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What Israel Must Do in Gaza
The challenges of a unique war
In case you missed it, the audio version of my monologue published yesterday is now available to stream here, as well as on Apple, Stitcher and wherever you get your podcasts:
How Israel Will Attack
These are the deep tunnels — too deep for aerial bombing — that Hamas has been excavating and lining in concrete for more than 10 years, using construction equipment and vast quantities of cement donated by different governments and international organisations “to house refugees”. As a result, Gaza’s refugee “camps” do not contain a single tent. Instead, they are home to a forest of high-rise apartments, which is undoubtedly a good thing, except for the fact that both machines and cement were also diverted for tunnelling on the largest scale.
These tunnels house relatively sophisticated rocket-assembly lines, motor-assembly works, sheet metal and explosives’ stores, and warhead-fabrication workshops. More tunnels house Hamas command posts and its ordinance stores of small arms, mortars and rockets. Even deeper tunnels house its leaders’ lodgings and headquarters. Finally, there are the exfiltration tunnels, though there is no sign that they were used in the October 7 attacks, perhaps because their exits had been detected and blocked long before.
When Israel’s forces enter Gaza, they will engage any enemies who resist them, but they will not go looking for them. Their task is to escort combat engineers to their job sites — the camouflaged places from which tunnels can be accessed. How do they know where these entry points are? While Israel’s aerostats with cameras, satellite photography and the pictures generated by radar returns cannot reveal tunnels, they have been used to monitor where cement-mixer trucks have stopped over the years. They cannot pinpoint tunnel entrances by doing so, but they can at least identify places worth exploring with low-frequency, earth-penetrating radars or simple probes.
The obvious danger here is that, even before the escorting troops and combat engineers descend underground to fight off Hamas’s guards and place their demolition charges, they will keep losing casualties to snipers and mortar bombs on their way to the sites.
To minimise the danger, however, the Israeli army can rely on the most heavily protected armoured vehicle ever developed: the Namer infantry combat vehicle. As well as having significantly more armour than any other combat vehicle anywhere in the world, it uses an active defence weapon to intercept incoming anti-tank missiles and rockets, and also has machine guns to fight off infantry attackers. In urban combat, tank crews firing machine guns from the top of their turrets are desperately vulnerable, but the Namer’s crew remains “buttoned up” inside the vehicle, relying on TV screens to see the outside world and operate their weapons remotely. In 2014, the last time Israeli troops fought in Gaza, most were riding thinly armoured M.113s, which were easily penetrated by RPG anti-tank rockets, with some 60 soldiers killed and hundreds wounded. Not this time.
After they reach the suspected tunnel sites, the Namers will line up to form a perimeter — an improvised fortress — to protect the combat engineers as they go about their task. It is very likely that there will still be skirmishing before, during and after each de-tunnelling operation, with Hamas mortar teams in action, as well as snipers hidden in ruins. Fortunately, the Israelis will have their 70-ton Namers, as well as their post-2014 street-fighting training, to protect them.
The Failed Appeasement of Iran
The horrors don’t stop. The latest, as casualties continue to mount across Gaza, is the accumulating evidence that the killers from Hamas lacked even the humanity to grant their victims the mercy of a quick death. In far too many cases, the victims were tortured before they were killed.
But the horror is not limited to the Middle East. Decent people everywhere, including pious Muslims and fervent supporters of the Palestinian cause, recoiled from acts of barbarity that recall the darkest moments in human history. Basic decency, however, is not universal. There are Jew haters among us. Moved by bloodlust and orgiastic fantasies of revenge, they thronged the streets and squares of Europe and marched across American campuses.
There were those in the U.S. who justified violence against people with dangerous opinions in recent years by asserting that it was right and good to punch a Nazi. Today some of those same people have embraced the central cause of the Nazi movement. Jew hatred for them is a passion so pure, so justified, that those who torture Jewish children and slaughter helpless babies are heroes. The rest of us should take note and take care.
Meanwhile, not since the Russian invasion of Ukraine has the Biden administration exploded into political, diplomatic and military action as dramatically as in the aftermath of the massacres. President Biden has addressed the nation to share the pain and anger felt by Israelis and Americans at this horrendous and historic crime. Two carrier strike groups and other American military assets will patrol the theater with the aim of both preventing more Iranian proxies and Iran itself from joining their ally Hamas. And Secretary of State Antony Blinken has conducted a whirlwind tour of the Middle East, meeting with leaders from Israel to Qatar in hopes of containing the violence.
A crucial element is missing from this response. Even now, Team Biden does not seem to have internalized the reality that the American policy of “conciliate to evacuate”—to develop a U.S.-Iranian détente that would allow the U.S. to reduce its role in the region—remains, as it has since President Obama first began to implement it, a destabilizing force in the Middle East. It has discomfited our friends, disrupted our alliances, emboldened terrorists, and provided Iran’s mullahs with the resources to turn both Hezbollah and Hamas into formidably destructive forces.
The cynicism of Iran’s mullahs and their enablers is, in the end, the most shocking. Set aside the Israeli casualties and the blood of innocent Jewish children. Those who claim to rule Iran in God’s name do not care how many Palestinians die in the service of their ambitions. They despise the Sunni faith of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Hamas belongs, and if they could, they would persecute tomorrow the terrorists they arm today.
Iran is unappeasable, but this truth is too inconvenient for the Biden administration to admit. Instead, administration spokesmen continue to minimize Tehran’s involvement with and responsibility for the murders. Iran, which at this point seems to have little fear from an administration it believes it has cowed, is more open. It makes no bones about its support for the murders in Gaza. After the attack, when it was already clear how indiscriminate the killing had been, Iran’s foreign minister embraced the head of Hamas, a man who lives in luxury in Qatar, a country that Mr. Biden last year designated a major non-NATO ally of the U.S.
Hamas must be dealt with, and the direct perpetrators of these unspeakable acts must give themselves up for trial or be killed. But justice demands and prudence requires more. While the perpetrators of these horrors came from Gaza, those ultimately responsible do not live there. It is the leaders of Hamas living in luxury in Qatar and other havens far from the poverty of Gaza who provided the organizational leadership and gave the orders. And it is the mullahs and the agents of the Islamic Republic of Iran who provided the resources, training and encouragement without which the Hamas leadership would neither have dared nor been able to unleash this evil on the world.
The Illiberal Left Has Taken Over
A variety of left-wing alternatives respond that liberalism ignores power differentials by class, race, or gender. The illiberal left believes treating everybody equally, when the power is so unequal, merely serves to maintain existing structures of power. It follows from their critique that the legitimacy of a tactic can only be assessed with reference to whether it is being used by the oppressor or the oppressed. Is it okay for, say, a mob of protesters to shout down a lecture? Liberals would say no. Illiberal leftists would need to know who was the speaker and who was the mob before they could answer.
“Decolonization” is one of those strands of illiberal leftism. It has a model of the world in which conflicts are analyzed as a struggle pitting settler-colonist-Europeans, who are evil, against native/indigenous/BIPOC people. Like other illiberal leftist theories, the decolonization model does not leave room to judge the morality of any methods.
The liberal response to these alternative ideas is not to deny that power differentials exist, but that discarding liberalism in the name of social justice invites repression. To permit any political faction to use tactics they would never accept if used against them is to grant them a license for tyranny that will never be revoked.
To many progressives, this whole debate has seemed abstract, trivial, and counterproductive. Even progressives who are not supporters of the illiberal left have been reluctant to criticize it. They see the left’s foibles as a distraction from the larger fight with the radical right — a fight that, to be sure, I also see (and have always seen) as the paramount struggle in American politics.
It is easy to understand why a progressive could arrive at this conclusion in good faith. The illiberal left has little ability to use state power — it is a miniscule faction within the Democratic Party, and the United States government is bound by robust First Amendment protections. (For this reason, state censorship is still mostly carried out by the Republican Party, whose illiberal wing is vastly larger). The stakes of this ideology have therefore been confined to the private sphere. Left-wing illiberalism can get dissenters fired from a job, but not sent to a Gulag.
One observation I’ve shared with many analysts well to my left is that the debate over this illiberalism and the social norms it has spawned — demands for deference in the name of allyship, describing opposing ideas as a form of harm, and so on — has tracked an older debate within the left over communism. Communism provided real-world evidence of how an ideology that denies political rights to anybody deemed to be the oppressor laid the theoretical groundwork for repression and murder.
There have been conscious echoes of this old divide in the current dispute over Hamas. The left-wing historian Gabriel Winant has a column in Dissent urging progressives not to mourn dead Israeli civilians because that sentiment will be used to advance the Zionist project. Winant sounds eerily like an old communist fellow traveler explaining that the murders of the kulaks or the Hungarian nationalists are the necessary price of defending the revolution. “The impulse, repeatedly called ‘humane’ over the past week, to find peace by acknowledging equally the losses on all sides rests on a fantasy that mourning can be depoliticized,” he argues, calling such soft-minded sentiment “a new Red Scare.” Making the perfect omelette always requires some broken eggs in the form of innocent people who made the historical error of belonging to, or perhaps being born into, an enemy class.
But more than three decades have passed since the Soviet Union existed or China’s government was recognizably Marxist. And so the liberal warning about the threat of left-wing illiberalism seemed abstract and bloodless.
Shakespeare and Cancel Culture
By the last year of his life Roger had finally been not just honoured in his own country but given a position by a Conservative government to advise on that most pressing of issues – how to try to build beautiful housing in a country desperately in need of housing and even more desperately in need of beautiful housing.
Roger was engaged in his researches when a young snake of a man came to interview him and misrepresented what he had said. The fact that the magazine in question had been one Roger had contributed a column to for many years did not make this pill any easier to swallow. Roger was accused – falsely – of almost every one of the modern heresies, including racism against the Chinese. It was a preposterous set of allegations, and I for one knew them to be so from the outset.
Yet the Conservative government of the day – led by that great lady of iron principle, Theresa May – sacked Sir Roger before they had seen any more than a couple of Tweets from the lying reporter. Conservative MPs and ministers called it a ‘no-brainer’ to fire Sir Roger and declared that Scruton was just so much dead weight on the party.
As some people here know, I fought a campaign to get Roger’s reputation back. In fact I think I dedicated every hour of every day for months to that campaign. I eventually got hold of a copy of the tape of the interview that the New Statesman refused to hand over. The quotes attributed to Roger were misrepresented. He was vindicated.
But I remember that even at that point of victory it felt like too little a victory. Roger called me immediately after I published the true account of what had happened and said to me, ‘So do you think I still have a career’. There have not been many times in my life when I have wanted to cry with frustration, but that was one of them.
Items of Interest
“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.”
— T.E. Lawrence