Op-ed: Day 159 of the war

And the Oscar for incendiary misdiagnosis of the cause of a massacre of Jews goes to…

Jonathan Glazer got it wrong * Israel and its essential ally, openly and untenably at odds * 10 thoughts on the war

David Horovitz

David Horovitz is the founding editor of The Times of Israel. He is the author of "Still Life with Bombers" (2004) and "A Little Too Close to God" (2000), and co-author of "Shalom Friend: The Life and Legacy of Yitzhak Rabin" (1996). He previously edited The Jerusalem Post (2004-2011) and The Jerusalem Report (1998-2004).

Director Jonathan Glazer accepts the award for Best International Feature Film for "The Zone of Interest," onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 10, 2024. (Patrick T. Fallon / AFP)
Director Jonathan Glazer accepts the award for Best International Feature Film for "The Zone of Interest," onstage during the 96th Annual Academy Awards at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California on March 10, 2024. (Patrick T. Fallon / AFP)

A shorter version of this Editor’s Note was sent out earlier Wednesday in ToI’s weekly update email to members of the Times of Israel Community. To receive these Editor’s Notes as they’re released, join the ToI Community here.

I don’t think I’ve ever met Jonathan Glazer, who went to the same Jewish high school as I did in London’s Camden Town, and visited Israel with the school, as I did — although he came on a five-month program while I did the shorter, three-week trip.

I don’t know how much time he’s spent in Israel in the more than four decades since. Perhaps he has a deep knowledge of the modern history of the state, its challenges, its policies, and the neighborhood.

But I think his Oscar-accepting speech was not only simplistic and superficial — how could it be anything but, in the few seconds he had? — but also dangerously misconstructed. Hamas’s October 7 slaughter, mass sexual assault, and hostage-taking onslaught in southern Israel, and the consequent ongoing war, was the result of the terror group’s avowed antisemitic ideology and its implacable desire to kill Jews anywhere and everywhere and destroy the State of Israel. Not the consequence of an ostensible Israeli hijacking of Glazer’s and others’ Jewishness and the Holocaust in the cause of “occupation,” then, but the barbaric manifestation of a neighboring terrorist government’s absolute negation of Israel’s right to exist.

Could Israel have found a way to fully relinquish control over and safely separate from the Palestinians since it captured the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip in an existential war in 1967? Well, maybe. And maybe not.

The practice of expanding settlements in West Bank areas Israel would have to give up in the cause of a viable two-state solution certainly hasn’t helped advance a diplomatic horizon. And our current, worst-ever government is a committed advocate of such expansion. But relinquishing territory hasn’t enabled reconciliation either: Take the pullout to the international border with Lebanon in 2000, for example, or most relevantly, the complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. It just brought intransigent enemies to our doorstep.

And then there’s the relatively more moderate West Bank Palestinian leadership’s refusal to accept terms for Palestinian sovereignty without an influx of refugee descendants that would destroy Israel’s Jewish majority, and the refusal, too, to teach successive generations of Palestinian children that the Jewish nation has historical legitimacy in the Holy Land.

The sorry and banal truth is that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is immensely complicated. Look how long I’ve spent just now scratching the surface, without beginning to invoke the arguments and counter-arguments invited by every single point I’ve made.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators rally near the Dolby Theatre during the 96th Academy Awards in Hollywood, California, on March 10, 2024. (Ringo Chiu / AFP)

As “Free Palestine” protesters outside demanded an end to US aid for Israel, Glazer had a brief opportunity on a world stage to say something constructive during a particularly nightmarish period for humane, life-affirming people on both sides of the conflict. Instead, in a few brief words, he misidentified the root cause of the October 7 slaughter and the war, and brought succor to Hamas and those many others for whom Israel and its people have no right to exist in any borders.

Allies openly at odds

At a time when Israel utterly depends on the United States for the diplomatic and practical support to dismantle Hamas’s organized fighting forces, the partnership is spiraling ever deeper into crisis.

US President Joe Biden bluntly declared over the weekend that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “is hurting Israel more than helping Israel.” Biden, a Zionist who declared in the same interview that he would “never leave Israel,” nonetheless also set out a “red line” regarding the looming IDF operation in Rafah, where Hamas’s last four battalions remain intact, albeit without specifying the consequences were Israel to cross it.

And his ostensible pledge of ongoing, vital weapons supplies was less reassuring than it might at first have sounded: “There’s no red line [in which] I’m going to cut off all weapons so that they don’t have the Iron Dome [missile defense system] to protect them,” he said. But promising unending supplies of defensive arms is not the same as committing to keep Israel supplied with the offensive weapons it needs to complete the dismantling of the Hamas army.

US President Joe Biden is interviewed by MSNBC on March 9, 2024. (Screen capture/MSNBC)

The president and his officials have also been relentlessly critical of the loss of life in Gaza, even while acknowledging that Hamas uses the noncombatant populace as human shields — with Biden this week going so far as to cite the unverified Hamas figure of 30,000 dead in Gaza, which he himself has previously acknowledged is unreliable, while failing to mention that Israel claims 13,000 of the dead are gunmen from Hamas and other terror groups.

Netanyahu, for his part, has been deliberately hyping up disagreements with the administration to serve his short-term coalition needs.

He’s been picking a fight for weeks over the administration’s long-term vision of a reformed Palestinian Authority ultimately taking charge in Gaza, and its contention that progress toward a two-state solution is essential to Israel’s survival. The Israeli mainstream has likely never been more mistrustful of the Palestinian leadership and more fearful of an ostensible two-state “solution” than in the wake of October 7, amid the horrific proof of Hamas’s barbarism and the widespread support for its actions among Palestinians in both Gaza and the West Bank. But rather than calmly acknowledging differences that will need to be handled down the road, and prioritizing the imperative for close ties as Israel battles to defeat Hamas, Netanyahu chose to place the argument front and center in a series of press conferences and US television interviews.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers an address by video to an AIPAC conference, March 12, 2024 (GPO screenshot)

And then, on Tuesday night, an unnamed official farcically identified by Channel 12 as “the most senior political source you can imagine,” saw fit to throw a headline-making hissy fit over a passage in the “Annual Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community” published this week, asserting that it constituted an attempt by the US government to oust the prime minister and his government.

“Distrust of Netanyahu’s ability to rule has deepened and broadened across the public from its already high levels before the war, and we expect large protests demanding his resignation and new elections,” stated the authors of the assessment. “A different, more moderate government is a possibility.”

With all due respect to the compilers of the annual report, this hardly amounts to groundbreaking intel.

Israel was tearing itself apart before October 7 over the hard-right Netanyahu coalition’s efforts to destroy our independent judiciary. The failure of the Netanyahu government and the security establishment to recognize unmistakable evidence of Hamas’s imminent attack, and thus thwart it, has reduced confidence in the prime minister and his team considerably further. The abiding national strain of the war, the ongoing dysfunction of the government, the overt divisions at the helm as regards the direction of the campaign and the struggle to bring home the hostages, dismay in many quarters at the mounting Gaza civilian death toll and humanitarian crisis, the rising Israeli losses, the prime minister’s desperate appeasement of his far-right and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners — all these factors, and more, have produced months and months of surveys showing that, were elections held today, “a different, more moderate government is,” indeed, “a possibility.”

And yet the unnamed very senior official saw fit to storm at the US for the crime of stating the obvious. “Those who elect the prime minister of Israel are the citizens of Israel and no one else,” raged the most senior source you can imagine. “Israel is not a protectorate of the US but an independent and democratic country whose citizens are the ones who elect the government. We expect our friends to act to overthrow the terror regime of Hamas and not the elected government in Israel.”

The open hostility of each leadership for the other would be troubling in the best of times, considering that Israel’s alliance with the United States is flat-out essential to Israel’s survivability. To have the two leaderships bitching and sniping at each other in the middle of a war in which Israel simply must dismantle Hamas and get back the hostages in order to restore fundamental security and the tenability of ordinary life here is simply unconscionable.

Ten thoughts on the war

1. US and other allied military chiefs are genuinely impressed by the tactical successes of the IDF in Gaza, but even those military chiefs recognize that public and political support for Israel is plummeting as the Gaza death toll rises and the humanitarian crisis deepens. What the IDF hears from those empathetic military chiefs is that they could not fight with greater precision in such complex urban circumstances, but Israel is nonetheless losing its international legitimacy. It also privately receives from Arab allies unstinting, even desperate support, for Israel to finish the job against Hamas — but they’re not going to say this publicly, of course.

2. The IDF sees the efficient supply of aid to Gaza as central to Israeli legitimacy. Protests at the Kerem Shalom and Nitzana border crossings disrupting the entry of aid are thus counterproductive for two reasons — they undermine support for the war, and they lead to growing international pressure for aid to go into Gaza uninspected by Israel, and thus potentially serving as a route for weapons smuggling.

Protesters block the Nitzana Crossing on the Israel-Egypt border to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching Gaza, February 9, 2024. (Screenshot, Tzav 9, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

3. US aid to be brought to Gaza, via the temporary pier that Biden announced the US will build, is likely to be inspected in Cyprus or elsewhere en route, come the day. The IDF, at this stage, does not know how the final arrival at Gaza will be secured to prevent a repetition of the kinds of scenes of looting and chaos that have attended aid convoys, culminating in the deaths surrounding the February 29 convoy.

4. The IDF is adamant that it must and will take on the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah, and that it is capable of evacuating the 1.4 million Gazans from that warzone ahead of time. First, though, the army intends to complete its operations in Khan Younis — partly because the Rafah evacuation plan requires that the IDF achieve overall security control in Khan Younis.

5. The Rafah operation, when it comes, will not mark the end of the war either. The IDF will continue to be heavily deployed, with ever more accurate intel on Hamas’s remaining capabilities. The capture of computer servers in Gaza City last month, by way of example, enabled the IDF to go back into areas where it had previously fought, with very specific information on remaining Hamas assets.

6. The way the IDF sees it, Hamas simply must not survive as an organized fighting force, and Yahya Sinwar and other key figures must and will die. The Hamas ideology will not disappear — just as Nazism did not disappear after World War II — but must be marginalized, notably with moderate Arab states playing a central role in postwar Gaza, bringing money, employment and a focus on deradicalization in schools and mosques.

Palestinians pray during the holy month of Ramadan near the Dome of the Rock at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City on March 12, 2024. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

7. The IDF is acutely concerned about the potential for Hamas-hyped violence, focused on Al-Aqsa on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, during Ramadan. It sees significant potential for violence in the West Bank, where the economic situation is dire and where Hamas is actively attempting to orchestrate terror attacks.

8. October 7 and the subsequent war have greatly deepened US engagement in the region, but the IDF recognizes that there’s no knowing how long that will last. Specifically, it foresees the US leaving Iraq at some point, which will enable Iran to deepen its influence there, and leave Jordan as the only buffer between Israel and the Islamic Republic and its sphere of influence.

It also sees Iran’s centrality and influence in Lebanon growing, with Christians leaving, the Sunni community heading out en masse, notably to Australia and New Zealand, and the Shiite population increasingly dominant.

9. The IDF is far advanced in its planning for war against Hezbollah in Lebanon — with various scenarios from limited to all-out conflict. It sees Hezbollah moving back somewhat from the border, but certainly not withdrawing en masse, and believes war will likely be necessary to push back and deter Hezbollah to the extent that it will be safe for the evacuated tens of thousands of residents of northern Israel to return home.

10. Nobody, in the IDF or in the political leadership, is minded to shift from the twin goals of the war — dismantling Hamas and bringing back the hostages. There can be tension between the two goals, but ultimately one serves the other: Without military pressure, Hamas will not free hostages. Equally, nobody in the IDF or the political leadership believes Israel should agree to end the war in a deal to see the hostages freed — because, again, Hamas must not be allowed to survive, rebuild, and plan future October 7s.

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