Endgames: What can Hamas and Israel agree to?
Plus: Pro-Hamas protests and Arab bus drivers refusing to transport Jews. And Elon Musk breaks into Jew hatred.
In the latest news coming from Israel’s war on Hamas, Hamas has reportedly agreed “in principle” to release “at least 50 women and children” from the approximately 240 hostages it holds in tunnels—likely under the IDF’s feet at this point—according to the Washington Post and other media. Hamas wants Israel to agree to a three-to-five day “pause ‘in place’” in the fighting, more humanitarian aid to Gaza, and of course a prisoner swap for Palestinians (WaPo reported it as “an unspecified number of women and children held in Israeli prisons”).
Now I don’t know how many “women and children” Israel is holding in its prisons, but according to B’Tselem, an Israeli organization supporting the rights of Palestinians, as of June 2023, Israel held 147 Palestinian minors in detention for “security” grounds. I imagine Israel, as it has been in the past, is open to the idea of releasing most of these to get back hostages.
The phase we are entering now, I would call the poker game. Israel has inflicted a lot of punishment on Hamas, and the terror organization is feeling the hurt. They have reached the point where they realize international pressure is not going to turn Israel from its task. They have also, and perhaps more importantly, realized that President Joe Biden is not going to step back or create even a hair of daylight between the U.S. and Israel. The day before Israel entered the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, the Pentagon released newly-declassified intelligence indicating that Hamas does indeed operate out of hospitals in Gaza.
Let’s not also forget that there are two U.S. carrier strike groups operating in the region, one off the Mediterranean coast of Israel, and the other in the Red Sea, effectively containing Iran and its proxies, and strongly discouraging Russia or Syria from becoming opportunistic. While we’ve seen the usual U.N. blather and censures and calls for a ceasefire, we haven’t see any meaningful attacks on Israel (more like harassment) from the north, or the spread of Intifada in the West Bank. While the IDF is conducting a massive operation in Gaza, the rest of Israel is fairly calm, and a few hundred thousand called-up reserves are moving back to the economy. The credit for this is in no small part due to Biden’s support.
In the propaganda war, though Hamas has a great advantage, it is not winning to the degree it wanted and needed. So Israel has largely been able to focus on the task at hand, and has reached the inner sanctum of Hamas military operations, triggering this “poker” phase where Hamas suddenly decides to negotiate.
What does Hamas want? Ultimately, it’s clear that Hamas wants the destruction of Israel, and therefore to preserve its ability to plan, strike and continue the cycle of terror until it achieves that goal. What does Israel want? The destruction of Hamas. But both are unlikely to get what they want.
Hamas would be happy to make Israel an international pariah for the next 20 years, scuttling any deals with Saudi Arabia, and beginning a plot to unwind the progress of the Abraham Accords. It would be happy to parade dead children in front of the media for the next year or more, and the image of rubble, starving people, and wailing mothers, while Israelis live in comparative luxury. It would be happy to incite a wave of international Jew hatred, especially in the United States, and weaken the organizations which exist to preserve and promote Jewish causes. It would be happy to retain some of its tunnels and supplies, which I’m sure have been hidden for this day, which they had to know was coming (since they planned this war).
It’s notable that I don’t include any “wants” for Hamas relating to the welfare of the Palestinian people, or Gazans in general. This is because Hamas does not care about them. They are simply a means to achieve their greater goals of destroying Israel. In fact, if Hamas ever did destroy Israel and conquered “from the river to the sea,” it would be quite a terrible master in the absence of having a military goal (see the Taliban).
Israel would be happy to disarm Hamas, or set it back for the next decade or so. It would be happy to eradicate Hamas as a political force and erode the group’s connections with fellow travelers in the Arab world. It would be happy to get its citizens back intact. Israel would be happy to get back to business and restart its economy, which has suffered while many workers were called up for military service. Israel would be happy to work with some organization it can, if not trust, at least see as a negotiating partner to achieve longer term stability. Israel though Hamas had softened its stance and began to become that partner in Gaza, but Israel fell for Hamas’ ruse. Israelis will be dealing with the fallout from that mistake for many years.
So the poker hand is set. Israel has the ability to really start to smash Hamas from one of the centers of its operations. But now that the offer for hostage release is on the table, Israel has to respond. It can either fold and agree, leaving things essentially where they are; it can check and go for a limited “pause”; or it can raise and ask for all the hostages while it continues hammer and tong against Hamas. Both Hamas and Israel have scores of specialists who do nothing but study the other side. They are much better equipped to know the tells, and the motivations of their opponent.
However, Israel’s intelligence was stung badly by a two-year lulling to sleep at the hands of Hamas. I imagine there’s not a lot of impetus behind trusting anything Hamas offers. I also think that Hamas has moved the hostages and distributed them around in ways that might make it difficult to release all of them quickly. It might be to Israel’s advantage to offer a pause to give Hamas leaders a chance to organize things. It might also be to Israel’s advantage to be seen giving aid and fuel to Gaza’s hospitals, treating babies (which they are doing).
Israel will likely accept the offer to release 50-plus women and children, in no small part because refusing it would ignite a huge bonfire of anger among Israelis. But the devil will be in the details, and exactly how long, where, and what kind of “pause” will be required. And after the pause, what then? Israel will want to continue dismantling the tunnel network, and Hamas will still want to kill Israelis, or at least show Israelis killing innocent Gazans. It will be hard to get back to that point once the first negotiated de-escalation has occurred. Both sides will move to get their best advantage before it happens. That is a risk, because the deal could simply fall apart before it happens.
Some Hamas or other terror organization in Gaza, or even the West Bank, or in Lebanon, will react and provoke and break whatever truce or “pause”, and Israel will react. Or Israel will act in Gaza to defend itself from a random attack and end up killing innocents, leading Hamas to cancel the deal. It’s all very fragile. The fact that there is a deal on the table at all is proof that Israel has hurt Hamas, and Hamas has little hope of turning the tide without some kind of poker phase of negotiation.
The rest of the world needs to hold its breath, and remember that on October 6th, we already had a ceasefire, and a pause, and everyone who is dead now was alive. It was not Israel that started this, and even if you think Israel is an oppressor, it is not Israel that deserved to have its innocent, old, children, and babies slaughtered while gleeful terrorists call home to mother, to report they killed 10 Jews with their own hands. Israel is not just fighting to destroy Hamas, Israel is fighting to destroy barbarism itself. No negotiation is going to move the goalposts for fighting barbarism.
PROTESTS: I don’t know why a pro-Hamas mob was trying to break into the DNC headquarters in Washington, D.C. I don’t know what’s special about that building that would make them want to break into it. I do know that violence is not free speech. Incitement is not free speech, and intimidation of Jewish people, on campus, in the street, and online, is not free speech.
REFUSED: It’s been reported that Arab bus drivers refused to transport Jews and others headed to a pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C. This is clearly illegal, as it’s religious discrimination. As David French noted on Threads, the drivers should be fired. I will add that if the bus company refuses to fire the drivers, the DOJ should sue them.
MUSK SWINGS ANTI-JEW: I am not one of those people who says criticizing any Jewish organization means you hate Jews. The Anti-Defamation League plays hardball and not always in service of its purported mission. The ADL has a lot of fellow-travelers in the “woke” space. But Elon Musk pushed things much too far. I will now need to consider if I want to stay on X/Twitter. David French expressed how happy he is to be off the platform.
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s this:
Whatever crap “dialectical hatred against whites” and Jewish communities Musk says he agrees with as “actual truth,” is pure blood libel and hate. Jews contribute more to Western civilization, pound for pound, than any other group on earth. Shame on Elon for huffing his own farts and believing he has some special right to defend “whites” against Jews. But then again, he joins a pantheon of hate, including Henry Ford, Thomas Edison and others who fell for the same tropes, because they were rich, white, and too enamored with their own fame and money. May God deal with Elon.