The Israeli military is making good on its vow to take the fight directly to Hamas and its leadership. According to the IDF: “All the leadership of the Hamas terror organization—political and military—grew up in the area of the city of Khan Younis, including Yahya Sinwar, Muhammad Sinwar, and Mohammed Deif. Now the city is surrounded by the 98th Division.”
Surrounding Khan Younis is only the beginning of an arduous phase in the war, but it means something significant: From this point forward, there is only the battlefield. The fight over a “ceasefire”—which to Israel’s Western critics simply means the Jewish state would lay down its arms—is over. Israel will let aid into Gaza, and other IDF divisions are still in the Strip, and there is no official timeframe for this stage. But with the encirclement of Khan Younis, there isn’t much left to talk about except whether Israel succeeds in defeating Hamas.
It’s true that, as Israel gets closer to its objective, global protests will continue and may even intensify. Indeed, the population of Khan Younis numbered about 400,000 before the war and may have absorbed nearly that many Gazans fleeing the north and other parts of the south over the past two months. Other Gaza population centers contain blocks and blocks of high-rises, but Khan Younis will more easily run out of places to put people (though not Hamas fighters, who have access to the underground tunnel network). The Biden administration will find itself pressured over the amount of civilians in harm’s way.
But Biden needs nothing more than he needs victory for Israel, which would reframe the conflict in the public’s mind and vindicate the president’s support for Israel’s war effort. Israel’s success is also the region’s only shot at an extended peace, a conclusion reinforced by every new revelation of Hamas’s prewar planning.
The latest piece of such information is that Hamas went so far as to collaborate with Israel by passing it intelligence about its fellow Iran-backed terror group in Gaza, Palestinian Islamic Jihad. And in May, when conflict between Israel and PIJ flared up, Hamas stayed out of it. “Also in recent months,” the Washington Post reports, “large demonstrations were staged at the fence in Gaza to get the IDF used to the sight of crowds at the border, and, more broadly, ‘to lull Israel into complacency,’ said Miri Eisin, a former senior IDF intelligence officer.”
Every gesture of moderation, every period of calm, was simply part of Hamas’s war plan. It was all in the service of the most violent attack the terror group would ever pull off. And it only succeeded because Israeli officials took signs of peace at face value.
Those days are long gone. There will be no more periods in which Israel is lulled into a false sense of security. As long as Hamas is in Gaza, such a thing cannot possibly exist. The belief that its longtime enemy wanted anything less than the complete destruction of Israel cost the country dearly. Hamas has revealed that there is no constructive role it can or will play.
Such a status quo translates essentially into a freezing of any progress toward peace far beyond the Gaza border. The United States will be forced to build the last part of its intended regional peace agreement with Saudi Arabia on quicksand unless Hamas is crushed. The two-state solution is farther away today than it has been since the Second Intifada. Hamas’s pogrom disproportionately—and likely intentionally—murdered those in Israel most amenable to peaceful coexistence. And America’s deterrence of Iran will continue to be hampered by Hamas’s multifront troublemaking.
The Biden agenda is itself one of Hamas’s remaining hostages. Israel is in Khan Younis to set it free. There is no acceptable alternative to victory.