The many-headed hydra of extremist terror is as adaptable as it is brutal. But is it intractable?

Yahalom Unit’s Final Simulation, 23/10–02/11/22. (Photo: Israel Defense Forces)

The End of Israel’s Gaza Illusions,” opined Assaf Orion for Foreign Affairs on November 3, 2023. “This War Is Unlike Any Other.”

“In the nearly four weeks since Hamas’s heinous October 7 attacks, Israel has begun a deep transformation that will be felt for years to come,” began Orion, echoing a sentiment becoming increasingly common in foreign policy expert circles over the last few weeks since the devastating Hamas attack on Israel.

“As Israeli forces embark on the more difficult stages of a ground campaign to defeat Hamas, two themes have become particularly important,” continued Orion. “First, it is crucial to understand that this is not just another round of conflict in Gaza. To be successful, the country must countenance a war of exceptional scope and difficulty that could last for many months.”

Part of the difficulty involves the high level of entrenchment Hamas terrorists have achieved in Gaza. Defeating Hamas, while sparing as many civilian casualties as possible, is Israel’s stated goal, but it won’t be easy.

Hamas has created a complex of tunnels beneath the West Bank and Gaza. Finding, infiltrating, and destroying the tunnel system is surely a priority for Israel’s defense forces. There has been, to this end, no shortage of ideas pouring in from all former and current military quarters.

Flood the Gaza Tunnels,” advised retired U.S. Foreign Service officer Jeff Goodson on November 1, 2023.

“The biggest problem confronting Israel in its war on Hamas is how to destroy the Gaza tunnel networks and the terrorist operations therein,” he speculated. “Bombing works — mostly — but there’s a better way. Not only would it dramatically reduce Israeli military and Gazan civilian casualties, but it would effectively destroy the tunnel systems for the long term. That solution is to flood the tunnels with seawater from the adjacent Mediterranean.”

“The geography of Gaza argues strongly for the stratagem of flooding the tunnels,” suggested Goodson. “It would force the enemy above ground where they can more easily be destroyed, dramatically reduce the Israeli casualties required to accomplish that task and resolve the problem of dealing with parts of the tunnels that are too deep to destroy through bombing. Most importantly, flooding is a permanent or near-permanent solution to the Gaza tunnel problem.”

“In the short term, think of flooding Gaza’s tunnels as humanitarian assistance,” he concluded. “By eliminating the need to keep bombing them, flooding would reduce civilian casualties and other collateral damage. In the long term, think of denying Hamas access to the tunnels as an A2AD stratagem. At the end of the war, there can be no complete destruction of Hamas, nor long-term peace out of Gaza, unless and until the Gaza tunnels are taken out.”

The presence of the tunnels — intentionally located as they are beneath hospitals, schools, and office buildings — allows Hamas to use the Palestinian people as human shields.

Last week, The Washington Post caved to pressure to remove a political cartoon confronting this issue. The controversial cartoon featured a Hamas leader with crying children and women strapped across his chest, head, and back as human shields complaining about Israel targeting innocent women and children.

Hamas apologists in the mainstream media, of whom there have proven to be no shortage in recent weeks, took exception to the offending cartoon, and the Washington Post was forced into removing it with an apology.

It was a mea culpa complicated in part because Hamas does indeed intentionally locate all its military bases and launch all its terrorist operations from areas inhabited by innocent Palestinian civilians.

But even among defenders of Hamas, there is much debate about the often-repeated claim that Hamas uses the Palestinian people as human shields. But the question is not, as media outlets like CNN have often asserted over the years, “complicated.”

The answer is “Yes.”

Of course Hamas is using the Palestinian people as human shields. If Hamas wasn’t using the Palestinian people as human shields, that is, intentionally locating military operations beneath civilian hospitals, schools, and public buildings, Israel’s military forces would have destroyed Hamas as they did ISIS — and for the exact same reason.

If Hamas were to concentrate its forces in military outposts, clearly separated from surrounding civilian areas, Israel would destroy those military targets immediately.

Nor would Israel be the only one ready to take out the leadership of Hamas. Hamas has fewer and fewer friends left in the Middle East due to its tendency to fund and perpetuate terror against its neighbors.

Hamas has been declared by the U.S. government, international governing organizations, and national security bodies around the world as a terrorist organization — with good reason.

Just because some misguided progressives in the U.S. have conflated Hamas with the cause of Palestinian liberation, doesn’t make it true. The Palestinian people don’t need liberation from Israel; they need liberation from an organization using terror and anti-Semitism to maintain a tight grip on power in Gaza.

This isn’t about land; land concessions have been made, and offered. It isn’t about religion — not when so many of Israel’s Muslim neighbors have made peace with the world’s only Jewish state. It isn’t about land.

It isn’t a war being fought for human rights. Quite the opposite. Attacking Israel is about maintaining the power and control Hamas has over the Palestinian people, the Middle Eastern peace process, and the region as a whole.

“Israel will have to deploy military strategies drawn from long-war paradigms alongside a multiyear counterinsurgency campaign that also leverages diplomatic, informational, and economic tools. In this comprehensive mission, Israeli forces can learn much from prior campaigns, including some from earlier eras in the country’s history,” as Mr. Orion mused for Foreign Affairs magazine. “But they will also need to be resolute, patient, and nimble in fighting a war that in many ways will be different from any previous one Israel has fought.”

(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)