Before the IDF launched its operation in the Gazan city of Rafah, the world leaders who objected seemed most concerned about what Israeli troops would discover there. The dramatic overnight rescue of two Israeli hostages in Rafah only reinforces that impression.
Heavy airstrikes gave cover to an elite IDF unit, which broke into the apartment where Fernando Marman and Louis Har were being held at about 2 a.m. The soldiers shot the guards watching the place and took Har and Marman to a helicopter while shielding them from enemy fire.
The apartment where they were held is a private residence. According to relatives, Har and Marman cooked meals for their captors but had to survive mostly on pita bread themselves. Their first dawn back in Israel was the first time they’d seen the sun in 130 days.
The fact that there are still hostages alive to be rescued is a reminder of the senselessness of the opposition to Israel’s mission in Gaza. Hamas is free to release these hostages and surrender any time it wants. The defined contours of this war haven’t changed.
That’s important to keep in mind when reporting inevitably reverts to calling Israel’s campaign “retaliatory.” As in the Washington Post today: “The conflict began on Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants ambushed Israeli border communities from Gaza, killing 1,200 people and taking 253 hostage. More than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s retaliatory military campaign, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, and much of the strip has been has been flattened by airstrikes.”
This type of description of the war effort makes it sound like the Israeli strikes are reprisals, similar to the U.S.-led strikes against the Iran-backed Houthis, which are designed to deter the Houthis from continuing to fire on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea.
But the deterrent aspect of Israel’s war has nothing to do with Hamas. Israel has set out to destroy Hamas. This is a rational response to the terror group’s insistence that as long as it remains in Gaza it will carry out large-scale civilian massacres while starving the local population in order to build an underground prison city. That’s why the IDF must go into Rafah—why would it spare several Hamas battalions and some of its leadership while abandoning the remaining hostages? The idea is preposterous.
Israel is not trying to deter Hamas, because it doesn’t plan for Hamas’s existence to continue. Yet deterrence is still a very important part of Israel’s follow-through in Gaza.
The deterrence factor is aimed at the countries who enabled Hamas to become the threat that it was before the war. As previously mentioned, the ground underneath Rafah has long been used to connect Gaza to the Egyptian Sinai. In recent years, those tunnels have mostly been used by smugglers and Hamas terrorists. Ever since Israel left the Gaza Strip in 2005, Egypt has progressively slackened in its efforts to police the tunnel crossings, or to destroy the tunnels completely. The only way to force a change in Egypt’s posture is for the IDF to go into Rafah, all the more so because Cairo doesn’t want it to. Deterrence is about costs.
Israel is also hoping to deter Qatar, whose many millions of dollars of investment into Hamas must be shown to be wasteful. If you are going to help the Palestinians in the Strip after Hamas is gone, do not allow your aid to be used to build underground prison cities.
Iran must be deterred as well, because Tehran cannot be made to believe it is cost-free to maintain a regional spoiler in Gaza. Hamas should be defeated and removed, and the U.S. should make it a point to redirect any efforts it would have made in appeasing Iran over its nuclear program toward strengthening the growing Sunni alliance. The most significant step would be prioritizing an expansion of the Abraham Accords and Israel-Saudi normalization.
Last, the ongoing humiliation of the United Nations in Gaza, which has now been shown to have effectively merged with Hamas, must continue. Every account of UNRWA corruption must be broadcast to the world, and that can only be done if Hamas is first swept out of the Strip.
Hamas doesn’t need to be deterred, it needs to be destroyed. As it’s destroyed, hopefully Hamas’s enablers will have earned the deterrence they so richly deserve.