‘Unconditional Surrender’ Is Emerging as Israel’s War Aim Against Hamas

‘What America did in Germany and Japan was not nation building,’ a former member of the Knesset tells the Sun after Israel gains backing from Secretary Blinken.

AP/Jacquelyn Martin, pool
Secretary Blinken during a press conference October 12, 2023, at Tel Aviv. AP/Jacquelyn Martin, pool

Even at this early stage in the war, armchair advisers and some allies are seeking to tie Israel’s hands in Gaza. Most Israelis are ignoring such calls, envisioning a “day after” when Hamas is no more and Gaza disarmed. 

Initial air attacks have flattened high-rise buildings in the district and killed some of the leaders of Hamas. Hundreds of civilians have also perished, raising concerns among allies. America and Egypt are reportedly considering a humanitarian corridor that would allow noncombatants to leave the strip. 

Ignoring such concerns, Israelis talk of “deNazification” at the war’s end. “What America did in Germany and Japan was not nation building,” an author and former Knesset member, Einat Wilf, tells the Sun. “They used brute force to turn national value systems around, and did so only after forcing Germany and Japan to sign articles of unconditional surrender.”  

Despite backing Israel fully, Washington may not tolerate its going this far. In a heartfelt speech during a visit to Israel, Secretary Blinken noted that he is a Jewish descendent of survivors of pogroms and the Holocaust. In the wake of Hamas’s brutality, he said, America will completely support Israel as it fights the terrorist group.  

Yet, “as the prime minister and I discussed, how Israel does this matters,” he said. “We, democracies, distinguish ourselves from terrorists by striving for a different standard,” and “that’s why it’s so important to take every possible precaution to avoid harming civilians.”

In newspaper essays and television appearances, Israel watchers are warning that “Israel could walk into a trap in Gaza,” and that “strategic blunders” will “only perpetuate the violence for years to come.” At the same time, Israelis almost universally are demanding military action to end Hamas’s ability to ever repeat its atrocities. 

In a first public appearance since the start of the war, the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, vowed to hit hard. “This despicable attack was guided by Yahya Sinwar,” he said, speaking of the Hamas commander in Gaza. “He and the entire Hamas command below him are worthy of death.”

The IDF’s air force destroyed Gaza City’s fanciest neighborhood, home to top Hamas commanders. Beyond Gaza, Israel has its eyes on the highest echelon, including the Hamas chief, Khaled Meshal, who lives at Doha, Qatar, and the likes of Saleh al-Arouri, who resides in Lebanon and Turkey.

“All of Hamas leadership is in the crosshairs,” an Arab world watcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Yoni Ben Menachem, tells the Sun, adding that the exact methods of such complex actions abroad cannot be discussed publicly.     

Acknowledging that the IDF failed to predict the war and to react quickly enough, General Halevi nevertheless said things will be different from now on. “We will attack and dismantle them,” he vowed. “Gaza will never look the same. Whoever remains there will understand that you can’t do that to Israel.”    

Such talk is raising concerns among Israel watchers who constantly warn against a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Pushing back, Israeli officials say they never target civilians, but they point to the high numbers of civilian casualties during NATO and American bombings, including in the war on ISIS. 

“Hamas is Daesh,” Prime Minister Netanyahu said in a press conference alongside Mr. Blinken. To drive the point home, the IDF on Thursday published a photo of an ISIS flag found in the rubble of a kibbutz near Gaza, where Hamas massacred entire families, including babies. 

“I have never used the term Nazis, except for Nazis,” a former Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, told Britain’s Sky News. “This is the first time I use it, because it’s the exact same ideology of annihilating Jews because they’re Jews.”

Pushed to explain how Israel would protect innocents in Gaza, Mr. Bennett said, “When the United Kingdom was fighting the Nazis during World War II, no one was asking what was going on in Dresden.”

Ms. Wilf agrees with the comparison. “We are used to looking at Germany and Japan as peaceful industrial powers, but the Germans voted Hitler into power and Japan was a militaristic society,” she says. “General McArthur ended Japan’s willingness to fight. He told them that they will be able to live in peace only after an unconditional surrender.” 

Israel now must do the same. “We are making this distinction between Hamas and the moderates,” Ms. Wilf, a former advocate of negotiations with the Palestinians, says. “That is bogus. If there is an election in the West Bank tomorrow, Hamas will win. Everyone knows it. We have to internalize that Hamas reflects the Palestinian ethos. We need to change that ethos the way the allies did in Germany and Japan.”  

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Correction: Herzi Halevi is the name of IDF chief of staff. The name was given incorrectly in the bulldog edition.


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