” Palestinians are once again ramming cars into pedestrians in central Israel. Obviously these incidents are mere pop-guns compared to the paragliding theatrics of October 7. But it has opened up a new front in this ever-expanding war without borders, stretching the capacity of Israel to defend itself against so many rotating enemies.

Terrorists operating in the town of Nablus planned a large-scale attack that Israel foiled. Shin Bet detained nearly 2,700, over 1,300 linked to Hamas. New offshoots of Hamas have grown, largely due to excitement over October 7, and in response to the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace process and a newly empowered Israeli settler movement.

Israel’s right-wing government will someday have to answer for the misallocation of IDF resources that were devoted to protecting the religious settlers of the West Bank over the Israelis that lived in the south—many of whom, ironically, were progressives and supporters of a two-state solution. Hamas didn’t care that it was slaughtering potential allies—those Jews that suffered the military lapse and paid the highest cost.

Meanwhile, Israel’s enduring peace treaty with Jordan is fraying because West Bank terrorists are operating out of Jordanian hospitals—operating as terrorists, and not surgeons. Israel has launched attacks against these facilities, but doing so is, as in Gaza, at the expense of global goodwill—even among peace partners.

At the same time, Israel must massage the Biden administration’s internal messaging to reduce the casualties in Gaza. It must also worry about the Arab Street erupting at any time in the states that comprise the Abraham Accords. Friendships in the Middle East and Persian Gulf are inherently fleeting and fragile.

If Israel wishes to remain the defender of the Jewish people, it must continue these dizzying campaigns on multiple fronts. Some require law degrees, others diplomatic initiatives, and all a steady hand. In many tragic ways, not much has changed since its founding in 1948. A fledgling country, poorly armed—with many soldiers bearing numbers on their arms—miraculously held back five invading Arab armies.

The neighborhood hasn’t really changed all that much.


Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled “Saving Free Speech … From Itself.” 

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