May 5, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

The time for talks is over; it’s time for actions

When Israel finishes dealing with Hamas, the interests of Israel and those of Hezbollah and Iran will likely align, for a short time, to postpone the wider fighting in the north.
May 5, 2024 | The Jerusalem Post

The time for talks is over; it’s time for actions

When Israel finishes dealing with Hamas, the interests of Israel and those of Hezbollah and Iran will likely align, for a short time, to postpone the wider fighting in the north.

Israel has presented a generous and expanded proposal to the mediators, far beyond what is necessary, but it seems that Hamas is not interested in a deal. The attack near Kerem Shalom is just one more chapter in its arrogant and criminal behavior.

The shameful, loose, and destructive behavior of the mediators, led by the USA, which reportedly offered Hamas guarantees without Israeli approval that the current deal would eventually lead to the end of the war, helps Hamas harden its stance.

After seven months of fighting in Gaza and the north, both at high and low intensity, and after a direct attack on Israel by the Iranian patron, Israel faces tough decisions. However, undoubtedly, the time has come to stop talking and waiting for outcomes from the mouths of Hamas murderers and to move towards actions. Israel must clarify that there will be no deal that means halting the war and withdrawing IDF troops from Gaza strip.

The main challenges Israel is facing are:

– Achieving all war objectives, crushing and destroying Hamas capabilities (including Rafah, central camps, and the Philadelphy corridor, both above and below ground), denying Hamas military, governmental, and organizational abilities, and killing its leaders and those involved in the heinous war crimes.

– Returning all the hostages and the bodies of the fallen.

– Ending the confrontation in the north by pushing Hezbollah forces to an area that does not threaten northern residents, allowing them to return to their homes safely.

– Continuing to address Iran in response to their aggressive behavior, the attack on Israel, and their ongoing nuclear development.

The political challenges, including the potential normalization with Saudi Arabia and forging defense alliances (not recommended) with the USA, can wait.

All parties in Israel, regardless of their political affiliation and their stance toward the Prime Minister, must internalize that Hamas only understands the use of force and exploits any behavior that shows weakness. Only genuine and continuous military pressure might lead to the release of hostages in a future deal or during the military operation.

No chance for a deal with current approach

There is no chance for a deal with the current approach that was mistakenly taken, including during the negotiations concerning the recent Egyptian proposal. Israeli flexibility and concessions invited only more pressure and Hamas attacks, including today on the passage used for entering humanitarian aid into Gaza strip. As long as Hamas is under the impression that it almost gets everything it wants without a deal, they will have no interest in reaching one. Unfortunately, all the mediators, as well as official and unofficial elements in Israel, helped Hamas reach this conclusion.

Avoiding entering Rafah, primarily because of the US and Egyptian pressure, waiting for a deal, was a big mistake, even if initially, until it was clear the Hamas does not want a deal, it was understandable.

According to some reports, as early as last Thursday afternoon, a majority of the War Cabinet was in favor of beginning the operation in Rafah, but pressure exerted on some of the members, after the meeting, caused them to change their minds and led to another discussion in the War Cabinet and then to a discussion in the expanded Cabinet, which unfortunately did not end with a vote, neither on the closure of Al Jazeera channel in Israel, nor on the issue of starting the operation in Rafah. This was especially in light of the pressure from some officials who are trying to reach a deal, at almost any price. 

The IDF and the security community play a very important role in presenting to the cabinets the significance of every action, and recommending the right way in their opinion, but the decisions must be made when they are out of the room. Full responsibility for decision-making rests on the shoulders of the political echelon, it must make decisions and bear responsibility for the results, while the IDF must fully carry out the orders in the best possible way.

The time has apparently come to release the officials appointed to bring a deal from the ungrateful role assigned to them and return them to work on the tasks they deserve: dealing with Hamas leaders everywhere in the world and severely damaging Iran’s nuclear and conventional programs. They know very well how to do this and it’s time to guide them to change their priorities.

The IDF’s mission should be to immediately begin appealing to the population in Rafah to evacuate to protected areas where there will be increased humanitarian assistance. Alongside the appeals, the IDF must demonstrate the seriousness of its intentions and enter Rafah as soon as possible, even if in the first stage, until the evacuation of the population is completed, the offensive activity will start at a low profile.  

In parallel to entering Rafah, the IDF must take control of the Philadelphy corridor in Gaza, coordinated with Egypt but without dictates, to prevent the ongoing weapons smuggling. There is no point in a solution that relies on Egyptian forces on Egyptian territory, while Israel controls remotely and through technology. Attempts like this were made in the past and thei all failed miserably. Only a complete Israeli control in the area will assure Egypt that there will be no refugee leakage into Sinai and will ensure Israel the stop of smuggling and arming of Hamas.

In the north, resides perhaps the most complex challenge of all. On the one hand, Hezbollah is in distress and is taking heavy blows, but make no mistake, it still has wide capabilities to strike at the Israeli home front over time. The primary challenge is to allow the residents of the north to return to their homes safely and perhaps to postpone the broader war against Hezbollah.

When Israel finishes dealing with Hamas, the interests of Israel and those of Hezbollah and Iran will likely align, for a short time, to postpone the wider fighting in the north.

Do not make a mistake. What are Israel’s challenges in the campaign against Iran? Israel must continue to act vigorously against Iran’s aggressive behavior and its desire to break into nuclear capabilities. Iran remains Israel’s central problem.

On the political side, although President Biden and his administration are determined to promote an American agreement with Saudi Arabia, with or without Israel (normalization), Israel must make it clear to its primary and most important ally that despite the high importance of normalization by itself, it does not justify taking risks and making concessions in Rafah and Philadelphy corridor, nor concessions to Saudi Arabia on “civilian nuclear capabilities” and of corse not on the Palestinian issue. It is also clear that an American compensation in the form of a defense treaty with Israel is more harmful than beneficial.

Given the late developments, from which Hamas’s priorities can be clearly understood, the highest Israeli priority must remain completing its tasks in Gaza (Rafah, Philadelphy, and returning the hostages), striving for a temporary solution in the north that will allow the residents to return to their homes safely, and continuing both covert and overt activities against Iran to ensure it does not exploit the opportunity to break into nuclear capabilities and continue attacking Israel. Normalization with Saudi Arabia is very important but can wait.

Brig. Gen. (Res.) Prof. Jacob Nagel is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a professor at the Technion. He served as the national security advisor to Prime Minister Netanyahu and as the acting head of the National Security Council.


Hezbollah Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power